UCL School of Management is delighted to welcome Laura Claus, Cambridge, to host a research seminar discussing ‘Hakuna Matata or when cultures collide: Social innovation in rural Africa.’
In this paper, we examine why and how social innovations may fail in foreign developing contexts despite promising conditions and initial success. Using data on Villages for Africa (VFA), a social enterprise that provided ‘macro-credits’ to groups of villages in rural Tanzania and helped them establish their own village enterprises, we explore how and why the intervention was an initial success but later failed. We show the mechanisms that provide the legitimacy necessary for the successful introduction of an innovation; but also the mechanisms and the role of collective memory that can undermine that success. As such, our findings allow us to make contributions to the literature of ‘grand challenges’ and, in doing so, to institutional theory more generally. Further, the findings suggest the re-conceptualization of institutional voids not as the absence, but the presence of culturally and historically embedded, densely packed institutional arrangements that foreign organizations have to learn to navigate in order to intervene successfully.