Social Enterprise Legitimacy: Application of Accountability Mechanisms as a Multi-Institutional Context Strategy


  • Robert W. Kolodinsky James Madison University
  • William J. Ritchie James Madison University
  • Nejat Capar Kimep University



Social Enterprise, Legitimacy, Institutional Theory, Accountability Mechanisms


Social enterprises, as hybrid organizations with a dual-mission focus and diversity of primary stakeholders, have unique communication and governance challenges when compared to other social mission organizations, such as nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations. To address a gap in the social enterprise literature, we offer a comprehensive framework to illustrate how the application of context-specific ‘accountability mechanisms’ (Ebrahim, 2003) can strengthen organizational legitimacy perceptions and, in doing so, strengthen performance perceptions and stakeholder ties. Given multiple principal stakeholders in the plural institutional environments in which such hybrid organizations operate, our premise is that social enterprises bolster such perceptions by applying relevant accountability tools and processes in each of Ingram and Clay’s (2000) four institutional contexts. Importantly, our framework applies to both strategic and institutional social enterprise legitimacy. As an illustration, we performed a qualitative examination of three established social enterprises, each in a different industry. Findings revealed each of these social enterprises had adopted accountability mechanisms in all four institutional contexts, suggesting that practitioner application of, and future research on, our framework may prove fruitful.

Author Biographies

Robert W. Kolodinsky, James Madison University

Robert W. Kolodinsky is Professor Emeritus of Management in the College of Business at James Madison University. He currently teaches MBA leadership courses and coaches nonprofit and social enterprise leaders. His research focuses on organizational leadership and coaching, social enterprises, and workplace engagement. He has published in scholarly journals such as Journal of Management, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Journal of Business Ethics, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, and Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Bob did his doctoral work in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management at Florida State University.  

William J. Ritchie, James Madison University

William (Bill) J. Ritchie is the CSX Professor of Management at James Madison University where he teaches supply chain management and strategic management. He is the faculty advisor for the JMU Association for Supply Chain Management Student Chapter. His research interests include quality standards and performance in supply chain management, geospatial analytics, and nonprofit organization performance measurement. He has published in scholarly journals such as Strategic Management Journal, Management International Review, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Journal of Business Logistics, Transportation Research, Journal of Healthcare Management, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, and Nonprofit Management & Leadership. Bill received his Ph.D. in Strategic Management from Florida State University.

Nejat Capar, Kimep University

Nejat Çapar is the acting Dean of the Bang College of Business at KIMEP University in Almaty, Kazakhstan. His research interests include international diversification and performance relationships, the interrelationships between diversification, firm resources and performance, as well as cross-cultural differences in management. He has published in the Journal of International Business Studies, Academy of Management Proceedings, and Journal of Business Ethics, among others. Nejat received his Ph.D. in Strategic Management from Florida State University and MBA from Temple University.






Research Articles