Building resilience or providing sustenance: Different paths of emergent ventures in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake

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Author Information : Trenton A. Williams (Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University)
Dean A. Shepherd (Kelley School of Business, Indiana University)

Year of Publication : Academy of Management Journal (forthcoming)

Summary of Findings : Locals creating ventures after a crisis can build resilience in disaster-struck communities, alleviate suffering of fellow community members, and generate transformational change for those experiencing chronic poverty.

Research Questions : 1. How do post-disaster new ventures acquire, combine and use resources?

2. How does venture creation facilitate the resilience of community members, and why are some ventures more effective than others?

What we know : Traditionally, research on response to crises in less-developed nations, such as Haiti, has focused on actions by outsiders. This includes documenting money spent on aid, engagement of foreign government and non-government organizations, and so forth. However, little has been done to explore how citizens of less-developed countries organize to help others. In this article, we study two different groups of ventures, how they accessed resources, and how these actions resulted in vastly different outcomes. One group helped victims make difficult transitions in recovery, but ultimately resulted in transformational change for those victims. The other group helped victims receive resources for basic needs, but was unable to transition. These differences are important in advancing our understanding of how the responses of various actors shape the lives and livelihood of disaster victims in impoverished communities.

Novel Findings : The findings of this study contribute to research on venture creation, organizing for resilience and research on disaster response. Specifically, contrary to what some think, victims of disasters are not "helpless" but can (and must) be involved in shaping their own recovery. We found that individuals are resourceful in gathering resources and deploying them toward positive outcomes. However, not all activities resulted in similar results. While both groups of ventures in our study engaged social connections, those with more established connections were able to continue to engage resource providers as they transitioned from disaster recovery to addressing long-term needs (employment, job-training, etc.). Importantly, this study demonstrates how "helping" is a nuanced concept, and many actions of responders create negative outcomes despite the best of intentions.

Implications for Practice : The context of this study is venturing in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Haiti has experienced a lengthy history of distress and recently has been labeled a "nation of NGOs" due to the involvement and influence of thousands of NGOs that coordinate resource flow and distribution. This study challenges the NGO model and suggests that locals are best positioned to 1) identify the most pressing needs and 2) facilitate action that generates positive outcomes for individuals, organizations and communities. This has substantial practical implications for all individuals and organizations that engage in disaster response. Rather than simply dumping money in disaster-hit areas, outsiders should seek to cultivate and support local venturing activities that produce positive, long-term and transformational change.

Implications for Policy: Policy on responding to crises should consider how that policy will impact the long-term recovery of victims. Specifically, there should be efforts to enable victims as decision-makers in the disaster response process, including organizing responses and facilitating transitions in the recovery process. With that said, not all efforts result in the same outcomes. Local efforts to engage in a long-term "survival" mode do not benefit victims in the long run, but rather "trap" them in a state of reliance and dependence on outsiders for their every need.

Implications for Society: Society should reflect on how it defines and frames "helping." Sometimes the quickest solutions (giving money, resources, etc.) are the easiest, but they are not always appropriate given various stages of recovery. Long-term solutions must involve locals who have an investment in a disaster area and are focused on transformational change. This change should be customized (by locals) to build on established capabilities of local communities.

Implications on Research: This research builds on recent studies that demonstrate a broader footprint for entrepreneurship activity. That is, entrepreneurship does not only involve the pursuit of high-growth, high-revenue businesses, but also serves as a vehicle for generating positive social outcomes including promoting resilience to adversity. Similarly, this study expands our understanding of social resources, demonstrating how the relationship behind resources is important in shaping the types of activities firms engage in.

Full Citations : Williams, T.A. & Shepherd, D.A. Forthcoming. "Building resilience or providing sustenance: Different paths of emergent ventures in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake." Academy of Management Journal.

Abstract : Disaster events threaten the lives, economies and wellbeing of those they impact. Understanding the role of emergent organizations in responding to suffering and building resilience is an important component of the grand challenge of how to effectively respond to disasters. In this inductive case study we explore venture creation initiated by locals in response to suffering following the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In exploring six ventures we found that two distinctive groups emerged in terms of their identification of potential opportunities to alleviate suffering, their access to and use of key resources, the action they took, and ultimately their effectiveness in facilitating resilience. We offer an inductive, grounded theoretical model that emerged from our data that provides insight into and an extension of literature on resilience to adversity and the disaster literature on emergent response groups, opening pathways for management scholarship to contribute in a meaningful way to this grand challenge.

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Trenton Williams

Trenton Williams

Trent Williams is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship. His research focuses on entrepreneurial venture emergence, resourcefulness, decision-making and resilience. His work has appeared in the Journal of Management, Organizational Research Methods, Journal of Management Studies and The Academy of Management Learning and Education, among others. He is particularly interested in idea generation at early stages of venture creation.
Trenton Williams
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