The project was the subject of a Visiting Research Fellowship awarded to Patricia Hind by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USBS)
The research focused on SMEs who were keen to develop sustainability practices, it used an Action Research Methodology to achieve two key objectives:
- To examine and identify the specific attributes of organizations – the structures, processes, cultures and/or resources that are conducive or resistant to the ‘enablement’ of responsible leadership.
- To contribute to the development of a global understanding of the concept of responsible leadership and its links to sustainability.
Unlike ‘best practice’ approaches, this study identified the factors that enabled and encouraged responsible leadership and sustainable strategies in a number of different locations and cultures, it started with South Africa.
The project methodology was an iterative or cyclical process of investigation, involving a volunteer sample of organizational members who shared an interest in enabling sustainability through responsible leadership in their companies. This process was managed by USBS.
We worked with around 8 - 12 Senior Leaders from SMEs. The research discovered the practices which helped to enable responsible leadership within the companies and increase the chances of delivering the sustainability benefits that were intended.
In the first iteration of the ESTAR project the companies involved included:
- A sugar processor and wholesaler
- A conservation trust
- A fruit farm and packager
- A dairy farm, dessert manufacturer and retail supplier
- A publishing company
- A chain of retail chemists
- A social media/technical entrepreneurial partnership.
- An entrepreneurial company using social networking to create event based communities.
The companies ranged in size from 8 – 900, some were family businesses, and all were concerned with creating sustainable jobs in South Africa.
The action research programme started with an opening one-day workshop to set the scene, share an enabling framework and create a communicative space for the project; this was divided into two halves. During the first half of the workshop, the participants began to clarify the problem or challenge that they wanted to address. The second half of the workshop introduced the action research methodology. During this session actionable ‘experiments’ were agreed and outlined by and with the participants.
A member of the research team visited participant companies shortly after the initial workshop, to further discuss and refine their action research plans. Actions, measurements, recording and responsibilities were agreed at this stage in each organization. During the second phase, participants worked in their organizations to investigate and “dig deeper” into the issues identified. They devoted time collecting “data” about the actionable experiments and the changes identified and agreed in step one. This was supported by the research team in two ways; firstly by enabling a structure for data collection, and secondly by keeping in touch and offering support and encouragement. The group came together again, for a final workshop, which was divided into two halves. During the first session, outcomes and experiences were shared. Each company shared its project, the outcomes, their reflections and perceived way forward. Common themes and experiences were drawn out and recognized, as were unique and idiosyncratic experiences. From this workshop we started to formulate some principles of enablement for socially responsible leadership.