Monday, July 24, 2017

New course on Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Emerging Economies


Stemming from our experience with the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation and the Center for Development Innovation, this brand-new optional course for Master, PhD students and practitioners will start in September-October 2017 and will repeat in period 1 every year. The course is also part of the MSc Entrepreneurship Track. 

Enrol now here!

http://www.wur.nl/en/project/New-optional-course-on-Entrepreneurship-and-Innovation-in-Emerging-Economies-.htm

You can also participate as a practitioner, guest student from another university or as former Wageningen University MSc or PhD alumni:

http://www.wur.nl/en/Education-Programmes/Student-Service-Centre/Show-SSC/Bijvak-and-Contract-Student-1.htm 



Friday, May 5, 2017

Prosocial organising workshop

This workshop organised around a Journal of Business Venturing special issue at Ivey Business School, London (Ontario), was by far the biggest (work-related) surprise of my April.


I went there really worried and came back really uplifted. I wish workshops were always like that.



Prosocial organising? Do we really need another fairly difficult concept out there? Does it help us to understand what entrepreneurship is, how does it take place and evolves over time? How does it contribute informing entrepreneurs on how to tackle social problems and develop visions for a thriving change for our neighbourhoods, communities and other systems we are embedded in?

Well, it seems it does... During the workshop I had at least three epiphanies:

  1. Prosocial motivations and behaviours have specific and well-defined meanings, that is, having concern for others and voluntary practices intended to benefit others. And the study of organising processes around prosociality is at least old as I am (Brief and Motowidlo 1986);
  2. There is still a knowledge gap on how prosocial organising relates to processes of integrating competing values in organisations, interplays with other existing institutions (families, communities, laws, markets) and contributes to achieve impact in society. 
  3. Prosocial organising is actually a concrete thing. It was humbling to live and touch the experiences of great people - an international kayak champion, a laundry social entrepreneur, a entrepreneur cutting across construction and toy business, and a youth empowerment social entrepreneurs. Their life stories were incredibly touching.



Perhaps the most uplifting thing for me was to see the workshop organisers and my fellow participants enacting - what I understood so far of - prosocial organising.

This really helped my co-authors and me in seeing our enormous dataset and long experience with food and energy consumer communities in a new and more nuanced light.

Thank you. These things make academia beautiful and do have lots of unexpected spillovers.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Youth entrepreneurship in conflict areas

How do youth engage in entrepreneurship and innovation to seize strategic opportunities in food and ag markets in conflict areas and transition economies? How can training programs meaningfully support them in this process? Supported by a USAID-funded research and capacity building project in Mindanao (The Philippines), my co-authors Prof. Catherine Chan, Dr. Cynthia Lai, Prof. Elma Neyra and me participated to a book tackling these questions.

Please give a look or purchase the book here!

And let me know if you are interested to receive a private copy of the following chapter:

Lai, C., Chan, C., Dentoni, D., Neyra, E. (2017). “Measuring youth entrepreneurs’ potential: the case of an out-of-school youth training program in Mindanao, Philippines.” Ed. Chan, C., Sipes, B. and Lee, T., Agri-Entrepreneurship in Conflict and Transition Regions, CABI, London, UK, In Press.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

MSc thesis opportunities 2017


The Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (GCFSI) - directed by Michigan State University in collaboration with Wageningen University and others globally - operates with companies, non governmental organisations and research institutes with the aim of putting into practice the main concepts of our Management Studies Groupentrepreneurship, innovation, governance, strategic management and organisation – to deal with wicked problems affecting agricultural and food systems: poverty, violation of human rights, resource scarcity, waste and climate change among the others.

Given its goal, GCFSI seeks to bridge researchers with managers and leaders in agribusiness & international development practice. To do so, GCFSI provides opportunities for MSc and PhD students enrolled at (or visiting) Wageningen University to engage in stimulating thesis and research projects. Students and faculty staff have the opportunity to give their contribution to disseminate research and improve knowledge on management issues in the context of international development.


MSc thesis 1: Individual competencies, organizational structures and dynamic capabilities for stakeholder orientation in Netherlands

Suggested supervisors: Dr. Renate Wesselink, Dr. Valentina Materia, Dr. Domenico Dentoni




MSc thesis 2: Individual competencies for emerging business models in Malawi

Suggested supervisors: Dr. Renate Wesselink, Dr. Domenico Dentoni





MSc thesis 3: Storage business models and farmers’ seed choices in Ethiopia

Suggested supervisors: Dr. Liesbeth Dries, Dr. Jacques Trienekens, Dr. Domenico Dentoni



If you are interested to learn more about these research topics and GCFSI in general, would like to get involved through a joint research, training or teaching project or would like to organise an event to discuss or disseminate these topics, feel free to contact the Management Studies Group at Wageningen University & Research, the GCFSI or me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bringing "wicked problems" outside the ivory tower

Many managers, friends and stakeholders often ask me: you write much about wicked problems such as food insecurity, land degradation, climate change... but what are these "wicked problems" exactly? Are problems related to sustainability that is NOT wicked? And also, don't you believe that by talking about these wicked problems, you simply make problems more complex that what they are?

Here are my tentative answers to these fair questions. 

First, I propose that managers can realize if they are facing a wicked problem - and act accordingly - by asking themselves three questions:

  1. Do your stakeholders have always (or for a very long period of time, let’s say 10 years) the same needs/requests/reasons to pressure your organization relative to the problem?
  2. Does science (from either different disciplines or even within the same discipline) find consensus among your organization and stakeholders on the cause-effect relationships that relate to the problem? 
  3. Do your stakeholders have different beliefs and goals related to the problem, but ultimately they share the same values, although communicated in different languages and styles?

If the answer is NO to these three questions, then we argue that you and your organization are indeed facing a wicked problem and should act accordingly. If YES, maybe you are facing a complex or complicated or a strategic problem – but not wicked.

In more academic terms, in their essence, wicked problems have three key features: 1) they change continuously and non-linearly over time; 2) they involve scientific uncertainty, i.e. stakeholders and even scientists disagree on the causes and effects of the problem; and 3) they in involve conflict of values among stakeholders (see the argument developed in Dentoni and Bitzer 2013; Dentoni and Bitzer 2015; and more extensively in Dentoni, Bitzer and Schouten 2016 forthcoming)

P.S. We very much realize that much policy literature, building upon Rittel and Webber (1973), provides way more articulated definitions of wicked problems; but to be helpful and meaningful to managers and change agents in general, we argued that the concept of wicked problems needs more synthesis and "coming to grips" with everyday practice in organizations: and these three questions are meant to bring the concept of wicked problems from the "academic hyper uranium" to everyday practice in organizations, while seeking to capture its very essence...

Consequently, my (shorter) response to the other two fair questions that I often receive out of the ivory tower:

  • An example of non-wicked (or tame) problem: doing a marketing campaign to launch a new product as "sustainable" in a new country maybe a complex, complicated, difficult problem
  • To the irreducible believers that's "better stay positive, don't focus on problems, just focus on opportunities!": thinking about problems with no actionable goal may sound quite pointless at first sight... but, if you give a deeper look, you may see that making sense of the continuously changing nature of problems and act accordingly is perhaps the only way forward to act "effectively" and make an impact in a complex system. Common sentences like: "Researchers only keep analyzing problems", while "managers have to implement solutions, have no time to focus on problems" are really poor stereotypes, and naive sentences. Good researchers and managers - that sense the problems while acting on them AND on opportunities - actually communicate frequently and do both things (analysis and implementation) at the same time. Both researchers or managers who don't master this ambidexterity - i.e., sensing the problems and seeking opportunities at the same time - should perhaps ask more questions to themselves... as they are may fall behind in their capacity of managing future business-society-academia interactions... 

Any thoughts on that? Please contact me and let me know if this helps or confuses you further. I'd be happy either way. Other related questions that deserve attention:

  • How can a manager that is new to a problem say if that problem is wicked or not? New problems are always fuzzy and unclear... Good question to tackle in future research!
  • How can a manager that is familiar with a problem and believes to knows EVERYTHING about it be possibly convinced that the problem is wicked? Good question to tackle in future research... for the time being, we develop training practices, both for managers and students, to "open the manager's mind" and challenge her/his assumptions the nature of problems and solutions to sustainability problems.
  • Once we learned that a certain problem is wicked, so what? In the context of ag-food, we tried to tackle the "so what question" in two International Food and Agribusiness Management Review Special Issues in 2012 and 2013. But the answers are still partial and preliminary. We sought to further expand our perspective in a new Special Issue on tackling wicked problems through what we call Large Systems Change, which has now been published in a Journal of Corporate Citizenship special issue and in a subsequent article in the Journal of Organizational Change Management


We are evidently still scratching the surface in this research direction. We need to learn and share more knowledge with managers to tackling the question on how managers and change agents should work on sustainability problems according to their intrinsic nature. My impression is that the next 30 years of management research and practice will much advance in this direction.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

To be Sustainable, Get Out of Your “Comfort Zone”

After one year of work, the Part 1 of the Special Issue titled “Managing Wicked Problems: The Role of Multi-Stakeholder Engagements in Value Creation” has finally come out and you can find it here online.

This has been published with the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review (IFAMR).

Happy reading and I'd love to receive your comments on both content and methods. How does this apply and relate to the problems that your organization and your country is facing? I am really curious and your comment could be the starting point to expand our investigation.

First, here I’d like to take some time to thank to the following people:
  • my Co-Editors Otto Hospes, who gently inspires and challenges me with insightful questions coming from extensive experience with this topic and Brent Ross, who makes me keep calm and acts firmly in turbulent times;
  • Kathryn White, IFAMR Technical Editor, who practically puts together our contributions, patiently coordinates and revises the details of the entire work and provides enthusiasm along the process;
  • Peter Goldsmith, IFAMR Editor-in-Chief, who gave me the opportunity of creating this issue with no hesitation and much trust in shaping it despite my fairly young age and my quite unknown name in agribusiness management research;
  • Michigan State University Ag Bio Research and Product Center of the generous funding and the willingness to cooperate with Wageningen University and me;
  • Each of the authors contributing to this Special Issue. As written in our Editor’s Note, each of them helped putting together a piece of the puzzle.
Second, I’d like to share here what drove my motivation to undertake this work with great deal of enthusiasm.

Something that I continuously find written and re-written innumerable times in blogs, journals, reports and press releases and repeated is: “Today’s world sustainability problems do not allow companies, managers and individuals to keep doing business as usual”.
But what does this really mean for us, and for me, in practice? How can we make it applicable to our daily lives? In my recent and current work, I interpret this as follows:

No matter if you are a leader in a large or small company, in a non-profit organization, in a public agency or political party, or if you are a farmer, a consumer, a researcher or a citizen. Get out of the “comfort zone” of your own network and engage with a broader set of people and groups around your organization and community.

Seek and try to understand the people and groups that have different backgrounds, values, perceptions, assumptions of the world from yours but are tackling the same global problems – although from a different angle – from yours.

As a researcher working on climate change & biotechnology in partnership with a company, go and challenge the NGOs that advocates you; go and chase the local administrator that does not seem to understand the value of what you are doing.

As an agribusiness CEO dealing with problems land, water and commodity supply for your business, embrace farmers, consumers, communities, governments and universities in your strategy, no matter how time constraints you are. As a bank manager, do not be afraid to go out and discuss global finance issues with people demonstrating against the system.

As a politician or policy-maker, go out and discuss the details of how you are reforming systems and what the implications are. As an NGO activist, go and dialogue with the companies that in your opinion are exploiting laborers and land, or violating human rights, if needed demonstrate against them.

As a citizen and consumer, be mindful of your habits and choices; ask yourself what you value and what you stand for, ask yourself what makes you believe and choose to switch to solar panels, or to buy an hybrid car, or to buy some "healthy" or "sustainable" food at your grocery store, or to grow your own food, or instead what makes you believe that none of this is impotant for you. Moreover, investigate how you reached the point of getting to have certain beliefs. Who are the people and organizations that are influencing your beliefs and your daily life habits and choices?   

So sense your stakeholders and take the opportunity to interact with them. Truly accept the challenge of learning from them. And consider changing based on what you learning from them.    

Yet as a leader in your organization and community you are likely to have a fully booked agenda and many things in your head. So why should you ever do all this?

Getting out of the comfort zone of your network is not only to be nice and explorative with today’s world, although as a leader you may enjoy the exploration process. Not only to feel responsible and mindful with society and the environment, although as a leader you are the only one that can do something about it.

Engaging with multiple stakeholders - if done sincerely and meaningfully - creates value to you and to your organization. You and your organization become widely accepted by society, embedded in the local and global community, and deeply perceived as legitimate, transparent, open to dialogue and change.

The subsequent practical benefits for your organization are evident. In managerial terms, they include competitiveness, equity and reputation, trust and social capital, and access to strategic resources. Not seeing them right at your horizon would be very myopic. You should see them, the other people within your organization should see them.      

The more you engage with stakeholders today, the easiest is to deal with them tomorrow. Tomorrow means probably next week, next month, this year, next year, or within a few years from now. Sustainability problems are complex, globally interconnected, and incredibly close to our current lives. As we discuss in this Special Issue, sustainability problems are wicked. In other words if you do not seek, find, understand and deal with these problems today, the problems will find you.

All this may sound quite rhetorical and not new to many. The most adaptive organizations and far-sighted managers in agriculture worldwide are engaging with multiple stakeholders and developed their strategies accordingly since almost one decade (Dentoni and Peterson 2011). Plus, this message has already been largely discussed and developed in stakeholder theory (Freeman 1984 and 2010), wicked problems (Rittel and Weber 1973; Batie 2008; Peterson 2010) and dynamic capabilities (Teece 2007) literature. Within my organization, Wageningen University, a number of researchers have been largely exploring and applying some of these principles (Rabbinge, Hospes, Klerkx and Leeuwis, WUR Center for Development Innovation).

So what is the mission of this Special Issue?

From my point of view, its mission is to move managers, leaders and scholars from being aware that sustainability issues in agribusiness require engaging with multiple stakeholders to create a system of knowledge sharing on the practical questions of how to engage with multiple stakeholders in practice. How to develop effective multi-stakeholder engagements? In particular, what are the appropriate formal and informal mechanisms to engage? How inclusive the optimal stakeholder engagement should be? Which human and physical resources are needed and in which situations?

To tackled these questions, we used a grounded theory approach of inductive research (Eisenhardt 1989) to compare and combine and the recent experience of leaders in companies (Unilever, AllTech), NGOs (Oxfam Novib) and universities (Boston College, Michigan State University, Utrecht University, Wageningen University).

In synthesis, the learning from this experience and research is in Figure 1 of our Editors’ Note.







Why this Special Issue has the aim of creating a system of knowledge sharing rather than just creating some shared knowledge? Because the way I see this Special Issue is as a first step of a continuous process of sharing practices, perspectives and knowledge among managers, leaders and researchers of organizations dealing with sustainability in agribusiness. In our Editors’ Note (Figure 2), we referred to this ambition as a call for immediate and inclusive Community Action Research, a term recently coined by Senge (2006) and which sounds very appropriate in this context.







Creating this platform for knowledge sharing is the reason why Part 1 of this Special Issue will be followed by Part 2, which we aim to publish in April 2013.

We anticipate that in Part 2, using the same research method, we will compare and integrate the also the experience of leaders at Rabobank and VION (as companies), at the Dutch Animal Society (as NGO) and at Michigan State University, Wageningen University and University of Macerata in Italy (as universities) and the list is getting longer.
So keep following us with Part 2 of this Special Issue at www.ifama.org.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Global Center for Food System Innovation (GCFSI)

Today USAID - US Agency for International Development - has launched the Higher Education Solutions Network  (HESN). A program aiming to facilitate - through research and education - the application of science, technology and innovation to development problems worldwide. Ambitious!

Seven consortia were funded with grants between 10$ Million and 25$ Million- led by UC Berkeley, MIT, Duke University, William & Mary College, Texas A&M, Makerere University (Uganda) and Michigan State University . They are going to constitute seven development labs, each one with a specific mission.

As partner with Michigan State University, Wageningen University has constituted the Global Center for Food System Innovation (GCFSI) as a development lab. The Center will engage with stakeholders worldwide to:
- Discuss common strategies to tackle two "world megatrends": 1) Climate Change, Population Growth and Land Use, and 2) Rapid Urbanization and Change of Consumption Habits;
- Implement a strategy for Skills Evolution - both technological and social skills - of the current and next generation of world leaders to tackle these world megatrends appropriately.  

I will be part of the Executive Committee, the Private Sector Engagement Committee and the Skills Evolution Committee. For the time being, I will be funded with 260,000 EUR in 5 years covering 30% of my wage, travels and research costs worldwide. I start feeling the pressure!

There will be a number of opportunities of collaboration with colleagues within our Management Studies (MST) Group at Wageningen University and in our networks and with interested BSc, MSc and PhD students. I will keep you posted. Go ahead and ask me if you want to know more now.

The event had extensive media coverage. GCFSI coordinators met with Hillary Clinton at the US Department of State. See Berkeley and W&M newsletters.

Read the full story at: http://www.usaid.gov/hesn