Social innovation: Social innovativeness among social enterprises in Cape Town

Sophie Dahlqvist Clausen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Although social entrepreneurship is widely recognised around the world for its ability to create unique solutions to pressing unmet societal needs, some have questioned the claimed innovativeness of these social entrepreneurial initiatives. However, examining such innovativeness still remains this knowledge gap within both academia and practice. Meanwhile, the notion of social innovation appears to share similar characteristics to social entrepreneurship and explains innovative behaviour through a social innovation process. Thus, by questioning the innovativeness of social enterprises, this research explores to what extent and in which way social enterprises may be socially innovative by examining their innovation processes and social innovation characteristics. Moreover, it explains the connectedness between the concepts of social innovation and social entrepreneurship, as well as describes the influence of the local context. The study focuses particularly on the Western Cape of South Africa where the presence of social entrepreneurial activities is growing in an attempt to address the country’s many societal challenges. The increasing awareness of environmental development and sustainability has furthermore encouraged an environmental focus of social initiatives. Thereby, the research combines the fields of social entrepreneurship and social innovation in a context not previously studied in depth. In order to explore and understand the phenomenon of social innovation in a South African context, the research employed a multiple case study approach based on semi-structured interviews with seven environmental social enterprises in Cape Town conducted during a six months fieldwork in Cape Town. The empirical data was supported by secondary data of which all data was analysed using a qualitative content analysis. The limited amount of prior research in this field required an abductive research approach with a continuous movement between data and literature, to recognise linkages or gaps between theory and practice. A critical realist view was adopted which emphasised contextualisation in order to understand the changing dynamics of social realities. Findings revealed that all the social enterprises followed each phase of the social innovation process, though some more linear than others. Throughout the development of their initiative, the local context challenged them which encouraged innovative behaviour. Even though all the social enterprises (except one) reflected most of the social innovation characteristics, only half of them matched the local understanding. The research contributes to academia and practitioners by arguing the innovativeness of social enterprises, the concept connectedness and the importance of context.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2013
Number of pages97