Sub-theme 23: Contextual Bridging for Sustainable Development: The Role of Local Actors in Institution Building Projects

Luciano Barin Cruz
HEC Montréal, Canada
Charlene Zietsma
York University, Canada
Jean-Pascal Gond
Cass Business School, UK

Call for Papers

Corporate philanthropists, NGOs, aid organizations, and cooperatives try to diffuse their organizational forms, practices, and values in developing countries to address important human needs such as sustainable development and poverty alleviation (Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Dacin et al., 2011; Yunus et al., 2010). Many initiatives fail, however. NGO-built wells fall into permanent disrepair because villages cannot maintain them (Burkey, 1993; Damberger, 2012). Microfinance has led to worsening poverty and even suicide among hopeless borrowers (Van Rooyen et al., 2012), or has not targeted the riskiest "poorest of the poor" (Hulme & Mosley, 1996; Dawkins Scully, 2004). Typically, such failures result from poor understanding of local institutional conditions. Even when institution-building projects work in one geographical context, they may fail to scale and diffuse if they are not effectively bridged into new contexts.

In this sub-theme, we are interested in understanding how institution-building projects by corporate philanthropists, cooperatives, social businesses, hybrid organizations, NGOs, etc., contextually bridge their projects with local actors to ensure their projects become accepted and durable in local contexts. Contextual bridging involves “transferring new meanings, practices and structures into a given context in a way that is sensitive to the norms, practices, knowledge and relationships that exist in this context” (McKague et al., forthcoming), to ensure that social value initiatives have lasting effects on their target regions. While much work has focused on the efforts and skills of institutional entrepreneurs (Battilana et al., 2009; Fligstein, 1997; Déjean et al., 2004), such work has been criticized as taking an overly heroic view of individual actors (Suddaby, 2010), while ignoring the idea that institutions are interpreted and enacted by the institutional inhabitants who reproduce, adapt (Czarniawska & Sevon, 1996; Sahlin-Andersson, 1996), and sometimes only ceremonially adopt (Meyer & Rowan, 1977), or outright ignore (Oliver, 1991) them in everyday interactions (Barley, 2008; Dokko et al., 2012; Hallett, 2010; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006).

These outcomes may be more likely when the initial institutional entrepreneur leaves the institutional context, as we see in developing countries when instigating NGOs, firms or aid agencies make changes which fail to last (Moyo, 2009). The influence and efforts of local actors may be critical in building a social structure that will support and maintain nascent institutions designed to reduce inequalities and restructure power (McKague et al., forthcoming; Barin Cruz et al., 2015). Yet, we know little about the empowerment and enabling of local actors, and the work they perform toward the acceptance, adaptation and diffusion of nascent institutional projects. Local actors may or may not negotiate with others to contextualize new institutions, either facilitating or frustrating diffusion. Furthermore, the maintenance of institutions is often largely in the hands of local actors (Hallett, 2010; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006). Thus, theoretically, our interest is in the involvement of local actors in the institutional work for the negotiation, contextualization and maintenance of nascent institutions leading to their diffusion.

We encourage submissions addressing questions like the following:

  • How do local actors work to contextually bridge institution building projects?
  • How do local actors maintain institutional projects when the external sponsor leaves?
  • Are some institutional projects more likely to be influenced by local actors than others?
  • Are certain local actors more influential than others?
  • How can local actors be empowered to work toward institutional change?
  • Can the influence of a local actor 'migrate' to another context?




  • Barin Cruz, L., Delgado, N.A., Leca, B., & Gond, J-P. (2015): "Institutional Resilience in Extreme Operating Environments. The Role of Institutional Work." Business Society, published online before print, doi: 10.1177/0007650314567438.
  • Barley, S.R. (2008): "Coalface Institutionalism." In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, K. Sahlin & R. Suddaby (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 491–518.
  • Battilana, J., & Dorado, S. (2010): "Building Sustainable Hybrid Organizations: The Case of Commercial Microfinance Organizations." Academy of Management Journal, 53 (6), 1419–1440.
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Luciano Barin Cruz is Associate Professor of Management and Sustainability at HEC Montréal, Canada. His research, which investigates how management and organizational theories and practices can contribute for social and environmental inclusion, has been published in 'Journal of Management Studies', 'World Development', 'Organization', 'Business & Society', 'Journal of Business Ethics', 'Management Decision' and the 'Journal of Cleaner Production'.
Charlene Zietsma is Associate Professor, Ann Brown Chair of Organization Studies and Director of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Schulich School of Business, York University, Canada. She studies processes of social innovation, entrepreneurship and institutional change.
Jean-Pascal Gond is Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cass Business School, UK. His research, which investigates the social and institutional construction of CSR and the performativity of management theories, has been published in 'Business and Society', 'Business Ethics Quarterly', 'Human Relations', 'Organization', 'Organization Science', 'Organization Studies', 'Journal of Management', and 'Journal of Management Studies'.