Meeting Adversity

Examining resilience of entrepreneurs in developing countries could help stabilize economies worldwide

Entrepreneurs in developing countries experience increasingly chaotic environments influenced by political and social upheaval. They also face psychological hurdles created by unique challenges such as uncertain customer demand, fluctuating markets, economic instability and regulations.

One such region, sub-Saharan Africa, is the focus of a new project by USF Sarasota-Manatee researchers Jean Kabongo, PhD, and Thomas Becker, PhD. Their work, “Resilience of Entrepreneurs in Developing Economies: Implications for Regional and Organizational Effectiveness,” begins this fall.

The study builds on their previous expertise, including Kabongo’s experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. Supported through funding from the World Bank, he helped small-scale farmers develop their entrepreneurial activities, moving from traditional means to more industrial production for palm oil, cassava and rice.

The consultative work examined how entrepreneurs in poor areas can generate greater income and accumulate greater assets to reduce poverty and build the foundations for sustainable economic development.

Through his work on employee commitment, motivation and job performance and productivity, Becker helped improve the conception of resilience profiles in management literature. In Becker and Ferry (2016), he presented and discussed the 10 facets of resilience: resistance, point of decline, rate of descent, depth of descent, length of depth, point of ascent, rate of ascent, height of return, length of peak and length of episode.

Building on that work, Kabongo and Becker plan a longitudinal study of 200 African entrepreneurs in Ghana, South Africa and Uganda to support most of the hypotheses:

  • Entrepreneurial resilience is particularly relevant in such economies and is a key moderator of the effects of adversity on entrepreneurs’ psychological states.
  • When faced with adversity, highly resilient entrepreneurs are less likely to experience negative emotions and counterproductive cognitive appraisals, and more likely to experience positive emotions, adaptive coping and enhanced commitment.
  • As a result, even under adverse circumstances, highly resilient entrepreneurs tend to grow their ventures and contribute to the prosperity of their regions.

“These findings will underscore the importance of educating and supporting entrepreneurs in developing economies and of fostering resilience among those willing to embrace entrepreneurial pursuits,” Kabongo said.

The researchers define entrepreneurial resilience as the capacity of people who start businesses to demonstrate concrete, positive adaptation to adversity. It’s not to be confused with causes such as psychological traits like self-esteem or emotional stability, social factors like family support, or effects such as the entrepreneur’s health, firm survival and growth, or the prosperity of the regions in which entrepreneurs work.

Infographic of entreprenuerial resilience
Countries that exhibit greater instances of entrepreneurial resilience benefit from a variety of positive economic indicators.

Yet, little documented research exists to clearly outline theories or solutions for such variables in the region. In particular, initial inquiry reveals high-level and significant adversity confronting African entrepreneurs facing the usual challenges of starting and growing a business in highly adverse and, at times, unstable environments.

“We expect the research to provide a reason for competitive proposals aimed at sustaining the trajectory of the work. We’re especially interested in applying the findings widely across Africa and other regions of the world,” Becker said. “Another outcome could be the creation of policy implications and implementation key to strengthening the economic infrastructure for developing countries.”

The researchers plan to include students from USFSM and their African colleagues’ institutions.

Kabongo, an associate professor of strategic management and entrepreneurship, earned USFSM’s Outstanding Professor award in Fall 2015, Fall and Spring 2016, and Spring 2018. His recent research focuses on the analysis and promotion of sustainable practices in organizations, sustainable entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship in developing countries. Since 2017, he has joined The World Bank Group in working with small-scale farmers in Congo.

Becker, an industrial-organizational psychologist and professor of management, has received numerous distinctions for his work with employee commitment, research methods and statistics, motivation, job performance and productivity, and is currently interested in individual and organizational resilience. He received the USFSM Excellence in Research Award in Spring 2018 and has worked with prominent healthcare, government, military, corporate, manufacturing and service organizations to improve individual and organizational effectiveness.

Becker and Kabongo are writing a chapter on the resilience of entrepreneurs in developing economies to be published this year in the Handbook of Organizational Resilience. Their goal is to develop a model that addresses gaps in knowledge, particularly in developing countries. Their primary research was preceded by a pilot study earlier this year, with findings expected by Spring 2020.

- Melanie Bass

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