Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Michael A. Abebe

Second Advisor

Dr. Sibin Wu

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer L. Welbourne


Social entrepreneurship refers to the “the process of identifying, evaluating, and exploiting opportunities aimed at social value creation by means of commercial market-based activities and the use of a wide range of resources” (Bacq & Janssen, 2011, p. 388). Social entrepreneurs use market-based strategies and innovative approaches to address various social, economic, and environmental challenges. motivated by compassion, empathy, and a commitment for alleviating others suffering (Miller, Grimes, et al., 2012), they establish social ventures with a dual mission of social and economic value creation.

To meet the challenges of addressing pressing social, economic and environmental issues not tackled by the public and private sectors, social entrepreneurs are required to develop the dual skills and competencies necessary to manage efficiently both the social activism and business aspects of their ventures. While this need is important for various types of social ventures (e.g., not-for-profit, hybrid or for-profit), it is especially important for entrepreneurs leading for-profit social ventures to possess these skills. Indeed, running a social venture successfully is likely to require both business and social activism skills to realize the dual mission of social and economic value creation. However, compared to their commercial counterparts, social entrepreneurs seem to have less confidence in their business skills (Abebe et al., 2020; Austin et al. 2006; Bacq et al., 2016; Battilana et al., 2012; Battilana et al., 2014; Clark et al., 2013; Miller, Grimes, et al., 2012). This is related partly to the fact that many social entrepreneurs tend to have a non-business background (Clark et al., 2013). Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new field with limited availability of experience or training on managing for-profit social ventures (Battilana et al., 2012). Consequently, with such a relative limitation of business skills, how do social entrepreneurs manage the social and economic aspects of their ventures, especially in the nascent stage? This is the main research question that this dissertation aims to answer.

This study has three main objectives: first, I develop a new construct —social entrepreneur’s ambidextrous orientation (SEAO), which I define as the social entrepreneur’s (a) ability to jointly and effectively fulfill the social mission and business functions of the social venture and (b) achieve a balance between routine (short term) venture needs and future opportunities. In developing this construct, I draw insights from the strategic management literature on organizational ambidexterity and dynamic capability to frame SEAO as a dynamic managerial capability that allows social entrepreneurs to better navigate and balance the business and social activism aspects of for-profit social ventures. Accordingly, I empirically develop a multi-dimensional scale to measure this construct. The scale consists of three dimensions: awareness, motivation, and capacity. Second, I explore the various antecedents associated with SEAO by examining individual, organizational, and industry level factors. In doing so, I relied on insights from human and social capital theories. Third, I empirically examine the implications of SEAO to social venture performance. Finally, I explore the boundary conditions under which SEAO affects social venture performance.

To achieve these research objectives, I used a sample drawn from US-based for-profit social ventures using a self-administered online survey. Specifically, two separate samples were used in the study. The first sample was used to develop and refine the SEAO scale. The second sample was used to test the relationships empirically between the antecedents, moderators, and consequences of SEAO. The SEAO construct and its dimensions portrayed satisfactory psychometric properties. Awareness consisted of three items (α = 0.863), Motivation had seven items (α = 0.939), and Capacity included eight items (α = 0.924); while the composite SEAO scale has 19 items (α = 0.957). The construct met model fit criteria as assessed by fit indices (NFI = .915, TLI = .943 CFI = .950, RMSEA =.071 and Chi-square = 339, DF = 149, CMIN/DF = 2.276). The results indicated that entrepreneurs’ social capital and human capital (in the form of educational level) were found to be significant drivers of SEAO. Organizational factors such as social venture mission scope were found to predict higher levels of SEAO. The findings suggest that SEAO positively affects social and economic performance under conditions of high entrepreneurial attachment, the presence of organic structure, and environmental munificence.

These findings are expected to contribute to both research and practice. First, the new SEAO scale is expected to generate opportunities for further research by assessing the implications of possessing balanced entrepreneurial competencies in both social activism and business acumen. Another contribution is the use of the dynamic managerial capabilities lens to examine social entrepreneurs competency needs. While the dynamic capability literature is well established in strategic management, it is less utilized in the mainstream entrepreneurship literature, let alone in the social entrepreneurship area. Consequently, drawing from this theoretical perspective helps advance knowledge of social entrepreneurs competencies especially during periods of venture growth and expansion. Additionally, applying the ambidextrous orientation to social ventures is another contribution which helps extend our understanding of the organizational tensions inherent in dual mission entities.

The findings have a number of practical implications. This research sheds light on the importance of social entrepreneurs developing and maintaining robust business management skills, especially in the growing stages of the social venture. One takeaway is that while passion may help social entrepreneurs start their ventures, possessing the requisite business management skills enables them to be successful after start-up. Compassion and prosocial motivation are necessary but not sufficient for social entrepreneurs to run successful social ventures.


Copyright 2021 Sarah N. Kimakwa. All Rights Reserved.