Sub-Themes > Track 8: From Ego to Eco - Unlearning Social Entrepreneurship in the 4th Industrial Revolution

From Ego to Eco: Unlearning Social Entrepreneurship in the 4th Industrial Revolution

Convenors/Track chairs:

  • Nigel Chiweshe, School of Management, IT & Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
  • Debbie Ellis, School of Management, IT & Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
  • Thea van der Westhuizen, School of Management, IT & Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Affiliated Journal: Seminal and thrilling contributions will be invited to a Special Issue for
Journal of Contemporary Management

Description: The industrial revolution immediately preceding our present era led to the exponential growth in social organisation which we are now accustomed to (Cottam, 2018), especially in relation to the searching, planning, marshalling and implementing of a nascent business idea (Cox, Muller and Moss, 2002). A range of new systems and partnerships have also come into being that effectively transition us from an existing socioeconomic order to a new order that we have now begun to enter. This 4th Industrial Revolution, so-called, will, like those before it, alter social and economic structures. Scholars and practitioners alike will in turn need to unlearn traditional approaches to social entrepreneurship and see issues of socioeconomic development from new perspectives that may well reveal unexpected possibilities.  Unlearning as the Cambridge Dictionary explains it is “making an effort to forget your usual way of doing something so that you can learn a new and sometimes better way” (Cambridge Dictionary).

Across the range of systemic levels (mundo, macro, meso and micro) there is global pressure to rethink and recreate ecosystems and strategic partnerships so as to make the shift from the traditional materials economy and engage with the new needs of the new socioeconomic order. The 4th Industrial Revolution, with people and planet, will come to naught unless there is a complementary evolution from ego systems to eco systems. Transformative rethinking in our comprehension and scholarship relating to social entrepreneurship needs to be a core commitment.

The 4th Industrial Revolution has also been referred to as “Business 4.0”, in which innovative technologies, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain and robotics have transformed business practices and strategies. For social enterprises this requires a total rethinking of business processes, socioeconomic networks, and the way they use both hard systems (technology and concrete business) and soft systems (people). Incorporating these technologies to address key social issues related to education, health, the environment and social wellbeing is crucial if social enterprises hope to maintain competitive advantage and achieve economies. This puts key emphasis on the eco system.

Social enterprises on which the global economy depends on face 4th Industrial Revolution challenges with regards to governance, reporting, impact, scale and ways of rethinking business. Just as digital technologies have enabled enterprises to grow and transform, the technology of the 4th Industrial Revolution offers crucial new opportunity for social innovation that leads to social and economic transformation. What, then, is our role as scholars in rethinking social enterprise? How can we point the way to move from ego systems to eco systems?

Scholars and practitioners alike are aware of the potential of entrepreneurship as a social force that goes beyond the scope of for-profit businesses – the importance, in other words, of social entrepreneurship (Prodanov, 2018). Social entrepreneurship is as a tool that can help in overcoming various social ills that beset contemporary society (Prodanov, 2018).  The United Nations’ 2030 vision encompasses 17 sustainable socioeconomic development goals to guide the formation of social enterprises: 1) no poverty, 2) zero hunger, 3) good health and well-being, 4) quality education, 5) gender equality, 6) clear water and sanitation, 7) affordable and clean energy, 8) decent work and economic growth, 9) industry innovation and infrastructure, 10) reduced inequalities, 11) sustainable cities and communities, 12) responsible consumption and production, 13) climate action, 14) life below water, 15) life on land, 16) peace, justice and strong institutions; 17) partnerships for the goals  (UNDP, 2015).

These UNDP goals highlight the 17 chief socioeconomic ills of our time, and there has been movement to address them through various national socioeconomic development strategies (Davos, 2019). An important focus in current dialogue amongst scholars and other interest groups has been on 4th Industrial Revolution ways and opportunities to rethink and recreate socioeconomic development systems from an eco-perspective that will heighten global eco system sustainability in step with the 17 UNDP socio development goals.

Technology offers pathways to socioeconomic development for society at large as in the example from India (as cited by Davos, 2019) where “every Indian today has a biometric identity card, a mobile phone and a bank account”. Through these three technologies the Indian government has been able to provide social assistance to those most in need that enhances nutrition, education and health outcomes (Davos, 2019). Far too often, in aggressive (ego system driven) profit seeking in corporate wealth extraction from communities across the globe there is little or no (eco system driven) giveback to the affected communities (Cottam, 2018). Unless social systems are reformulated there is little hope of equitable transition to the new economy; the 4th Industrial Revolution will lead nowhere without a healthy, skilled labour force and consumers with sufficient disposable income to demand the goods it produces (Cottam, 2018). Through unlearning of traditional assumptions about business and rethinking the power of digital, physical and biological technologies, the 4th Industrial Revolution offers a platform for businesses of every dimension to increase their competitiveness and their contribution to regional economies, helping to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (Leurent & Abbosh, 2019). The 4th Industrial Revolution offers unprecedented opportunities for rapid reformation and advancement of business operations and global economies in response to emission targets and sustainable development goals (WEF, 2019). In this endeavour, social entrepreneurship is a key area for generation of new economic strategies to close the social gap (Prodanov, 2018). 


  • Rethinking Social Entrepreneurship Strategic Marketing in the 4th Industrial Revolution
  • Rethinking Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability in the 4th Industrial Revolution
  • Rethinking Social Entrepreneurship and Technology in the 4th Industrial Revolution
  • Business Models and Innovation for Social Entrepreneurship in the 4th Industrial Revolution
  • From Ego System to Eco System – Roles and Responsibilities Within Social Entrepreneurship


Cottam, H. (2018). Radical Help: How we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionize the welfare state. UK: Virago.

Cox, L. W., Mueller, S. L. & Moss, S. E. (2002). The impact of entrepreneurship education on entrepreneurial self-efficacy. International Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, 1 (2), 229-245.

Davos, (2019). (Online). Davos: Wealth gap can be tackled by the Fourth Social Revolution. Available:  Accessed 8 February 2019.

Leurent, H. and Abbosh, O. (2019) Shaping the Sustainability of Production Systems: Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for competitiveness and sustainable growth. White Paper: Foreword. World Economic Forum.

Prodanov, H. (2018). Social Entrepreneurship and Digital Technologies. Economic Alternatives. Vol.1, pp.123-138.

UNDP. (2015). (Online). Sustainable development goals kick off with start of new year. Available:

WEF, (2019). Shaping the Sustainability of Production Systems: Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for competitiveness and sustainable growth. White Paper: World Economic Forum.



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