Small businesses often engage in social responsibility (SR) without knowing it or without referring to their actions as SR. This is particularly the case in developing countries where the idea of SR is seen as synonymous with philanthropy. While the literature on small business social responsibility is growing, our understanding of the context-specific determinants of responsible practices in microbusinesses (those that employ less than 10 employees) that dominate the business landscape in many developing countries is still limited. In this paper, we address this gap and offer a theoretical understanding of how microbusiness owner-managers understand and approach SR by drawing on rich qualitative data collected from Nigeria—Africa’s largest economy. We utilise Social Representations Theory to understand (1) how and why microbusiness owner-managers limit their understanding of SR to philanthropic activities and (2) the wide range of practices, including philanthropic activities, that account for their overall Responsible Business Practices (RBPs)—those practices that enable them to act responsibly towards their stakeholders and/or operating environments. We find that owner-managers’ representations of SR are anchored primarily on an idiosyncratic ethical tendency and inclination towards the creation of social/communal harmony by “giving back to society” and objectified via actions deriving from three “giving back” orientations, namely Core Philanthropism, Social Problem Solving, and Empowering. We model microbusiness owner-managers’ RBPs, highlighting the intersectional interplay of the voluntary (SR as philanthropy) and non-voluntary (self-regulatory and legal) dimensions of RBPs. Finally, we discuss the key findings in relation to the extant literature and to policymakers and managers.
- African context
- developing countries
- social responsibility
- Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
- Business and International Management
- Economics and Econometrics