Heartcore business? A study of how social enterprises, as organizations crossing traditional sectorial borders, communicate their corporate identity
The social enterprise, i.e. a private enterprise carrying on business for the purpose of promoting and supporting social purposes beneficial to society, is a type of organization that is characterized by both crossing traditional sectorial borders and by questioning and challenging traditional management practices. In Denmark, it has been reported that social enterprises face considerable challenges in terms of not being considered legitimate by their surroundings, and it has been suggested that a lack of awareness and communication of identity may be the main barriers for social businesses aiming to expand and strengthen their business and to be considered legitimate. The strategic identity communication by social enterprises is still underexplored, and, thus, the aim of this paper is to investigate social enterprises’ communication of identity in their corporate communication through the lens of institutional theory and especially the notion of legitimacy. This theoretical frame has been chosen as the idea is that a high degree of alignment between identity and social responsibility in the enterprise’s corporate communication could enable the enterprises to communicate a clear identity and consequently increase their legitimacy. The findings seem to reflect the reported difficulties of establishing and communicating a clear identity towards stakeholders as the enterprises in the sample tend to, much like ‘ordinary’ companies, work with two different sets or systems of values: primarily competence-based values when presenting who they are, and moral and social values when presenting their mission/vision and responsibilities. The paper suggests that combining and integrating the two sets of values would enable the enterprises to communicate their identity in a much clearer manner and hence create more awareness of the emerging field of social enterprises where they could be considered legitimate.
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