My research on entrepreneurs in post-conflict Liberia illustrates the seismic role that traumatic memory has in identifying, seeking and creating shifts in positive value after suffering from life-altering events in the context of political persecution, conflict and war. This study provides new perspectives by which to view the integration of Post-Traumatic Stress as a value-add element of success in the context of post-conflict nation building and individual healing among victims/survivors and/or witnesses. The findings from this study invite a reappraisal of the competing theories of deficit-based post-traumatic stress disorder only.
At the core, the convergence of the role of traumatic memory in the development of an entrepreneurial mindset is fundamental to our understanding of post-traumatic growth and meaning, particularly the relationship of trauma and healing in positive value creation. It is anticipated, therefore, that this analysis will generate groundbreaking debate among academics, trauma experts and business developers, but also in the general public. The post-conflict development sector can use these findings to adopt programming rooted in both the fields of entrepreneurship and trauma to narrowly tailor its economic development policies and investment strategies into stakeholder models in order to increase the likelihood of programmatic success in the future.
To situate traumatic memory in social value creation from the perspective of victims/survivors and/or witnesses of life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict or war in post-conflict development, two research questions were identified for this study. Research question one focuses on, “To what extent, if any, are Liberian victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict and war engaging in social value creation ventures?” Research question two focuses on, “To the extent that Liberian victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict and war are engaging in business ventures that may lead to social value creation, does a relationship exist between the experiences of these traumatic life-altering events and social value creation?”
The literature review for this study helped determine that a sufficient number of individual cases and theoretical lenses exist to link the role of memory and use of storytelling as important instruments for exploring social value creation, wealth and change. First, research in to the role of traumatic memory as a driver for social value creation among business leaders is supported as memory input, storage and output in the context of personality development is a logical next step in the social enterprise conversation on identifying the social change agents among us because in emerging markets fractured by conflict personality is an individual’s unique and relatively consistent pattern of thinking, feeling and having (Solomon and Heide, 2005) that could serve as an indicator of social value creation success.
With regard to integration of past experiences and failure analysis, the following can be considered from the literature:
“Memory and storytelling can play a vital role in failure analysis on two levels: One, in terms of societal failure, social entrepreneurs can tap into past experiences as a response to the need to create a social enterprise that will address a particular need in a community. Second, in terms of venture success, social entrepreneurs can incorporate business when speaking with venture capitalist in terms of seed money to fund a social value creation initiative.” (Baron and Ward, 2004)
Finally, deeper understanding of comparative optimism in entrepreneurship can be considered for this study such as social entrepreneurs can benefit from a well-structured story of their individual or societal memories that shaped their vision when constructing elevator pitches or when managing teams:
“Comparative optimism may be necessary for individuals to engage in entrepreneurship, but it may also be a factor leading to venture closure. Some entrepreneurs may be more susceptible to comparative optimism than others.” (Ucbasaran et al., 2010, p. 541)
Storytelling is a viable way to engage, inspire and motivate employees, but it has not been empirically studied in the context of post-conflict rebuilding from the perspective of victims/survivors and/or witnesses of political persecution, conflict or war. The literature suggests that through storytelling, if incorporated into the business bloodline of their product and organization, leaders can bring new ideas and concepts to life (Gruber, 2011). Surely, memories have a way of capturing our imagination. Venture capitalists and private sector developers looking for a new opportunity in emerging markets understand what social value could be created through compassionate angel-giving networks. Therefore, this study considers the use of storytelling in social value creation in post-conflict environments from the perspective of victims/survivors and/or witnesses of life-altering traumatic events related to political persecution, conflict and war to be just as valuable and respected as a tool as those sharing of ‘war stories’ during value propositions during venture capital pitch sessions as “war stories” after conflict.
Additional research on storytelling and the memory of experiences with particular emphasis on ‘personal branding’ is considered as a means to correlate the potential distribution strategies among social enterprise leadership traits as it relates to their ability to place stories at the epicenter of audience engagement, staff motivation practices and investment cultivation processes (Fiske & Neuberg; 1990).
Escalfoni et al. (2009) argue that “the innovation process can be considered a complex combination of creativity, implementation and entrepreneurship” (p 2). As such, creativity generates newness, entrepreneurship integrates knowledge, skills and capacities for ideas to succeed, and implementation encapsulates every step of the process for innovation to happen. Therefore, innovation, much like storytelling, is a cumulative, iterative process with which leaders and social change agents need to be comfortable because of its role in decision-making, group dynamics, and ambiguity – all of which are real components of creating social value and societal impact.
If storytelling is used as a tool for communicating vision strategies and operational outcomes to deliver by tapping into memories of the past, then it warrants further study as a variable among leaders to integrate into a new venture success formula. This study offers a different point of view and suggests the use of a new model called the Traumatic Memory in Social Value Creation Diamond Paradigm (Figure 3 below). The model includes historical sources of power and influence and entrepreneurship with the rise of emerging markets. At the bottom of the pyramid, are victims/survivors and/or witnesses of political persecution, conflict or war, traumatology studies and the post-conflict building sector. At the heart of this paradigm shift is the role of traumatic memory in social value creation within a post-conflict development stakeholder model.
Post-conflict emerging markets are confronted with two distinctive challenges: economic recovery and risk reduction (Collier, 2006, p. 3). As such, post-conflict emerging markets, with their legacy of violence and social fragmentation, are most affected by the devastation of national, regional and local infrastructure and loss of assets (Mac Sweeney, 2009, p. 17) The formal cessation of violence brings specific consequences, and post-conflict are distinguished from open warfare, conflict-prone, or other situations suffering from low levels of prolonged conflict (Ibid., p. 22). Within the existing literature, post-conflict settings are characterized by unique economic, political, security, social and demographic features, all of which have an impact on the private sector (Ibid., p. 17).
As post-conflict emerging markets are fast becoming the driver of global growth and expansion, so too, is the desire for the private sector development (PSD) community and entrepreneurs to participate in, and benefit from, the economic activity. Those entrepreneurs able to adroitly identify, address and manage post-conflict emerging markets challenges, possess supply-chain competitive advantages potentially enabling them to benefit from robust profits and, in return, provide a strong incentive for additional entrepreneurs to participate in the growing post-conflict emerging markets (McMillan & Woodruff, 2002, p. 159).
To examine the extent victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict and war engage in social value creation ventures and whether/how a relationship exists in the role of business venture in social value creation, a field study was utilized to gather participant insight through in person, taped-recorded, interviews in Monrovia. The results of these 25 interviews follow the interviewing protocol employed to garner responses for this study. The use of a phenomenological approach to “look at the data thematically to extract essences and essentials of participant meanings” (Miles et al., 2013, p. 8), illuminated participants’ most salient points and thematic patterns emerged.
Research Question 1
Research Question One focuses on, “To what extent, if any, are Liberian victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict and war engaging in social value creation ventures?” There were two findings based on this research question, which are discussed in the following section. The first finding is that traumatic memory of life-altering experience exists among participants in their exposure to external factors and environment in terms of the civil war and current business environment. These formative experiences narrate the story of their lives, their entrepreneurial lens for going into business and contextualize the story of Liberia. The second finding situates traumatic memory as an element of “push” and “pull” factors shaping the “sense-making” of life-altering events experienced during the Liberian Civil War and the personality behind these entrepreneurs. From a positive “pull” perspective, participants utilize elements of their traumatic experiences in their desire to be independent, grow their businesses and contribute to Liberian society. From a “push” perspective, the lack of employment opportunities and the opportunity to earn a reasonable living is present among participants.
The memories of shared life-altering traumatic experiences that were found across participants are seismic experiences, which seem to enhance connectivity to the world, a deeper spirituality, intentionality, healing or altruism thereby catalyzing social value creation in entrepreneurial pursuits in post-conflict Liberia. As such, there is a connection between the inner, and often, private experience of personal recollection and the social transactions that shape uses of memory (Engel, 1999, p. 23). Again, in this study, past experiences seemed indispensable when identifying new market opportunities and the type of service or product to be created (Gruber et al.,2008).
Research Question 2
Research Question Two focuses on, “To the extent that Liberian victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict and war are engaging in business ventures that may lead to social value creation, does a relationship exist between the experiences of these traumatic life-altering events and social value creation?” There were two findings based on this research question. The first finding is the role of business in post-conflict Liberia where initiatives to promote entrepreneurship is an element of a holistic Social Value Creation Diamond Paradigm. The data collected demonstrate a need for innovative mechanisms for including victims/survivors and/or witnesses of political persecution, conflict and war to promote sustainable environments for investments, help maximize win-win strategies for optimal financial returns and capture a unified social vision for Liberia. The second finding considers social value creation as a healing strategy, which anchors victims/survivors and/or witnesses of political persecution, conflict and war as change agents that can cross boundaries, are not afraid to fail, are inspirational and visionaries.
War is a significant cause of income poverty, disrupting economic activity and destroying livelihoods (Mac Sweeney, 2009, p. 14). In many cases, poverty and inequality help to cause and maintain conflicts, as different groups fight for control over resources or seek to redress socio-economic inequalities through violence (Ibid., p. 14).
Foreign investors and the international development community have an opportunity to integrate these policies into their decision-making process as they undertake investments in emerging markets. For example, “Foreign entrepreneurs are embraced in Liberia and have an edge of Liberian ones” (Participant 4). Anticipated increases in foreign direct investment in Liberia requires a new paradigm to explore the reasons behind the post-conflict private sector development and whether victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events arising from its civil war involving political persecution, conflict, and war are informed directly their experiences and the memories of these experiences to create, launch, or lead entrepreneurial ventures that lead to social value creation. For example, one suggestion is to “invest the time to know a Liberian to recommend the geographic area; declare the business intention, the platform for doing business and share an exit strategy. The time allotted to engage in this part of the process will not be a waste of resources” (Participant 12) as well as, the “average level to improve doing business in Liberia must grow together in the informal sector, take something home, have spending money. Advice: business climate is good, especially for non-Liberians. Maximize profits and help the overall community by having jobs trickle down” (Participant 19).
While participants resemble the typical entrepreneurial mindset identifying opportunities, assessing and mitigating risk, obtaining capital and moving from proof of concept into business formation, there is not a broad set of formal business incubation strategies available to the Liberian population, grassroots training opportunities on business plans, market identification or mechanisms for tying community’s needs to investment opportunities. Study participants have relied on loans from friends and family and, to some extent, their own money to start small businesses. Post-conflict rebuilding will be most effective when integrated with a greater understanding of traumatic memory and the experiences of victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events as they create, launch, or lead entrepreneurial ventures leading to social value creation.
In summary, this research study considered the extent, if any, Liberian victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict and war are engaging in social value creation ventures focused whether a relationship exist between the experiences of these traumatic life-altering events and social value creation. Finding 1 explores shared characteristics among victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events as they create, launch, or manage entrepreneurial ventures leading to social value creation can be translated to economic factors that could positively influence foreign direct investment decisions and private sector development in post-conflict environments. Finding 2 examines how an entrepreneur’s exposure to external “pull and push” factors and environment shapes her attitudes and actions. Finding 3 argues that post- conflict rebuilding will be most effective when integrated with a greater understanding of traumatic memory and the experiences of victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events as they create, launch, or lead entrepreneurial ventures leading to social value creation. Finding 4 advocates for inclusion of traumatic memory of life-altering events as an additional type of assessment methodology used in post-conflict investment and programming decisions and, by doing so, to provide a baseline toward a more standardized application to assessment criteria for not excluding this group when considering nation-building investments in post-conflict environments. These findings can provide guidance for the development sector, supporting the adoption of policies incorporating the fields of entrepreneurship and trauma together in post-conflict development stakeholder models of formulating investment and programming strategies in Liberia and other post-conflict economies.
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