About the Author(s)

Adelaid M. Sheik Email symbol
Department of Business Management, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

Thea J. Tselepis symbol
SARChI: Entrepreneurship Education, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

Collin D. Reddy symbol
Department of Business Management, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


Sheik, A.M., Tselepis, T.J. & Reddy, C.D., 2023, ‘Designing organisational effectiveness in social entrepreneurial enterprises’, Southern African Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management 15(1), a728. https://doi.org/10.4102/sajesbm.v15i1.728

Original Research

Designing organisational effectiveness in social entrepreneurial enterprises

Adelaid M. Sheik, Thea J. Tselepis, Collin D. Reddy

Received: 12 Mar. 2023; Accepted: 20 July 2023; Published: 20 Sept. 2023

Copyright: © 2023. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Background: Fundamental principles that encourage problem solving are included in the intersection between design thinking and systems thinking. In this study, we examined if these principles contribute to the nature of organisational effectiveness (OE) in the context of a social enterprise.

Aim: The objective of the study was to explore the nature of OE in social enterprises.

Setting: This exploratory qualitative study investigated the OE of social enterprises in South Africa.

Methods: A three-phased Delphi method was conducted by a panel of experts.

Results: Our findings indicate that the principles for the OE of social enterprises include, in particular, good, just, and useful services and/or products, as well as a satisfying human experience. In the context of a social enterprise, OE is therefore about the mission and resources of the enterprise. The enterprise can be viewed as making an impact when satisfying human (community and/or beneficiary) needs through useful products or services designed for good, and when promoting just relationships among and ethical conduct by all stakeholders.

Conclusion: The framework or principles for social enterprises’ OE may be used to guide leadership, governance of resources (such as finances), and training in solving ‘wicked problems’ in such ecosystems. It is recommended that social entrepreneurs also apply the framework.

Contribution: This paper offers four principles that are applicable when systems thinking overlaps with design thinking to guide the OE of social enterprises.

Keywords: design thinking; organisational effectiveness; systems thinking; social entrepreneurship; wicked problems.


Organisational effectiveness (OE) and how it is attained remain vague (Cameron & Whetten 2013:3) in research on traditional businesses, but also in social enterprises, which emerged as a more recent organisational design. A social enterprise is unique in organisational design because of its twofold mission (Cornelissen et al. 2021:1294; Reiser 2010:105). Social enterprises’ primary focus is meeting societal needs, but they simultaneously engage in business practices aimed at financial sustainability (Lee 2020:66). To understand the nature of OE of social enterprises, a view of the underpinning theories used to contextualise social entrepreneurship as a discipline is a relevant starting point.

The Schumpeterian viewpoint holds that any field in entrepreneurship (incl. social entrepreneurship) can be viewed from a change agent perspective (Schumpeter 1934). This implies that social entrepreneurship, in particular, can be defined as a field that promotes change for social good (Rahdari, Sepasi & Moradi 2016:349). One could therefore argue that social entrepreneurs are designers of social change. The perspective of design thinking has been applied in the social entrepreneurial realm (Jung 2021:50; Kummitha 2018:93). Design thinking offers principles that underpin a higher order of thinking that could guide social change through the application of certain principles that are used to solve open complex problems typically faced by social entrepreneurs (eds. Durkin & Gunn 2016:55). The relevance of design thinking principles may depend on the kind of problems faced, and may even determine the effectiveness of such problem solving.

Solving open complex problems, what Buchanan (1992:15) in his earlier work refers to as ‘wicked problems’, requires skill and effectiveness. A wicked problem, in the current study, is one in which the problem shifts with every step taken to solve it, in line with the view of Von Thienen, Meinel and Nicolai (2014:97) and Kummitha (2018:101). In other words, the problem might start as an issue of poverty, but, while attending to the poverty needs of a community with financial aid from an external source, a new problem in the form of dependency is created if the problem of job creation is left unsolved. Wicked problems are especially evident where deep-level changes in environmental and socio-economic systems are required (Vogel et al. 2016:515). Such issues are often prevalent in, although not exclusively, developing contexts such as South Africa.

Problem statement

The problem is that, in South Africa specifically, there are very few guidelines for the social economy in terms of how to manage it in an effective way, and what requires attention. Therefore, OE is a central construct, and may be important in meaningful engagement and the management of systems within and outside of a social enterprise. In this regard, the view of Diochon (2013:306) was adopted in this study, namely that OE entails meeting the needs and goals of critical constituencies – change agents and beneficiaries – in an entrepreneurial manner. A social entrepreneur or policy maker in such a context, therefore, has to carefully evaluate each move towards solving the open complex problem within the particular context, bearing in mind the long-term impact. Such long-term impact could be evaluated in terms of, for example, what and how social good was yielded for the people whom it was supposed to empower and uplift (Dentoni et al. 2018:335; Mor Barak 2020:139). This implies that the social enterprise’s effectiveness is also implicated in considering solutions to wicked problems. However, guidelines around what effective problem solving entails within the social economy are lacking, indicating, as a starting point, a need to explore constructs that could guide OE.

Research aim

The aim of this study was to explore the dimensions of OE within a social enterprise, using a Delphi method in a qualitative approach. This study is the first phase of a larger study on OE in social enterprises. This paper commences with a literature review on OE, followed by a discussion of design thinking, with a focus on how this lens may contribute to solving wicked problems (open complex problems) in the social entrepreneurial context. The discussion of methods and materials is followed by the findings, a discussion of the findings and conclusions.

Literature review

Organisational effectiveness and the social enterprise

Organisational effectiveness is the degree to which organisations attain their goals (Douglas, Rogers & Lorenzetto, 2014:570). There are, however, also other perspectives. A system resource perspective views OE as the ability of an organisation to mobilise scarce and valuable resources (Bryan 2019:888; Yuchtman & Seashore 1967:898), whereas the goal approach is internally focused and relates to organisational ends. The systems approach considers the organisation’s adaptation to its surrounding environment and how it mobilises resources from this environment; thus, it relates to organisational means. To mobilise resources, organisations need to enjoy good relations with constituencies who possess the required resources. In recognition of this, some scholars have developed the strategic constituencies approach, whereby OE is assessed against the needs of the organisation’s constituencies having been met (Pfefer & Salanick 1978:2). According to an internal process approach, organisations are effective when their internal processes run smoothly and in alignment with the organisational strategy (Nadler & Tushman 1980:39).

Scholars are increasingly recognising innovation as a key capability of effective organisations (Tayal et al. 2021:835). Sparrow and Cooper (2014:3) suggest that organisations are effective when they can attain strategic outcomes such as innovation. Organisations are also considered effective when they proactively accept new ideas and adopt new modes of operation. Related to this, organisational agility has been linked to OE (Holbeche 2018:305).

Notably, meeting organisational goals in an innovative way can also attain effectiveness in social enterprises. Diochon and Anderson (2009:12) offer a process perspective of OE applied to social enterprises, proposing that effectiveness of social enterprises relies on the organisation dealing with social problems in an innovative manner and maintaining self-sufficient operations, where internal processes are aligned in order to foster entrepreneurship. Effectiveness is likely to be judged subjectively, considering that different constituencies will have differing views about whether their needs and goals are being met by the enterprise; yet, innovation seems to be a key aspect, and probably increasingly important in resource-restricted times.

Typically, the goal of a social enterprise is to alleviate social, economic or health problem in society (Liket & Maas 2015:268). Whereas the main portion of funding of not-for-profit entities emanates from external entities such as government and donors, social enterprises obtain their funding from revenue generated through their internal operations (Young 2017). Social enterprises treat the problem as an entrepreneurial opportunity, and they design a business model (Bonomi et al. 2020:471; Qastharin 2016:629) around this to generate their own revenue while addressing the issues. This may involve social enterprises adopting an entrepreneurial strategy to devise innovative ways to design organisational processes. Although they may replicate the business models of entrepreneurs who have successfully tested them before, these earlier innovations are still fresh, and are thus accompanied by uncertainty. Those who replicate them still need to tolerate the adaptability that accompanies these new models. For example, the beneficiaries that social enterprises target may themselves adapt to the unorthodox solutions being provided, such as a small payment or having to work. The uncertainty of whether a business model can sustain itself over time remains a key concern for social enterprises. To operate in this manner, organisational processes are designed to be less bureaucratic, and are staffed with skilled individuals, to make the enterprise highly adaptable to changes in its environment. Ultimately, because of this entrepreneurial strategy, social enterprises’ effectiveness manifests as high adaptability, innovation in goal achievement, and an increase in resources (Diochon & Anderson 2009:21).

From the above, it seems that innovativeness and adaptability are key features of social enterprise effectiveness while solving complex problems. Therefore, it is argued that one needs to consider approaches to enhance innovation and adaptability in dynamic times. A pragmatic philosophy to guide approaches to innovation and adaptability in social enterprises is design thinking (Douglas et al. 2014:2).

Viewing social enterprise effectiveness from a design thinking perspective

Chick and Micklethwaite (2011:55) note the importance and relevance of social innovation through design thinking as a method to work towards solving open complex problems or ‘wicked problems’. It is important to note that the outcomes (in this study, social innovation) of design thinking may be on different levels, varying from concrete (such as physical products) to abstract (such as communication, strategy and systemic integration) (Buchanan 1992:6). The focus here is thus applying principles to processes and procedures of design decision-making, rather than product- or commercial outcomes.

Design thinking can be summarised as a way of thinking to solve problems, and involves not only thinking, but also doing while thinking (Kremel & Wetter Edman 2019:166). For this reason, the thinking must be very strategic (Diderich 2020:13; Knight, Daymond & Paroutis 2020:30), and is not just about experimentation. This strategy and thoughtfulness may be particularly important in social entrepreneurial contexts where the people are involved and effectiveness is measured in terms of impact on society (Umar et al. 2020:2). Societal impact or socially innovative outcomes may result from systematic interaction, or even though design thinking that is less linear (Dorst 2011:522; Yu, Yue & Halling 2018:135).

Systems theory and its applicability to organisational effectiveness

Systems theory has been applied to many transformative projects that have a goal relating to a positive social impact in society, and requires systems thinking (Paliwal, Niyogi & Chaturvedi 2019:2694). Systems theory holds that a system functions through a process, and that it is defined by its interconnected structures (input, transformation, and output and/or outcome). It has feedback loops and a flow, which shape certain behaviours in the system (Kalvesmaki & Tulman 2017:173). To change the outcome of a system requires an understanding of its structure and the behaviours that occur within the system (Meadows & Wright 2008:2). It could, therefore, be argued that social enterprises operate as systems in order to attain their goals. In this regard, their effectiveness may, at least to some extent, be linked to such attainment. The important thing is to understand that systems thinking has a definite pattern, while design thinking might require several iterations and the skipping of steps.

An important principle in terms of systems is therefore structure (pattern). In this regard, Clark and Zhang (2017:790) place emphasis on parameters or boundaries of systems when they state that: ‘No organism or living system could survive for long if it felt, or had to process, all environmental irritations’. Systems thinking may, therefore, have some applicability to open complex or wicked problems, which social enterprises often have to solve. However, a social system should have some form of self-regulation (Valentinov 2014:387). What exactly this means in a social enterprise in terms of its effectiveness is unclear. Because social enterprises with open complex problems or wicked problems operate in open systems, the boundaries of the system are ‘looser’ than those of a closed system. For example, there might be an overlap between systems- and design thinking in solving the wicked problems of social enterprises. In this study, the argument is made that, in a study that explores the dimensions of OE of social enterprises, a conceptual starting point is important. A conceptual starting point may be the overlap between systems thinking (central to effectiveness in terms of goal attainment) and design thinking (important for solving complex problems in an innovative and adaptable way), as these are not separate processes in the context of a social enterprise.

An overlap between design- and systems thinking for social enterprises

Richard Buchanan, a thought leader in the philosophy of design thinking, points out that there are common elements to systems- and design thinking. Systems thinking may not be exclusive of design thinking. Although it is often viewed as more structured (Clark & Zhang 2017:787) and hence more associated with management as opposed to the creative fields (where design thinking may be more naturally applied) (Dorst 2011:522), the two ways of thinking may overlap in some contexts. These overlaps in thinking to solve problems can create some common principles in terms of designing for social change, namely:

  1. designing for good (affirming the proper place of human beings in the spiritual and natural order of the world)

  2. designing for just (supporting equitable and ethical relationships among human beings)

  3. designing to satisfy needs (efficient in meeting physical, psychological and social needs of humans) and

  4. designing useful product and/or services (supporting humans in the accomplishment of goals and/or intentions).

One could argue that a social enterprise may fulfil its purpose through some or all these aspects in designed and/or intentional systems; hence, the OE might be strategically set up to contain one or more of these principles. As such, the OE requires at least some elements of design thinking to solve wicked problems when Buchanan’s (2019:109) principles are applied in an innovative way. Nevertheless, whether and in what way the nature of OE in the context of social enterprises involves these principles are yet to be explored empirically. The aim of this study was, therefore, to explore the dimensions of OE in social enterprises.

The next section details the research methodology of the study.

Research methodology

Research approach

This study followed a qualitative research approach and an exploratory design.

Study setting

The study was based in South Africa, which is currently viewed as a developing country. South Africa is regarded as ‘one of the most unequal countries in the world’ (Stats SA 2020:32). According to the Palma ratio, the wealthiest 10% of the population spent 6.89 times more than the poorest 40% (Stats SA 2020:34). South Africa faces what is described as a ‘three-fold [wicked] problem’ in the form of inequality, poverty and unemployment (Meldrum & Bonnici 2018:148), which are socioeconomic disparities commonly addressed by the social enterprise economy.

In the current study, 12 experts were purposively selected, but only 9 consented to participate. The participants were purposefully selected as they had the required expertise in social entrepreneurship to provide various viewpoints and perspectives so that various dimensions of OE could be explored. The Delphi method was applied, whereby three rounds of sequenced questions posed to the panel, until consensus was reached, as recommended by Skulmoski, Hartman and Krahn (2007:11).

Sampling and participants

The expertise of the participants and/or experts was used as the inclusion criterion, specifically (1) experience in the local emerging social economy in business, industry and academia, and (2) a specific role in a professional capacity in influencing the development of the ecosystem. The experts’ knowledge and expertise are indicated in Table 1, illustrating each participant’s role and involvement in the social economy.

TABLE 1: Overview of the experts that were purposively selected as participants to ensure that they had the required expertise in the field of social entrepreneurship to provide various viewpoints and perspectives.
Data collection and analysis

The Delphi method was applied to collect the data for this study. The Delphi method is a qualitative method often used to collect data anonymously from a group of experts (Sekayi & Kennedy 2017:2755; Brady, 2015). The Delphi method is a qualitative method often used to collect data anonymously from a group of experts (Punch 2013). It is an iterative approach that is used to facilitate problem solving by a panel of experts in a specific field (eds. Linstone & Turloff 1975:3; 2011:1712). The Delphi process creates an opportunity to draw from the collective experience and knowledge of selected experts (Rowe & Wright 2001:125–126; Belton, MacDonald, Wright & Hamlin, 2019), which enhances the quality of the information gathered (Devaney & Henchion 2018:3). The Delphi method is commonly used to obtain reliable opinions and consensus from a panel of experts, in this case, a panel of social enterprise experts selected to shed light on a complex construct and, in particular, what its various dimensions entail. Thematic analysis was employed to see if patterns and similarities or differences in opinion were formed among the panel of experts.

Findings and discussion

We explored the nature of OE in a social enterprise. Table 2 shows the categories of data according to social enterprise outcomes: (1) goal attainment and (2) use of resources. Participants took a broad view of resources as including leaders, employees, income, stakeholders, operation, product or service and community and/or beneficiaries. Goal attainment was viewed simply as the mission of the enterprise.

TABLE 2: Dimensions of organisational effectiveness against design principles.

The participants then provided descriptions of effectiveness in goal attainment and the use of resources (see Column 1 in Table 2). For example, participants emphasised that social enterprises balance their social mission against their business case. Participant narratives around this concern mention the mission of the enterprise and resources such as income, operations and communities.

We also used insights from the design thinking perspective to build on Diochon and Anderson’s (2009:13) Model of Social Enterprise Effectiveness. While Diochon and Anderson (2009:11) view social enterprise effectiveness in terms of improving the human experience of beneficiaries, but suggest that the organisation must attain its goals in an adaptable and innovative manner, their work does not detail the role of beneficiaries in increasing effectiveness. Diochon (2013:306) emphasises effectiveness in terms of meeting the needs and goals of critical constituencies – change agents and beneficiaries – in an entrepreneurial manner. Effectiveness is likely to be judged subjectively, considering that different constituents outside of the social enterprise will have differing views about whether their needs and goals are being met by the enterprise (Diochon 2013:306).

We used design thinking philosophy as a starting point. Specifically, we introduced Buchanan’s (2019:101) principles, which suggest that the process to increase social enterprises’ effectiveness may include solutions that result in a good, just, useful and satisfying human experience. To achieve this, the operational tasks of the social enterprise may involve the input of beneficiaries. Beneficiaries may be consulted when designing, for example, social and health solutions. The beneficiaries thus decide whether the social enterprise’s solutions provide a good, just, useful and satisfying human experience, which goes a long way in ensuring the social enterprise meets its goals and, thus, is effective. Table 2 offers a summary of the alignment of dimensions and sub-dimensions of OE.

From the above, one might argue that the model of Diochon and Anderson (2009:13) offers some broad categories or dimensions of OE of social enterprises; however, these do not include adaptability, a category that emerged from the current study’s data set as important for the effectiveness of a social enterprise. The reason for this is perhaps related to the fact that South African social enterprises have to adhere to the current bureaucratic practices or protocols while awaiting the finalisation of the Social and Solidarity Economy Policy (International Labour Organization [ILO] 2020). In this regard, they might be challenged in terms of adaptability.

All the participants viewed goal attainment in terms of the mission of the organisation. Cabrera et al. (2018:396) concur that a mission is a means to achieve the vision, as it contains the way(s) in which the vision will be achieved. It is therefore more operational. Nevertheless, this mission can then be viewed in multiple layers. Some participants pointed out that a mission encapsulates ‘a balance between the social mission and business case’, pointing to the balance between what is good and what is financially sustainable. Some participants did, however, note that one must not forget that, in terms of goal attainment, ‘the social mission takes precedence, to be achieved in a financially sustainable manner’. In other words, one might make of this that balance is only viewed as balance if social good is prioritised. It could be argued that it is for this reason that some participants found it important to indicate that ‘the majority of profits [reinvested into] the social enterprise’s purpose’ is critical, while the participants agreed that ‘making a contribution to the community’ is inseparable from the goal attainment of social enterprises. Finally, the participants indicated that, in OE with regard to goal attainment, it is important that ‘staff and leadership buy into the values of the social mission’, which involve ‘social and environmental outcomes’, and that ‘the impact of the social enterprise should be monitored and evaluated’.

The use of resources in social enterprises seems to be the most prominent dimension of OE. Participants viewed the following as resources: leadership, employees, income, stakeholders, operations, products and/or services and beneficiaries and/or community. A narrative similar to goal attainment involving all the indicators mentioned emerged from the application of resources. This means that participants also saw the importance of all the above aspects relating to the use of resources in obtaining OE. The data set, however, revealed that participants linked this to the importance of keeping in mind that services and/or products must be ‘focused in a way that truly adds value to the community’ for resources to be used effectively. Participants noted that leadership and employees as resources play a role in achieving the organisation’s mission, and that the overall governance of the organisation and the ability of leadership can be applied to ensure that staff and management buy into the social mission. Leadership, employees, income, stakeholders, operations, product and/or service and community and/or beneficiaries are all viewed as resources that can be used to obtain OE, because a social enterprise also applies its social capital as a resource. Social capital includes any form of social network (Gupta et al. 2020:210).

From a systems design perspective, the organisation’s mission can be attained by applying all four principles. In particular, the balance between the social mission and the business case is linked to efficiency in satisfying the physical, psychological and social needs of humans, a view supported by Buchanan (2019:101). Moreover, participants translated this into practice in the form of generating an income and/or reinvesting profit by leveraging networks that involve beneficiaries and stakeholders.

It is also evident from the data that the enterprise’s mission and its interaction with communities and/or beneficiaries relate to supporting humans in the accomplishment of their intentions. Such support of human accomplishment of intention links to the principle of creating useful products and/or services and ensuring a good human experience by affirming the proper place of human beings in the spiritual and natural order of the world, as posited by Buchanan (2019:101–103). The data, therefore, indicate that a mission is only effective in making an impact when it satisfies human (community and/or beneficiary) needs through useful products or services.

The data also indicate that the accomplishment of the mission is only effective when leaders and employees support the relationships among human beings in order to promote the values of the organisation. According to Buchanan (2019:101–103), this principle is linked to a just mission, and requires that such relationships be equitable and ethical. However, the dataset further indicated that such relationships also relate to the environment, which includes the physical environment. This implies that the mission of the social entrepreneurial venture that ultimately wants to be effective also has to promote just relationships that promote ethical conduct, not only between people, but also in relation to the environment.

Our data show that leaders serve as an important resource by governing the enterprise in a just manner, as leaders play a prominent role in supporting equitable and ethical relationships among human beings. This implies that social enterprises apply governance design to ensure that they are just. During their operations, effective social enterprises maintain ethical relationships with all stakeholders. Notably, to satisfy the needs of beneficiaries, it is important that the enterprise generates an income. In other words, an enterprise cannot rely on charity if it is to be viewed as effective.


The findings of the study suggest that there is a place for both systems thinking and design thinking in this domain, particularly regarding the ecosystem related to leadership, the governance of resources such as finances, and training, in order to achieve OE. Wicked problems are, by definition, not problems that can be solved in a single step, but require both systematic and iterative creative thinking to solve. There is thus a place for design thinking principles alongside strategic management principles in social enterprises, and this could also be considered with regard to OE.

Our study emphasises the importance of a social enterprise fulfilling its mission and the efficient use of resources as important elements of its OE. We suggest that organisational effectiveness in social enterprises must also be viewed in terms of whether resources are used to complete the mission to provide a good, just, useful and satisfying human experience.

Notably, participants did not note the entrepreneurial or innovative aspect of a social enterprise as part of its effectiveness. However, Diochon and Anderson (2009:11) note that this is indeed an important aspect of a social enterprise’s effectiveness. Apart from an enterprise attaining its goals or mission, it is important that the enterprise possesses the ability to adapt and be innovative in using its resources. This is important because entrepreneurial abilities are crucial in dealing with the uncertainty and instability that such enterprises face in attempting to remain financially sustainable while providing for a market that might not be able to afford its products and services (McMullen & Bergman 2018:620). We suggest that the South African bureaucratic environment does not support the entrepreneur’s need to adapt quickly. For example, South African regulations do not allow for a hybrid enterprise that can traverse commercial and social objectives. Nevertheless, we build on prior research by delineating effectiveness in terms of the enterprise’s goal or mission and use of resources. Specifically, we introduce an overlap between systems- and design thinking in ensuring enterprises attain their goals and use their resources optimally.

Limitations and future studies

The study relied on experts’ views, and, perhaps because of their lack of practical experience as actual social entrepreneurs, the participants did not emphasise the adaptability or entrepreneurial aspect of the enterprise. Social entrepreneurs have to deal with the uncertainty around organisational survival in these underserved markets. Further research is needed to delve into the views and experiences of actual social entrepreneurs, particularly those who have devised innovative solutions to address various social and health issues through a business model. The overlap between systems thinking and design thinking may have been because of the particular role of the experts in the social economy. The experts play an overseeing role in dealing with financial aspects, incubation, advice (e.g. academics on panels), and training and development, which requires a governance lens. As noted earlier, this study is the first phase of an ongoing study, in which the subsequent phase will involve social entrepreneurs. This may contribute additional and more descriptive insights.

Further studies could include quantitative data to confirm the identified dimensions of OE in social enterprises. Similar Delphi studies could be conducted in developed contexts, to enable comparison of the dimensions of OE. Further studies using the Delphi method or focus groups consisting of social entrepreneurs could gather views on OE to supplement the dimensions of OE identified in this study.


Social entrepreneurs aim to improve the human experience. The principles underlying systems- and design thinking are also aimed at improving the human experience. These principles include ensuring that designs result in a good, just, useful and satisfying human experience (Buchanan 2019:101). We found that effective social enterprises also abide by these principles. Our findings show that both goal attainment and the use of resources must be aligned to all four principles.

Notably, our participants associated the resources of a social enterprise with leaders, employees, income, stakeholders, operations, products and/or services, and communities and/or beneficiaries. This view of resources overlaps with Diochon and Anderson’s (2009:13) components of the operating process: tasks and/or activities, people, formal organising and informal organising. For example, leaders and employees fit into the ‘people’ component. A social enterprise’s informal organising must be developed around its stakeholders and communities and/or beneficiaries. The enterprise’s tasks and activities must generate sufficient income to ensure ongoing operations and the delivery of products and/or services. Although there is no explicit overlap with the formal nature of organising, it is reasonable to assume that the participants’ view of ‘operations’ assumes a formal structure. According to Diochon and Anderson (2009:13), organisational effectiveness is increasingly attainable when the tasks and/or activities, people, formal organising and informal organising components work in synergy, which is typical of a system. Our consideration of these components as resources implies that the social enterprise’s effectiveness relies on combining its various resources in a synergistic manner. Like commercial enterprises, the internal components of a social enterprise must function as a coherent system, and design thinking may be useful in aligning the four components (Sato et al. 2010).

One could examine the informal interactions of the enterprise’s staff with beneficiaries: whether staff are providing a good, just, useful, and satisfying human experience to the beneficiaries. One could also consider how the enterprise balances these informal organisational aspects with its formal structure and governance. In conclusion, we quote a participant who captured the relationship between creative problem solving and management skills performed in a strategic way to obtain OE as: ‘a balance between the social mission and the business case’.


The authors declare that there are no additional acknowledgements for this study.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationship(s) that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

A.S., T.T. and C.R. contributed to the design of the research and to the writing of the manuscript. The implementation and the analysis of the results were conducted by A.S.

Ethical considerations

Ethical clearance to conduct this study was obtained from the University of Johannesburg, CBE Research Ethics Committee (No 20SOM13).

Funding information

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author, A.S. (adelaides@uj.ac.za). The data are not publicly available because of restrictions. The data contain information that could compromise the privacy of research participants.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors and the publisher.


Belton, I., MacDonald, A., Wright, G. & Hamlin, I., 2019, ‘Improving the practical application of the Delphi method in group-based judgment: A six-step prescription for a well-founded and defensible process’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 147, 72–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.TECHFORE.2019.07.002

Bonomi, S., Ricciardi, F., Rossignoli, C. & Zardini, A., 2020, ‘Cocreating resilient hybrids: The bridging power of social enterprises’ organizational logics’, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research 27(2), 470–495. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEBR-08-2019-0484

Brady, S.R., 2015, ‘Utilizing and adapting the Delphi method for use in qualitative research’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods 14(5), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406915621381

Bryan, T.K., 2019, ‘Toward a contingency model for the relationship between capacity and effectiveness in nonprofit organizations’, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 48(4), 885–897. https://doi.org/10.1177/0899764018815617

Buchanan, R., 1992, ‘Wicked problems in design thinking’, Design Issues 8(2), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.2307/1511637

Buchanan, R., 2019, ‘Systems thinking and design thinking: The search for principles in the world we are making’, She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 5(2), 85–104. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2019.04.001

Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L., Powers, E., Solin, J. & Kushner, J., 2018, ‘Applying systems thinking models of organizational design and change in community operational research’, European Journal of Operational Research, 268(3), 932–945, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejor.2017.11.006

Cameron, K.S. & Whetten, D.A. (eds.), 2013, Organizational effectiveness: A comparison of multiple models, Academic Press, Cambridge, MA.

Chick, A. & Micklethwaite, P., 2011, Design for sustainable change: How design and designers can drive the sustainability agenda, (Required Reading Range) vol. 38, p. 184, AVA Publishing, Polokwane.

Clark, C. & Zhang, L., 2017, ‘Grass-mud horse: Luhmannian systems theory and internet censorship in China’, Kybernetes 46(5), 786–801, https://doi.org/10.1108/K-02-2017-0056

Cornelissen, J.P., Akemu, O., Jonkman, J.G. & Werner, M.D., 2021, ‘Building character: The formation of a hybrid organizational identity in a social enterprise’, Journal of Management Studies 58(5), 1294–1330. https://doi.org/10.1111/joms.12640

Dentoni, D., Bitzer, V. & Schouten, G., 2018, ‘Harnessing wicked problems in multi-stakeholder partnerships’, Journal of Business Ethics 150, 333–356. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-3858-6

Devaney, L. & Henchion, M., 2018, ‘Who is a Delphi “expert”? Reflections on a bioeconomy expert selection procedure from Ireland’, Futures 99, 45–55, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2018.03.017

Diderich, C., 2020, Design thinking for strategy, Springer International Publishing, Cham.

Diochon, M., 2013, ‘Social entrepreneurship and effectiveness in poverty alleviation: A case study of a Canadian First Nations community’, Journal of Social Entrepreneurship 4(3), 302–330. https://doi.org/10.1080/19420676.2013.820779

Diochon, M. & Anderson, A.R., 2009, ‘Social enterprise and effectiveness: A process typology’, Social Enterprise Journal 5(1), 7–29. https://doi.org/10.1108/17508610910956381

Dorst, K., 2011, ‘The core of “design thinking” and its application’, Design Studies 32(6), 521–532. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2011.07.006

Douglas, H., Rogers, J. & Lorenzetto, A., 2014, ‘Design thinking and social enterprise innovation’, in Proceedings of the 28th Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference, pp. 1–15, viewed 28 May 2023, from http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/209998240

Durkin, C. & Gunn, R. (eds.), 2016, Social entrepreneurship: A skills approach, Policy Press, Bristol.

Gupta, P., Chauhan, S., Paul, J. & Jaiswal, M.P., 2020, ‘Social entrepreneurship research: A review and future research agenda’, Journal of Business Research 113, 209–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2020.03.032

Holbeche, L.S., 2018, ‘Organisational effectiveness and agility’, Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance 5(4), 302–313, https://doi.org/10.1108/JOEPP-07-2018-0044

International Labour Organization (ILO), 2020, ‘Lessons learned from social and solidarity economy (SSE) policy development in South Africa: One size does not fit all’, ILO, South Africa, viewed 14 December 2020, from https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_764068/lang--en/index.htm.

Jung, B., 2021, ‘Unpacking the commonality between social entrepreneurship and design thinking’, Journal of Distribution Management 24(2), 49–65. https://doi.org/10.1177/0008125619897594

Kalvesmaki, A. & Tulman, J.B., 2017, ‘A systems theory analysis for ending the school-to-prison pipeline: Using disability rights laws to keep children in schools and out of courts, jails, and prisons’, in N.S. Okilwa, M. Khalifa & F.M. Briscoe (eds.), The School to Prison Pipeline: The Role of Culture and Discipline in School, pp. 169–194, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley.

Knight, E., Daymond, J. & Paroutis, S., 2020, ‘Design-led strategy: How to bring design thinking into the art of strategic management’, California Management Review 62(2), 30–52. https://doi.org/10.1177/0008125619897594

Kremel, A. & Wetter Edman, K., 2019, ‘Implementing design thinking as didactic method in entrepreneurship education. The importance of through’, The Design Journal 22(suppl. 1), 163–175. https://doi.org/10.1080/14606925.2019.1595855

Kummitha, R.K.R., 2018, ‘Institutionalising design thinking in social entrepreneurship: A contextual analysis into social and organizational processes’, Social Enterprise Journal 14(1), 92–107. https://doi.org/10.1108/SEJ-12-2016-0059

Lee, S., 2020, ‘Role of social and solidarity economy in localizing the sustainable development goals’, International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology 27(1), 65–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504509.2019.1670274

Liket, K.C. & Maas, K., 2015, ‘Nonprofit organizational effectiveness: Analysis of best practices’, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 44(2), 268–296. https://doi.org/10.1177/0899764013510064

Linstone, H.A. & Turoff, M. (eds.), 1975, The delphi method, pp. 3–12, Addison-Wesley, Reading.

Linstone, H.A. & Turoff, M., 2011, ‘Delphi: A brief look backward and forward’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 78(9), 1712–1719. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2010.09.011

McMullen, J.S. & Bergman Jr., B.J., 2018, ‘The promise and problems of price subsidization in social entrepreneurship’, Business Horizons 61(4), 609–621. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2018.03.009

Meadows, D.H., 2008, Thinking in systems: A primer, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT.

Meldrum, B. & Bonnici, F., 2018, ‘How to grow social innovation in South Africa’, in Atlas of social innovation. New practices for a better future. Dortmund: Sozialforschungsstelle, TU Dortmund University, pp. 147–149, viewed 20 June 2023, from https://openscholar.dut.ac.za/bitstream/10321/3585/3/Ndovela_2021.pdf

Mor Barak, M.E., 2020, ‘The practice and science of social good: Emerging paths to positive social impact’, Research on Social Work Practice 30(2), 139–150. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731517745600

Nadler, D.A. & Tushman, M.L., 1980, ‘A model for diagnosing organizational behavior’, Organizational Dynamics 9(2), 35–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/0090-2616(80)90039-X

Paliwal, S., Niyogi, S. & Chaturvedi, S., 2019, ‘Social enterprises: Agents of development (a study on how social enterprises are making an impact in the society and acting as vehicles of sustainability in India’, International Journal of Scientific and Technology Research 8(10), 2694–2701.

Pfefer, J. & Salancik, G., 1978, The external control of organizations, p. 109, Harper & Row, New York, NY.

Punch, K.F., 2013, Introduction to social research: Quantitative and qualitative approaches, Sage, Los Angeles, CA.

Qastharin, A.R., 2016, ‘Business model canvas for social enterprise’, Journal of Business and Economics 7(4), 627–637. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEBR-08-2019-0484

Rahdari, A., Sepasi, S. & Moradi, M., 2016, ‘Achieving sustainability through Schumpeterian social entrepreneurship: The role of social enterprises’, Journal of Cleaner Production 137, 347–360. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.06.159

Reiser, D.B., 2010, ‘Blended enterprise and the dual mission dilemma’, Vermont Law Review 35, 105.

Rowe, G. & Wright, G., 2001, ‘Expert opinions in forecasting: The role of the Delphi technique’, in J.S. Armstrong (ed.), Principles of forecasting: A handbook for researchers and practitioners, pp. 125–144, Springer, Boston, MA.

Sato, S., Lucente, S., Meyer, D. & Mrazek, D., 2010, ‘Design thinking to make organization change and development more responsive’, Design Management Review 21(2), 44–52. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1948-7169.2010.00064.x

Schumpeter, J., 1934, The theory of economic development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Sekayi, D. & Kennedy, A., 2017, ‘Qualitative Delphi method: A four round process with a worked example’, The Qualitative Report 22(10), 2755–2763. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2017.2974

Skulmoski, G.J., Hartman, F.T. & Krahn, J., 2007, ‘The Delphi method for graduate research’, Journal of Information Technology Education: Research 6(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.28945/199

Sparrow, P. & Cooper, C., 2014, ‘Organizational effectiveness, people and performance: New challenges, new research agendas’, Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance 1(1), 2–13. https://doi.org/10.28945/199

Statistics South Africa, 2020, Inequality trends, viewed 01 June 2023, from https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/Report-03-10-19/Report-03-10-192017.pdf.

Tayal, R., Upadhyay, R.K., Yadav, M. & Singh, R., 2021, ‘The development and validation of the organizational effectiveness scale using confirmatory factor analysis’, Global Business Review 22(3), 821–843. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1948-7169.2010.00064.x

Umar, A., Sasongko, A.H., Widyastuti, I.T. & Christanti, Y., 2020, ‘Improving the social enterprise-based business performance from the aspect of social business model canvas’, International Journal of Entrepreneurship 24(1), 1–12.

Val, E., Gonzalez, I., Iriarte, I., Beitia, A., Lasa, G. & Elkoro, M., 2017, ‘A design thinking approach to introduce entrepreneurship education in European school curricula’, The Design Journal 20(suppl 1), S754–S766, https://doi.org/10.1080/14606925.2017.1353022

Valentinov, V., 2017, ‘Wiener and Luhmann on feedback: From complexity to sustainability’, Kybernetes 46(3), 386–399. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-11-2016-0317

Vogel, C., Scott, D., Culwick, C.E. & Sutherland, C., 2016, ‘Environmental problem-solving in South Africa: Harnessing creative imaginaries to address “wicked” challenges and opportunities’, South African Geographical Journal/Suid-Afrikaanse Geografiese Tydskrif 98(3), 515–530. https://doi.org/10.1080/03736245.2016.1217256

Von Thienen, J., Meinel, C., Nicolai, C., 2014, ‘How Design Thinking Tools Help To Solve Wicked Problems’, in L. Leifer, H. Plattner & C. Meinel (eds.), Design thinking research: Building innovation eco-systems, pp. 97–102, Springer, Cham.

Young, D.R., 2017, Financing nonprofits and other social enterprises: A benefits approach, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, MA.

Yu, H., Yue, H. & Halling, P., 2018, ‘Comprehensive experimental design for chemical engineering processes: A two-layer iterative design approach’, Chemical Engineering Science 189, 135–153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ces.2018.05.047

Yuchtman, E. & Seashore, S.E., 1967, ‘A system resource approach to organizational effectiveness’, American Sociological Review 32(6), 891–903. https://doi.org/10.2307/2092843

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.