MNC involvement in social innovation projects: Exploring the liability of newness

Social innovation has been increasingly highlighted in the 21st century due to its potential of meeting social, economic, political and environmental challenges. In recent years, there has been a call for an increased participation of multinational companies (MNCs) in social innovation activities both from the EU and the UN. However, situated on the border between societal development and profit maximization, the role of MNCs in social innovation activities is inherently complex and we know very little about MNCs’ involvement in social innovation.

This research project takes the point of departure that MNCs may suffer from a “liability of newness” when it comes to their involvement in social innovation activities. This implies that MNCs’ participation in social innovations can be expected to be different from their involvement in traditional business innovations, and thus will diverge from our existing knowledge on MNCs’ role in developing and leveraging innovations. These liabilities concern the questions such as: how to develop and recombine ‘other’ types of knowledge and capabilities than is used within business innovation, how to collaborate and co-create with ‘other’ actors other than traditional business actors, such as non-profit- and governmental organizations, and how to cope with changed power-relations between these actors.

To date there are very few studies, if any, on why and how MNCs engage in social innovations and what the challenges to their involvement are. Due to the current enigma surrounding the role of MNCs in social innovation for both practitioners and academics, this project aims at mapping out the drivers/motives behind MNCs involvement in social innovation projects, how these projects are conducted and what the main barriers and challenges to such involvement are, for instance when it comes to organizing and managing social innovation projects.

Importance of the project

By this research we will be able to address the lack of sustained and systematic analysis of the involvement of large scale companies, e.g. MNCs, in social innovation activities and projects. It is our strong believe that the results of this study will contribute to not only researchers- but also social and political actors’ knowledge on how multinational companies contribute to society through the development and organizing of social innovation initiatives. From a managerial point of view we hope that this research will generate an increased understanding and knowledge about social innovation practices, in particular what the main challenges and barriers are when it comes to how to organize and manage social innovation projects and what the potential outcome and benefits are.

Project leader: Christine Holmström Lind
Project members: Anna Ljung, Olivia Kang, Mats Forsgren and Paul Rosenbaum
Duration: 2018-2021
Financed by: Handelsbanken’s Research Foundation

Mats Forsgren

Mats Forsgren. Photo.

Mats Forsgren is Professor emeritus in International Business at the Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University. His research covers theories of internationalization, theories of the multinational firm, business network theory, and innovation development and transfer in multinational corporations. His recent research relates to the creation and diffusion of innovations in MNCs, and the role of the MNC in society. He is a member of the editorial review board of Journal of International Business Studies and Global Strategy Journal.

Christine Holmström Lind

Christine Holmström Lind. Photo.

Christine Holmström Lind is Associate Professor in International Business at the Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University. Her research covers the strategic role of multinational subsidiaries as creators and disseminators of knowledge and innovations.  Her recent research concerns the development and transfer of innovations in multinational corporations, the impact of MNCs subsidiaries on the local economy, and the relationship between entrepreneurship, innovation and economic/societal development.

Olivia Kang

Olivia Kang. Photo.

Olivia Kang is Assistant Professor in International Business at the Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University. Her research covers the development and transfer of innovations in multinational firms (particularly disruptive innovations), and the strategic management of innovations in MNCs.  Her recent research covers the factors that impact the knowledge transfer with a specific interest in social innovation development process.

Anna Ljung

Anna Ljung. Photo.

Anna Ljung is Assistant Professor and co-chair of the Sustainable Management master at Uppsala University. Her research covers the multinational company’s role in society, with an emphasis on cross-sector relationships between MNCs and non-business actors. Her recent research covers a specific interest in MNCs’ social responsibility in relation to innovation activities.

Paul Rosenbaum

Paul Rosenbaum. Photo.

Paul Rosenbaum is a PhD candidate at the Department of Business Studies at Uppsala University. He holds degrees from the University of California at Berkeley (BA), INSEAD (MBA) and the University of Paris-Saclay (MSc), and has taught courses in management and entrepreneurship at EBS and Sciences Po Paris.