Towards Sustainability-as-flourishing: The Role Social Entrepreneurs’ Metacognition Plays in Shaping Transformational Change

Schaefer, Katrin
Kearins, Kate
Corner, Patricia (Trish) Doyle
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis investigates some human-centred factors involved in socioeconomic change towards sustainability-as-flourishing. In particular, it qualitatively examines the role social entrepreneurs’ metacognition – awareness and regulation of thoughts and feelings – plays in shaping such change. I suggest that metacognition influences decisions and actions at the entrepreneurs’ individual level, which shapes the value creation process at the enterprise level. Social enterprises that generate social and environmental value in their wider environment may collectively contribute to a transformation of industries and communities. The thesis comprises four related studies, as described below. The first study is a review of the literature pertaining to sustainability-as-flourishing (an ideal vision offered by US academic John Ehrenfeld) and to three types of entrepreneurship – social, environmental and sustainable. The review identifies a set of requisites for sustainability-as-flourishing, defines contributions of, and limitations in each type of entrepreneurship research relative to these requisites, and proposes a future research agenda. The second study explores how social entrepreneurs’ inner realities (involving ordinary cognitive and emotional processes as well as metacognitive processes) shape entrepreneurial actions. It also investigates how these actions shape social and environmental value creation. Thematic analysis of eight interviews with social entrepreneurs show entrepreneurs engaged in self-awareness practices, which increased their knowledge and regulation of positive and negative aspects of their inner realities. Positive aspects enabled generative organisational value creation mechanisms, leading to positive social and environmental outcomes, while negative aspects interfered with value creation, leading to unintended negative outcomes. The third study examines how social entrepreneurs’ metacognition affects social and environmental value creation, which in turn transforms industries and communities, ultimately nudging society towards sustainability-as-flourishing. Thematic analysis of interviews with five social entrepreneurs demonstrates entrepreneurs’ metacognition facilitated insight and letting go of limiting thought patterns at the individual level, leading to social entrepreneurial action. Entrepreneurs utilised various metacognitive abilities as they developed effective and responsible social enterprises with valuable capabilities. The enterprises’ caring cultures and organisational capabilities in tandem with entrepreneurs’ creative and interpersonal conciliatory capabilities facilitated positive socioeconomic changes within industries and communities. It is these kinds of changes that could perhaps bring about sustainability-as-flourishing in the long run. The fourth study explores how coaching can enhance a social entrepreneur’s metacognition potentially to enable ultimately wider change towards flourishing. A series of coaching conversations between the author and a social entrepreneur supported the entrepreneur in recognising and regulating some of her limiting thoughts, unpleasant feelings, and unhelpful behaviours. The coaching improved her work effectiveness, relationships, and the ability of the social enterprise to achieve its mission. Findings suggest potential for coaching in a social entrepreneurship context to trigger entrepreneurs’ awareness that may affect their organisations and beyond. From these studies, I identify implications for social entrepreneurs in a short article directed at a practitioner audience. Overall, the thesis signals that metacognition plays a key role in helping social entrepreneurs transform some of their limiting emotional and thought patterns to more enabling ones so that they can shape effective, responsible enterprises and ultimately contribute towards positive socioeconomic change. This research indicates that although social entrepreneurship can be a useful process to contribute to a shift towards flourishing, it can – at times – also involve mechanisms that unwittingly hinder such a shift. This thesis contributes to the literature in several ways. It offers a bottom-up multi-level entrepreneurial process model of change towards sustainability-as-flourishing that starts with self-awareness. Furthermore, it provides a more nuanced view of social entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial process. Moreover, the thesis identifies that metacognition can support social entrepreneurs in their recognition that they have some choice in how they respond to unpleasant individual experiences and challenging circumstances in the wider environment.

Sustainability-as-flourishing , Metacognition , Self-awareness , Social entrepreneurship , Sustainable entrepreneurship , Environmental entrepreneurship , Socioeconomic change
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