Centre for Emerging Market Business

REGION: Global

Research, Academic

Engaged inquiry in a complex world

Research is central to the GSB’s mission and values, for its own sake and as an important influence on teaching, learning and community service. Its importance also derives from the strong UCT research culture, in which the GSB is immersed, and the School’s geographic location in an important emerging economy. 

GSB research broadly focuses on emerging market business. Our context places the GSB in one of the most interesting learning laboratories in the world, in a society and economy characterised by significant change and complexity. This presents GSB researchers with a special opportunity to conduct research that is of interest to leading scholarly journals while simultaneously addressing the various social, economic and environmental challenges facing emerging market societies. The GSB’s overarching research mission is thus “engaged inquiry in a complex world.”

With our focus on “engaged inquiry” we build on the work of Andrew van de Ven, Tima Bansal and others, who have been arguing for the need to design and implement research so that it impacts on both theory and practice. We feel that this orientation is particularly fitting to our context, given the many pressing organisational and social challenges facing our southern African societies, as well as the important opportunities arising from this context for contributing to global conversations on organisational theory.

Within this broad orientation, GSB research focuses on three thematic clusters: Social innovation and sustainability; Values-based leadership; and Emerging markets finance, investment and trade. These are inter-connected as illustrated below, and they are described in more detail below in the Researth Themes section.

Research Themes

Faculty Research

Under the broad heading of “Engaged inquiry in a complex world,” GSB research focuses on three thematic clusters:Emerging markets finance, investment and trade; Social innovation and sustainability; and Values-based leadership. These are briefly outlined below.

Emerging markets finance, investment and trade

This research node capitalizes upon the GSB’s location and expertise within the emerging market of South Africa. Emerging markets have several characteristics in common, including high levels of uncertainty, complexity and inequality associated with middle income traps and political and economic liberalization. This has major consequences for the business and economic environment. Companies are challenged to change standard practicesotocol in recognition of fluid ‘rules of the game’ and higher country risk profiles. In this research node we seek to comprehensively unpack the political, institutional, economic, financial and social forces at work in these emerging economies with a view to better inform organizations and investors as to how to adapt their strategies and portfolios to take advantage of the opportunities presented. This includes work on the impact of institutions on economic development in emerging markets; companies’ strategic responses to institutional voids; democratisation, local governance and service delivery; and emerging financial markets, implications for corporate finance, and new developments in sustainable and responsible investment.

Specific research units in this cluster include the GSB’s Management Programme in Infrastructure Reform and Regulation (MIR), which undertakes research across the African continent on investment in network industries, restructuring of utilities and improved regulatory regimes. 

Social innovation and sustainability

In this research node we are concerned with the nature of intentional, collaborative work that creatively transforms social-ecological systems across multiple scales. We focus on the development of products, processes, initiatives, or organizations that: 1) create social value through both means and ends; and 2) reconfigure institutionalized rules, values, beliefs, or relational patterns. 

We see emerging economies as especially fertile places to explore these themes. Because of their complexity, uncertainty, and inequality, emerging economies are often at the forefront of incubating practices that challenge current social paradigms. We are particularly interested in the organizational and network dynamics of social innovation and in the role that inter-organizational, cross-sector, and cross-scale relationships may play in developing and embedding solutions to wicked problems. GSB researchers currently explore these questions via a variety of topics and contexts, including health care, education, food security, climate change, impact investing, the sociology of finance, social entrepreneurship, supply chain innovation, and inclusive innovation.

Much of the research in this area is supported by the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Bertha Centre also includes the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development. Social innovation is also a prominent theme in the Lean Institute Africa.

Values-based leadership

There is growing concern about unethical behaviour among managers. An array of scandals is eroding public confidence in corporations as agents of development and positive social change. Such scandals exacerbate worries about companies acting as vehicles for self-enrichment at the expense of society and the environment. Yet despite a plethora of analyses, debates and laws, it seems that nothing much has changed. Why is change so difficult and what is our role in such change? What are the assumptions supporting our current business management model, and what are their implications? What if a broader array of values included as motives for managers, and what if we take seriously the complex interactions between values, actions, and outcomes? These are among the key questions addressed in various ways in this GSB research cluster. 

Research on this theme is supported in particular by the Allan Gray Chair in Values-Based Leadership. Related work is also undertaken in the Centre for Coaching.


Title: Marketing Executive

Saskia Hickey

Centre for Emerging Market Business News

Contact Details

Private Bag X3 Rondebosch
Cape Town - 7701
South Africa
+27 21 406 1911
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