Cui Bono? Organizational Legitimacy and Social Impact in Corporate-Community Relations in Kenya

Organizations increasingly engage in social impact initiatives that are considered to be beneficial for local communities, and thus elicit positive legitimacy evaluations from a broad range of stakeholders. However, prior research found that such legitimating actions often produce limited or even harmful effects on target beneficiaries. While scholars began to examine the gap between the stated and actual outcomes of social impact initiatives, as well as its underlying mechanisms, there is limited knowledge about how they can become better aligned. Drawing upon qualitative data from a three-year corporate social responsibility project in Kenya, this study sheds light on a triadic relationship (organization – evaluators – constituents) that establishes organizational legitimacy in the eyes of global evaluators and generates substantive benefits for local constituents. Far from being a passive recipient of organizational actions, typically referred to as ‘beneficiaries’, local constituents actively participate in the organizational legitimation process by corroborating the organization’s social impact claims on the global scene. The corroboration provides a leverage for the constituents to negotiate for organizational support to contextualized practices that are hard to see and difficult to understand for global evaluators but that generate substantive benefits to local constituents. The study reveals how the processes and outcomes of social impact initiatives can be reshaped through the participation of local constituents, ultimately ensuring both global legitimacy and local benefits in unexpected ways.

Thursday 27 May, 16:00-17:30 CEST

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