We spoke with Dr. Janina Klein, Assistant Professor of Organizational Change at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, School of Business and Economics, Department Management and Organisation. Janina is passionate about understanding how mission driven organisations such as social enterprises and non-profit organisations can drive social change. Additionally, her research focusses on the leadership of change. Passionate about helping individuals and organisations to leverage their full potential, Janina obtained her PhD in Management from the University of Edinburgh Business School in 2020 and started working at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the same year. Prior to that, she worked in change management and consulting for more than twelve years. Among other roles, Janina managed several mergers and acquisitions, lead various process improvement projects and was responsible for setting up and managing foreign subsidiaries in India, China, the US, and Mexico.

While she certainly helped many organizations to improve their performance, Janina was eager to make a bigger impact. She therefore decided to transition from the industry to academia in 2020. Her motivation was to conduct research and create knowledge that will help organizations drive social change.

‘Through my research, I am able to scale my own impact. While I was helping one organization at a time in the past, the insights I develop now through my research help many organizations. So, the impact my work has is much bigger,’ says Janina.

According to Janina, social enterprises and non-profit organizations play an important role in addressing our most pressing societal issues such as poverty, inequality and moves towards responsible consumption and production. While the sector has grown substantially over the last years, a lot of organizations face challenges in scaling their social impact – this is where Janina’s research comes in.

Currently, she is researching the framing strategies of social enterprises in different sectors. The way in which societal issues are framed profoundly influences our understanding of them, and if and how we take action to address them. In addition to that, Janina is partnering with Impact Consulting to study how social enterprises can scale their social impact. The goal is to uncover the challenges social enterprises face and how they can overcome these to develop insights that will help social enterprises to broaden their impact. While the project initially focused on the fashion industry, the study will be broadened to other sectors to compare the challenges and strategies prevalent in different industries. Once completed, the insights from the project will be shared with social enterprises in the form of a toolkit.

We also talked about how organisations can ‘move beyond’ a sole focus on profit and Janina shared her thoughts with us. She emphasised that social enterprises play an important role in influencing other stakeholders, such as for-profit organizations. Our understanding of the indirect impact social enterprises can have through influencing other organizations to change remains underdeveloped, however.

‘There are two types of impact: Direct impact means social enterprises deliver a product or service that creates social change. Indirect impact means that social enterprises trigger or influence other organisations to change their ways of working and also start acting in more socially responsible ways – rather than only focusing on the financial bottom-line. As such, social enterprises can be a driving force behind initiating change in the wider industry’, she explains.

The indirect impact social enterprises can have and how they can successfully influence other organizations to change is another focus area of Janina’s research.

Janina is convinced that our most pressing societal issues can only be addressed if organizations look beyond shareholder value. A positive development in recent years is that consumers are becoming more aware about the impact of their own buying and consumption choices and increasingly prefer sustainable, socially responsible, and ethical products and services.

Social enterprises play a big role in creating awareness among the public, there is a lot going on, a lot of publicity, citizens becoming more aware. As a consequence, more and more organisations start thinking about what they can do to create social change,’ she says.

We also discussed several opportunities for collaboration and how intermediaries such as Euclid can help develop new research partnerships and contribute to disseminating research findings. Janina’s closing thought was:

‘Social enterprises and intermediaries such as Euclid are a driving force for creating social change and moving beyond. Intermediaries such as Euclid help develop new research collaborations by bringing social enterprises and researchers together. They also play a key role in sharing the latest research findings as they have the network to quickly disseminate new knowledge among their members. This is essential for creating social change.’

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