New research by Professor Joshua Ault Helps Clarify Concept of ‘State Fragility’

Entrepreneurship is crucial to the economic growth of a region. Entrepreneurs open doors to innovation, spark growth in productivity, and create new jobs. Often seen as the drivers of innovation and leading indicators of change, entrepreneurs are sometimes characterized as the superheroes of the business world.

In order to support these superheroes, it is important that researchers have a better understanding of what conditions hinder or help entrepreneurship in developing or developed countries. To advance this understanding, Thunderbird professor Joshua K. Ault and fellow researcher Andrew Spicer have taken a close look at one measure: “state fragility.” Their work has been published in Asia Pacific Journal of Management.

Joshua K. Ault & Andrew Spicer, State fragility as a multi-dimensional construct for international entrepreneurship research and practice; Published by Asia Pacific Journal of Management, May 31, 2019 

While other research into international entrepreneurship has begun to examine what drives the success of entrepreneurs in the world’s poorest and least-developed countries, Ault and Spicer say there is no consensus about how to define and measure factors that shape the wide range of entrepreneurial activities in the developing world.

Their paper embarks on an understanding of the concept of “state fragility,” how it is measured and how it is defined, “thus adding greater clarity and granularity to the constructs and terminology used to compare diverse country contexts.” 

High hopes for entrepreneurs globally 

In addition to being change-makers in relation to enterprise, entrepreneurs are also credited with making life better for many people. By extending products or services to those who need them most, social entrepreneurs have been catalysts for change around the world. 

In other words, there are high hopes for the output of entrepreneurs worldwide, especially in developing countries. Entrepreneurial dynamism is expected to be able to unearth innovative solutions to the problems for a wide variety of issues, including poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, climate change, sanitation, energy, and unemployment. 

“New research by Ault and Spicer says there is no consensus about how to define and measure factors that shape the wide range of entrepreneurial activities in the developing world.” Click to tweet

“We must start thinking about and treating our entrepreneurs as national assets,” according to a recent commentary in African Business Magazine, ‘Unleashing Africa’s entrepreneurs to realize SDGs.’ “Policymakers have an essential role to play in creating the enabling environment and providing incentive structures to support these entrepreneurs. We have to address bottlenecks and red tape, reduce the costs of doing business, and facilitate the development of hubs and accelerators.” 

Ault and Spicer point out that recent entrepreneurship studies have positioned their research in the context of developing countries as diverse as Colombia, Bangladesh, Congo, Guatemala, Malawi, and Palestine, to cite only a few examples of the burgeoning interest in a wide range of developing country settings.

A granular look at ‘state fragility’  

Instead of viewing all developing countries as universally weak nations, Ault and Spicer argue that a more granular look at the construct of state fragility offers a conceptual framework for identifying which types of capabilities are weak, to what degree, and in what configuration. 

This is not just a matter of semantics. They are urging international entrepreneurial researchers to look closely into what is causing a country or region to be fragile. Instead of focusing on what is missing, researchers should take a more nuanced look at what is happening, or “focus on the ‘institutional interfaces’ that appear at the intersection of political, social, and economic spheres.”

“Thunderbird professor urges international entrepreneurial researchers to look closely into what is causing a country or region to be fragile.” Click to tweet

A systematic and multi-dimensional look at a country’s impact on entrepreneurial environments will give researchers far more tools to work with as they determine what is working and what isn’t. 

The researchers: Ault and Spicer

Joshua K. Ault (PhD, University of South Carolina) is an assistant professor of global strategy at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Professor Ault’s research explores how differences across emerging and developing countries impact entrepreneurial motivations and outcomes. He focuses specifically on differences in the effectiveness of social entrepreneurship that tackles problems such as deep poverty.

Andrew Spicer (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is an associate professor in the Sonoco International Business Department at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. His research and teaching focuses on the intersection of business and society in a global economy.

Ault and Spicer have collaborated on several previous papers appearing in, among others, Strategic Management JournalAcademy of Management Proceedings, and Contemporary Studies in Economic and Financial Analysis.

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