Corporate social responsibility (CSR) among small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from emerging and developing economies

Lead Research Organisation: Middlesex University
Department Name: Business School


Research on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) among small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) is highly warranted given that SMEs are looked to, not least in times of economic crisis, to both generate economic growth and contribute to job creation, welfare and citizenship. The contribution of SMEs is of particular importance in developing economies where governments often failed to enforce basic social and environmental standards or to provide basic social services. However, research on CSR in emerging/developing countries and research on SMEs has tended to operate in silos. Our purpose is to bring together the mainstream, developing country and SME-CSR literatures into the same arena and create an environment for exchange and cross-learning between these sub-disciplines.

The main aims of the proposed seminar series are:
- to assess the current state of knowledge on CSR among emerging and developing country SMEs;
- to re-examine the predictors, outcomes, moderators and mediators in the CSR-SME relationship;
- to create an environment for effective exchange and cross-learning between different sub-fields on this topic;
- to explore how the positive social and environmental impact of SMEs can be maximised.

An important characteristic of the seminar series will be bringing UK-based experts together with experts from developing nations from Africa and Asia. In order to fully benefit from developing nation expertise and perspectives, we propose that one seminar will be held in Botswana to coincide with the Africa Academy of Management 2014 conference. We will also use that seminar as our leading - though not only - opportunity to support and develop PhD students and early career researchers in their scholarship.

Given the global nature of supply chains and markets and the differing economic and cultural contexts we envisage a great deal of synergy and growth can be generated from the proposed seminar series and its associated dissemination of learning and impact on practice. This research seminar series proposal has the particular purpose of enabling exchange of learning across regions and, in particular collaboration between practitioners, policy-makers and scholars to help ensure relevance, impact and dissemination of the learning to SMEs and their supporting intermediaries. We anticipate that learning will be multilateral, and not just the common narrow assumption of developed countries 'teaching' those in developing and emerging economies.

The seminar series proposal is a collaboration between expert academics and practitioners with experience in the CSR/SME context. The academics leading the proposal are internationally known for their work in all the elements of this proposal - CSR, SMEs, developing, emerging and developed economy contexts. The practitioners have cross-European and global SME membership on which they can draw, and through which they can ensure relevance and seek to support impact on CSR in SMEs. The association with the CSR policy advisor within the European Commission ensures the opportunity for high level impact on policy.

The specific subjects of our seminar series are designed to ensure full opportunities for building academic and practical knowledge in areas which we, in consultation with others, consider to be most beneficial - which include comparative perspectives, SMEs within supply chains, governance frameworks for SMEs, social entrepreneurship and responsible finance. The interdisciplinary, academic/practitioner and international nature of the multilevel research which will be promoted will build on existing networks and collaborations and will contribute on several levels to ESRC's strategic objectives around sustainable growth, a fair society and positively influencing SME behaviour and informing interventions.

Our discussions with relevant stakeholders have revealed a strongly felt need for this seminar series, as indicated by the enclosed letters of support.

Planned Impact

A range of stakeholders will benefit from this seminar series, including academics, the business community, intermediaries supporting SMEs and policy makers. In this section, we concentrate on non-academic beneficiaries (the academic impact is outlined in the section "Academic Beneficiaries"). As indicated in the section "Objectives" and in the "Case for Support", participation of non-academic users is an essential element of the proposed series.

The non-academic users will specifically benefit from:

1. Access to best practice and recent empirical and conceptual research on SME-CSR initiatives;

2. Discussions with and insights from developing country specialists with CSR expertise;

3. Insights on the existing and future policy frameworks for encouraging CSR among SMEs;

4. The tools and approaches that could be used by intermediaries and SME managers for evaluating the positive social and environmental impact of SME initiatives.

The non-academic users will particularly benefit from insights and research findings from an emerging and developing country perspective on SMEs. While the business community and intermediaries tend to have a great deal of technical and managerial expertise on formal approaches to CSR within large companies (e.g. the use of GRI and other reporting instruments, ISO14000 and ISO26000 standards or stakeholder consultations), they often lack expertise and inputs from developing economy specialists and experts who understand the social and environmental challenges that SMEs face globally.

The specific non-academic beneficiaries include:

1. Intermediaries supporting SMEs such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) can draw on the current state of knowledge, new insights and tools as they seek to influence SME impact, as well as public policies that touch on SMEs. Our discussions with relevant intermediary organizations have revealed a strongly felt need for this seminar series, as indicated by the enclosed letters of support from ACCA and CII.

2. The business community - including SME practitioners - will also benefit from best practices, tools and frameworks emerging from the seminars. This is significant for the SME practitioners who often lack the requisite knowledge, capabilities and resources to embed responsible practices in their enterprises. The involvement of the consultancy firm Article 13 in our series will help to maximise benefits for individual enterprises.

3. Policy makers can deliberate and craft new high level impact public policies for encouraging CSR among SMEs in emerging and developing countries, as well as broadening the research base behind CSR and SMEs in developed countries. The insights from developing country specialists with CSR expertise are significant as this increases the relevance and therefore impact of public policies. Our seminar series is timely from a policy perspective in the light of the European Commission's keen interest in strengthening CSR among SMEs as explicitly emphasized in the EU strategy for 2011-14, and the involvement of Tom Dodd from the European Commission will help to maximise the policy impact.

For those unable to attend our seminars, a range of methods will be used to ensure dissemination of outcomes to a wide audience - including academic publications, a briefing paper for non-academics, a website hosted by Middlesex University and a dedicated Linkedin group (on academic outputs, see Academic Beneficiaries; on non-academic involvement, see further information under Pathways to Impact).

We believe that our seminar series fits very closely with ESRC's strategic priorities:
- Economic Performance and Sustainable Growth
- Influencing Behaviour and Informing Interventions
- A Vibrant and Fair Society


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Description The findings of the seminar series were published in an edited volume entitled "Research Handbook on Small Business Social Responsibility: Global Perspectives" (Edward Elgar, 2018). This is the first research handbook dedicated to small business social responsibility, bringing together papers of the key presenters/authors who contributed to the success of the seminar series. The seminars have pointed to the following key research findings:

We set out to examine the predictors, as well as moderators and mediators, in the SME-CSR relationship in developing countries. We found context to be a key predictor, inter alia in terms of cognition and language (different understandings of CSR and sustainability in different contexts), weak institutions (e.g. inadequate social and environment enforcement, corruption, weak access to capital), absence of collective activity (frequent absence of trade associations, employee federations or chambers of commerce to act as representatives on behalf of SMEs) and the informal economy (businesses that do not pay tax and function on the fringes of the legal system). Our findings show that we need to move beyond the standard Western perspectives on context which continue to be prevalent in the CSR-SME research.

Among the moderators and mediators, our findings point inter alia to the importance of size (e.g. a large SME of 50-250 employees may be able to institute formal corporate governance structures, which a small one cannot easily do), ownership type (such as the embeddedness of family SME businesses in their community and the structuring of family relations), the place of the SME within wider supply chains (such as client-driven CSR versus indigenous CSR).

We also set out to explore how the positive social and environmental impact of SMEs can be maximized. The jury is still out on many of questions related to impact and the most appropriate interventions, but our findings point inter alia to (more detailed findings are contained in the edited Research Handbook mentioned above) :

- the importance of networks and SME associations to overcome entry barriers to markets or to create more impact (including through pooling resources of SMEs and scaling up social initiatives);

- the support for hybrid enterprises in solving complex social challenges (esp. social enterprises trying to simultaneously achieve financial and social objectives);

- concentrating support for higher risk projects designed to change markets and create large employment - not subsistence;

- training of technical skills in a variety of vocations for use at a local level (ranging from solar panel maintenance to basic accounting skills);

- as well as the macro-level improvements in infrastructure, legal protection for SMEs and access to finance that can provide an enabling environment for SMEs to thrive and maximize their social impact.
Exploitation Route The findings can be used by a multitude of actors, including trade associations, NGOs, governments and inter-governmental organizations to better understand the challenges and opportunities for positive interventions to nurture CSR among SMEs from developing nations. In the published 'Research Handbook on Small Business Social Responsibility', we included a special section with six chapters dedicated specifically to practical case studies and engagement with practitioners - written in a more accessible manner.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Key impacts include: • New networks. The seminar series has created new networks, an e-mail distribution list and a regularly maintained website, through which we communicate with past participants. The seminar series generated inter alia discussions within ACCA and the Chartered Insurance Institute. As the seminar series has only just come to a close, we are hoping to document these non-academic impacts in greater detail in due course. • New research capacity. The seminar series has helped to train junior academics and research students in terms of improving their understanding of the CSR-SME relationship, the predictors, mediators, moderators and impacts in this relationship, as well as potential interventions to maximise the social impact of SMEs. Our dedicated one-day capacity-building workshop in Botswana (held on a separate day from the actual ESRC seminar) has had an impact on research students working in this area in this part of Africa.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Other
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services