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Author: Hutchinson, Kelly Anne

Institution RMIT University
As Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and social enterprises become drivers of economic growth, the nexus provides opportunities for new models of business to bring benefits to communities in developing countries. Recognising the complex dynamics and range of actors in this diverse and emerging sector, this study chooses to document the external influences, use and impact of ICT on social enterprises. The problem investigated is the potential gap between the rhetoric of the ‘promise of e-business’ versus the dynamics of enactment and impacts of ICT in practice in the social enterprise sector.

The methodology consists of a mixed-method data collection strategy to triangulate data sources from a diverse cross-section of organisations in the social enterprise sector in Cambodia. These include a cross-sectional survey, interviews, observations, document analysis and review of artefacts. It is unclear whether the Cambodian social enterprise sector represents a unique case or is representative of other countries. Regardless, the rich dynamics of the sector and the current lack of understanding of ICT use by this sector in developing countries per se warrant such a study. It fills a significant gap in the field of ICT and development by providing an in-depth overview of the social enterprise sector in one developing country, which may also be applicable in other developing country contexts.

The research maps the e-business status of Cambodian social enterprises along a continuum from precursor activity to fully integrated e-services. It finds that Cambodian social enterprises believe ICT adds value to their operation; however access to affordable and reliable local ICT resources is an important factor determining long-term uptake. It also shows that external support is seen as vital to the success of ICT uptake by social enterprises in Cambodia. Donors have the most significant influence on social enterprises’ framing of ICT, whilst NGOs, associations and the private sector are also important institutional players in shaping understanding and uptake of ICT.

The main contribution of the research is to identify the real development impact of ICT use by social enterprises by measuring the role of ICTs in achieving their goals. Its major finding is that social and business missions are inextricably linked within these organisations, so to measure one in isolation of the other denies the new paradigm that social enterprises present. The most active sub-sector explored that best reflects this unique value proposition is the emerging social outsourcing potential of the IT services sub-sector. The handicraft and processing sub-sectors have yet to fully engage and use ICT to their maximum benefit. The outlook for these sub-sectors is likely to require further support to best harness the potential that ICT can bring developing countries.