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ECOPREN Report Summary

Project ID: 627429
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - ECOPREN (Value based entrepreneurship: A study of the cultural, organizing and leadership dynamics of social entrepreneurship)

1. Final Publishable Summary Report (2 pages)
The work carried out. Empirical data was collected through ethnographic interviews and observation in value based organizations by the Fellow throughout the project. 31 organizations, 16 UK based and 15 Polish, were successfully contacted for initial data collection and then a smaller number (12) selected for intensive and ongoing ethnographic contact: ethnographic interviews, short observations of specific processes, long immersive observations and text analysis. The Fellow has developed and established an extensive network of contacts among value based organizations in Poland and the UK, with potential links to other countries (Greece, Sweden, Germany and others). The Fellow has also been in constant contact, informally, with several key persons representing the organizations by the means of meetings, conversations, email, and in one case, letter exchange. She has been reading academic publications about the field, as well as authored by its representatives. In the last phase of the study, she has become actively involved in writing together with some of her informants, which has resulted in 3 articles published (and one forthcoming) in the national Polish press, as well as serving as lecturer and conference key note. She will become involved as volunteer advisor for 2 of the studied organizations at the end of the research. The findings were validated in subsequent observations and interviews, and the key social actors consulted in the process of developing ideas and conclusions. A contextual and dynamic model of glocal characteristics and processes of organizing and leadership, based on cultural differences and similarities of value based organizers has been developed and is used to theorize the findings. The Fellow has also authored and co-authored a number of academic publications which can be divided into 3 groups: 1) concerning the theoretical frame of the study (humanistic management and Critical Management Studies); 2) methodology (ethnographic and narrative methods); 3) and empirical findings. At the moment of writing of this report this has resulted in the following publications: 4 books, 7 journal articles and several book chapters and conference papers, as well as 5 works in progress (4 research articles and one book)
Main Results and Conclusions. The studied organizations were initially labeled ecopreneurial and value based, but during the research the latter name turned out to best correspond to their actual ways of functioning, as well as to the preferences of the social actors in the field. The fieldwork revealed that organisations studied had many different structural and ownership forms (from private businesses via social enterprises to informal organizations). The key differences were related to contextual conditions and the strong local ethos and roots of the researched organizations. They had a different outlook, utilized different technologies and business models. However, from the point of view of processes, their structural, cultural and economic dynamics showed a large number of similarities, across country of origin, area of activity, ownership status etc. Each of the organizations had a close network of local contacts and regards itself mainly as serving the needs of the local community. The similarities include the cultural dynamics, values, a commitment to social change through economic activity and a radical and own usage of management knowledge. They all were characterized by a strong and original cultural dynamic which can be metaphorically labeled as rhizomatic (term proposed by one of the organizers), i.e. decentralized yet interconnected, typically in non-formalized ways, with strong local links, a strong focus on ethos, understood as values and collective identity, and a dynamic structurization mode, focused on active building of relationships, not on the establishment of procedures or ownership of financial or material assets. The organizations aimed at economic self-sufficiency and were often debt free and many (if not all) had a relatively sound economic situation. However, for all of them financial profit and economic results were not a goal in itself but, rather, a means to an end, which was defined by them in terms of values (human and ecological). Another important similarity concerned leadership. In both countries it was based on values focused on people, cooperation, and the natural environment. Leadership was decentralized, sometimes shared, typically transitional, and usually collaborative, but always personal and strongly oriented toward taking responsibility, especially for and before other people, local communities and the environment. To be a leader in such organization means to take upon oneself a role, as well as a responsibility, and is not tied to a concrete person or personal traits, but to a place in the dynamics of the social structure. However, a person taking upon her- or himself that role, enacted it in a strongly personalized way and often came up with visions for the whole collective. Some of the studied organizations had consensus based decision making procedures and in some all accumulation of power is avoided. However, even in the most egalitarian ones there are visionary leadership roles, even if rarely constantly tied to one person and never linked to rank.
There were a number of similarities with earlier cooperative and democratic movements of this kind (such as traditional Kibbutzim and late 1960s organizations), such as an independent ethos, self-reliance and a tendency to support leftwing ideas, but there were also significant differences, and in particular the following four: 1) the studied organizations were not leaderless and had no such aspirations; 2) they did not shun management knowledge, on the contrary, they boldly and radically recycled such knowledge to suit their own aims and purposes; 3) the did not aim at homogeneity and consensus but embraced diversity and grew by difference; 4) they saw their role not as being on the margins of the economy, but as its possible future. Indeed, there was a strong conviction that the type of economy developed by these organizations – the mutual economy – has a resilience and sustainability beyond the current system. In an era characterized by a destabilization of institutions and economic mechanisms, as well as by the erosion of structural and moral foundations of society, such as long-term employment, this is an important an interesting claim. Zygmunt Bauman believes that we live in an era of what he calls the “interregnum”: a time where the old systems have ceased to work, but no new one is yet in place. There is a growing dissatisfaction and sense of uncertainty and even hopelessness, but there is also space for experimentation and trying out new ideas and organizational forms. The studied organizations actively and often consciously took upon themselves such a role and responsibility of an ecological, economic and social character. Self-organization and social entrepreneurship are on the verge of becoming a massive global phenomenon, which highlights a need for knowledge dissemination about the organizing, leadership and ethical processes and practices in the area of value based entrepreneurship.
Potential impact and use and any socio-economic impact of the project. The project has already gained some interest of the media. The Fellow has published several popular articled co-authored with social actors from the field, as well as with a fellow academic with similar interests, in the Polish nation-wide press. She has also been interviewed on the topic by a well-known Polish journalist, Michał Sutowski, for the magazine Dziennik Opinii, as well as by a famous theatre director and public intellectual, Roman Pawłowski for his book about the future of society and the economy. She has also been invited as a key note and lecturer to present the project in several academic and practitioner oriented contexts. Two of the studied organizations have asked her to serve as volunteer advisor when the project is over, and one political party is also interested in advice on how to use the results of the research in the programme of support for mutual economy. Furthermore, the cultural dynamics of the studied organizations can be of interest to other organizational types, because of its remarkable resilience and vitality. If other organizations are willing to re-orient themselves from the current shareholder value model and short term profit centered orientation towards an ecological humanistic and ethical mode of functioning, then the value based organizations may serve as useful role models and benchmarks. For example, the way that knowledge is used, which can be described as radical recycling of ideas, has wide potential societal implications, which have already been noticed by Polish media.
Target groups such as policy makers or civil society for whom the research could be relevant. The research may be relevant for the following three groups: 1) local and national policy makers, such as political parties and local authorities – to develop programmes and policies of support of organizations active in the mutual economy; 2) academics interested in organization theory – to explore alternative organizational practices and their role in the present and future economy and society; and 3) civil society and the self-managed organizations themselves to check their practices and ideas against broader patterns, as well as, in a very practical sense, to establish links with other similar organizations. The Fellow has already facilitated such links across the studied countries.

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