Opportunities and Limitations of (Social) Entrepreneurial Approaches: a Case Study of the Recycling Sector in Cape Town, South Africa
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Social entrepreneurship, which can be described as the application of market-based approaches to societal and/or environmental problems, represents a collision between good intentions and the pursuit of profitability. Nearly two decades ago, the democratically elected African National Congress inherited a country in crisis. Neoliberal policies have since promoted the role of the private sector in economic and social development in South Africa. Entrepreneurship is seen as a tool to stimulate poverty alleviation, address staggering unemployment rates and integrate blacks into the mainstream economy. Municipalities are increasingly turning to alternative service delivery, privatization and public-private partnerships to address service delivery crises. Moving beyond traditional methodological approaches of individual case studies, this research adopts a holistic analysis of the recycling sector, which allows reflections on the state and implications of (social) entrepreneurial approaches. Particularly, this research is concerned with the opportunities and limitations afforded by entrepreneurial approaches, including the extent to which contextual variables are acknowledged and unequal power dynamics are challenged or further entrenched. Grounded in entrepreneurship and business theory, this research also pulls from waste management literature, global development, critical and gender studies. Various methodological inquires are undertaken, including structured and semi-structured interviews of participants of recycling initiatives and management of sector organizations, content analysis, and the facilitation of a Recycling Forum. Findings suggest that while there are some opportunities, (social) entrepreneurial approaches are significantly hindered by a lack of acknowledgement of contextual variables and critical investigation into the institutional structures and biases that create particular gendered entrepreneurial spaces. Initiatives risk entrenching apartheid-era inequalities and further disadvantaging the most vulnerable through the creation of competition. The emphasis on recycling deflects efforts from more immediate or hazardous challenges and is insufficient to challenge market inequalities. Moving beyond a guise of good intentions, social entrepreneurship is suggested as a reflective and iterative process that promotes greater self-awareness of one’s impact on the existing value chain, power dynamics and social justice.