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South African entrepreneurship PhDs to receive vital funding boost

- Wits University

Media release: R4 million funding awarded to the SASIE Programme and Network project.

The South African PhD Partnering Network for Inclusive Growth through the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SASIE Programme and Network) project has just been awarded a funding grant of R4 million, distributed over a three year period from 2015.

The SASIE Programme and Network project comprises five South African institutions (Wits Business School, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), and the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.

Professor and Chair in Entrepreneurship at the Wits Business School, Boris Urban has headed up the SASIE project since inception and submitted the request for funding. He says, “We are delighted with this news, the grant is a critical boost for social entrepreneurship and its research here in South Africa.”

The grant is a collaborative funding agreement between South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Doctoral Training Centre in social sciences at Essex. The ESRC is predominantly focused on social enterprise research at a PhD level. This agreement falls within the Newton Fund, a GBP375 million endowment which, through science and innovation partnerships, aims to strengthen science and innovation capacity to support poverty alleviation within 15 countries that are partnering with the UK.

Urban says, “Social entrepreneurship and social innovation are increasingly promoted by policy makers, civil society, businesses and public sector bodies as a way to address complex poverty and sustainable development issues as part of a quest for inclusive growth, especially for the marginalised and disenfranchised here in South Africa.

We are seeing a number of non-profits and for-profit socially orientated small businesses emerging in response to a host of social, environmental and economic issues predominantly in townships and poor rural areas. Larger South African multinationals are also working with social enterprises as part of their corporate social responsibility and economic empowerment initiatives. As a result, we are seeing a corresponding rise in academic research and interest in this field. We certainly see it here at our own Centre for Entrepreneurship at WBS.”

While the project is focused on social enterprises, other activities within the network will offer capacity building, knowledge transfer and networking opportunities to PhD students across all South African universities and research institutes.

In addition, the programme will develop a researcher database open to researchers across the world to facilitate networking and collaborative research around the broad themes of the SASIE network associated with development initiatives for inclusive growth.

Urban says, “South African scholars in these fields can often be isolated in the global research environment. Sharing their own insights and learning from others is critical to developing rigorous and relevant research that has the potential to improve the quality and impact of the research being undertaken.Developing research capacity across South Africa through exposure to cutting edge methodological techniques offers the opportunity to strengthen the collection and analysis of data to produce empirically rigorous work.”

The SASIE programme themes will focus on the broad role of enterprise-based development models and in particular all aspects associated with social innovation, social entrepreneurship and enterprise based inclusive growth initiatives.

Ten South African PhD students will be drawn from across the five South Africa universities and a further ten from the University of Essex. A series of activities are planned over the three year programme that will facilitate sustainable links between partners, improve research capacity and training, and build a research community in South Africa and internationally linked to the SASIE research themes.

Steve Bluen, Head of WBS says, “We are very proud of Professor Urban for securing and driving such a significant contribution to this important field of research. The positive impact of this project on the social enterprise sector of South Africa cannot be underestimated. As a business school that aims to be at the forefront of critical issues facing the continent today, we firmly believe that we have a role to play in creating more inclusive and sustainable economic growth for all.  Initiatives such as Professor Urban’s SASIE programme reinforce this promise.”