By Guillermo Casasnovas, PhD Candidate, University of Oxford and Bogdan Prokopovych, Assistant Professor, University of Rhode Island.
Hybrid ventures are organizations that combine conflicting goals and missions, adopt contradictory practices, and are often guided by incongruous values. Hybrids are all around us. They are micro-finance organizations that promote economic development of underserved communities, public universities that seek to commercialize science, or staffing agencies hiring people with disabilities. These organizations bridge two worlds by combining logics of family and commerce, economic development and market, profession and business.
During the last week of August 2013, the oikos Young Scholars Entrepreneurship Academy brought together 12 young scholars who study hybrid organizations in the picturesque village of Filzbach in the Swiss Alps. Most of us landed in Zurich after several hours on a plane, got on a train heading southwest, and then rode a bus that took us up the hill to our hotel. If you have an image in your mind of what a village in the Swiss Alps should look like – high mountains, beautiful lakes, a lot of green, and some houses and cows here and there – that was definitely it. The organizers’ choice of venue suited the purpose of the academy well; besides being a successful commercial venture, Hotel Lihn is a hybrid: it has been training and employing individuals at risk of exclusion.
The scenery was spectacular and fit for fruitful reflections; the faculty leading the workshop were engaged and thought-provoking. Claus Jacobs and Florian Ueberbacher, from the University of St. Gallen, were the perfect hosts. They arranged a well-balanced program and created a pleasant environment for thoughtful and critical discussions. Filipe Santos, from INSEAD, offered his experience as a renowned organizational scholar, as well as his theoretical approach to social entrepreneurship and his grounded knowledge about the challenges faced by hybrid ventures. Anne-Claire Pache of ESSEC, a leading expert on hybrid organizations, shared her findings about Work-Integration Social Enterprises in France and her journey to transform rich empirical data into top-journal publications.
Academy participants’ research projects represented a variety of methods and empirical approaches to studying hybrid organizations. Their papers and research projects ranged from collective action to social investment, from legitimacy to corporate social entrepreneurship, and from social venture archetypes to field-level development. Whether the context was Indian microfinance, American shellfish, venture philanthropy funds, or accessible housing in the UK, the common trait was to understand how and in what contexts hybrid organizations can succeed.
The seminar pushed us to think out-of-the-box and to go beyond definitions of what is and what is not a social enterprise or a hybrid venture. Instead, we looked at field, organizational, and individual-level features and mechanisms that help explain the characteristics of these organizations, the specific challenges they face, and their role in society. We also had a chance to test our scholarly knowledge on real-world examples by spending half a day at The HUB in Zurich. At this incubator space for social entrepreneurs, we learned about strategic decisions and challenges faced by organizations working on issues such as wild bees and social awareness. We offered our help by recommending specific paths of action. Finally, chats over coffee, hikes through the beautiful Alps, and a boat trip on the Wallensee provided ample opportunities to get to know each other on a personal level and forge long-lasting relationships.