MacMillan (1986) identifies memory as a characteristic present among – what he refers to as – habitual or serial entrepreneurs in the commercial space where memory is retrieved and used in a story as an example to transfer knowledge of a ventures success or failure. Considering how individual or organizational memories of success and failure can be utilized to transfer knowledge (as further exemplified by case studies used in business schools to paint a picture, pinpoint gaps and lessons learned, and enable discussion), this study takes memory of traumatic events in the context of political persecution, conflict and war as a tool for the transfer of knowledge a step further and deeper in the venture creation space. This study uses phenomenology as a methodological lens and considers the ways in which memory, as an external failure contributes to a lexicon of lessons learned as an internal mechanism in the narrative of resilience where life-altering events have taken place as a result of political persecution, conflict or war. In other words, if we draw on our memories of horrific experiences in the development of selfhood, how do victims/survivors and/or witnesses integrate those experiences into the tapestry of their entrepreneurial lives? That is to say, are these seismic experiences a source for enhanced connectivity to the world, a deeper spirituality, intentionality, healing or altruism thereby catalyzing social value creation in entrepreneurial pursuits?

Participants for this study were selected from Liberia with the assistance of members of international nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to identify and interview victims/survivors and/or witnesses of political persecution, conflict and war who are engaged in creating shared value using the traumatic memories of life-altering traumatic events as an element of their resilience within the construct of their leadership and character development. Liberia is an important protagonist in this narrative because a “new dawn for entrepreneurs” is on the horizon after years of devastating civil war and political upheaval according to The World Bank (October 23, 2012).

Study Overview

My research on entrepreneurs in post-conflict Liberia illustrates the seismic role that traumatic memory has in identifying, seeking and creating tectonic 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.

My dissertation aims to present, from the literature on entrepreneurship and traumatic memory in relationship to social value creation, a selection of current models and findings that encompass entrepreneurial activity in post-conflict emerging markets, with a particular focus on competences, characteristics and/or traits shared among those entrepreneurs who are victims, survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering events related to political persecution, conflict and war.

This study departs from previous studies on whether traumatic memory is or should be considered special (Krause, Shobe & Kihlstrom, 1997) or argues basic tenets of repression theory (Hide Klausen, 2009) nor does it focus on the effects of emotions related to distortion or false memories (Porter el al., 2003).  This study works from the notion that not only is memory affected by the conditions under which an individual experiences and later remembers events but also by the concept that remembering is largely a “…constructive activity rather than a process of retrieving information from a permanent storehouse of experience” (Ibid., p. 165).

Part of this study is rooted in psychology for two reasons. First, it grounds the relationship between dissociation and “flashbacks”, as these relate to the “evolutionary perspective of that life-threatening experience manifesting in the future” (Porter & Peace, 2007, p. 440).  Second, is how victims/survivors and/or witnesses of trauma in the face of political persecution, conflict or war apply to practice the second principle in dealing with traumatic memories outlined by van der Kolk and Fisler (1995) in Dissociation and the Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic Memories, which alludes to three concluding principles of dealing with traumatic memories as follows:

  1. overcoming the fear of phobia of the dissociated sense of self associated with the trauma… as well as …the fear and shame associated with thinking about the trauma;
  2. overcoming the phobia of the disassociated trauma-related feelings and sensations to a trauma-related narrative within a personal stream of consciousness; and
  3. overcoming the phobia of life itself, which includes the fear of being re-victimized. (p. 525)

It is acknowledged that this study is not intended to address the diagnosis or study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but a brief summary of its definition, symptoms and challenges, are important to discuss, albeit briefly in the context of this study. Sometimes, unexpected tragedies can affect an individuals sense of safety, trust, and meaning in the world that generate feelings of fear and anxiety” (ISTSS, 2014, p. 2).

After a trauma or life-threatening event, some individuals experience one or more of four major types of symptoms: (i) re-living or re-experiencing the event, such as “flashbacks” or “nightmares;” (ii) avoidance and arousal of cues of traumatic memory, (iii) negative changes in beliefs and feelings; and (iv) hyper-arousal, such as jitters, hyper-awareness of perceived dangers or difficulty focusing or sleeping (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014). Often times, PTSD symptoms start soon after the traumatic event, but sometimes manifest months or years later. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD (ISTSS, p. 1) If these symptoms last more than four weeks after a traumatic event individuals should consider seeking assistance with PTSD.

Connection Between Traumatic Memory and Social Value Creation

The role of traumatic memory among entrepreneurs creating social value in post-conflict environments then takes a deeper step into the healing process associated with healing from a trauma. Danieli’s analysis (2009) supports Thompson and MacMillan’s (2009) position that contextual framing for entrepreneurs is a key element for success. Danieli, however, takes awareness of socio-political context into a deeper and, in essence, wider level.  Her subject matter expertise in Trauma Studies anchors socio-political context in the realm of restorative healing as it relates to the typology of entrepreneurs but it does more than that. It also positions memory within socio-political context from a global social profit perspective. To this end, she writes:

…you need to heal the socio-political context for the full healing of the individuals and their families, as you need to heal the individuals to heal the socio-political context.  This is a mutually reinforcing context of shared mourning, shared memory, a sense that the memory is preserved, that the nation transformed it into a part of its global consciousness. (2009b, p. 11)

The academic community has an opportunity to document history in the making by documenting how victims/survivors and/or witness of life-altering events in the context of political persecution, conflict and war are creating value in this emerging field of social value creation (Thompson, 2002). Storytelling, as a communication tool is indeed a method to engage, inspire and motivate us, and, through it, leaders may be able to bring new ideas and concepts to life to inspire others to take ownership of these ideas and concepts, run with them, and become enthusiastic advocates. A poignant question, however, is how storytelling is captured in the social enterprise sector to move employees, investors and stakeholders into action. Former President Jimmy Carter revealed storytelling as “…the lifeline of a social entrepreneur” (Skoll World Forum Newsletter, 2010, p. 18). These stories do much more than to tell us who we are, instill a sense of community, pass on experience across distances of time and place.  They teach us lessons and make the world real, which are key elements of visualization and communication entrepreneurs tap into to bring about societal change, impact and wealth.

From Research to Practice

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?”

This exploratory research study investigated traumatic memory in social value creation in an effort to understand whether a relationship existed between life-altering traumatic events related to political persecution, conflict and war and business ventures founded, managed and/or lead in post-conflict environments. Examination of the data emerged from field research in Monrovia focused on 25 participants looking at the following: (i) the types of atrocities experienced, heard about and/or heard, (ii) Memory, (iii), Education, (iv) Ease of doing business in Liberia, (v) Social Value Creation, (vi) Development, vii) Religion/Spirituality, (viii) Justice/Injustice, and (ix) Forgiveness/Lack of Forgiveness. As discussed in depth in Chapter 4, the examples and stories from the field interviews were coded and thematically analyzed in order to provide meaning through phenomenology.

As a result, this study contributes to the literature on entrepreneurship and traumatology by adding data based insight about the details and types of atrocities associated with traumatic memory in relation to social value creation in post-conflict Liberia. The findings of this research study have implications for multiple audiences. Foreign investors seeking new business opportunities and expanding into new markets generally and, in particular, Liberia will benefit from learning the role that victims/survivors and/or witnesses of traumatic life-altering experiences can play in mitigating economic risk.  The general trauma victim/survivor and/or witness community will benefit by identifying potential competitive advantage through their life-altering experiences that can be leveraged into economic growth and development promotion nation-building and global social value creation. Additionally, the post-conflict development sector can use these findings to adopt programming deeply-rooted in both the fields of venture management and trauma to narrowly tailor its economic development policies and investment strategies into its stakeholder model in order to increase the likelihood of programmatic success in the future.

Overarching Findings

The participants in this study have seen the peaks and valleys – the highs and the lows – Liberia experienced and they are resilient leaders and understand vulnerability as a part of their leadership as entrepreneurs and businessmen and women. Among participants, vulnerability exists because they understand how fragile life can be sometimes and there also exists resiliency because they are survivors shaped by pull and push factors shaping their business lenses. If we as readers and observers only focus on the deficit component of Post-Traumatic Stress and wars then we neglect resilience. Which do we need to heal? Miracles imply that it is extraordinary and my study shows that it is ordinary to pick up the pieces.

This study’s four findings, including: (i) shared traumatic experiences – telling the story of Liberia; (ii) situated traumatic memory in “push and pull” entrepreneurial factors; (iii) role of business in post-conflict rebuilding; and (iv) social value creation as a healing strategy are explored and analyzed with more detail in the full paper. A general overview follows.

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 four findings are discussed and thematically aligned with participant excerpts in order to bring to meaning of traumatic memory to situate it in social value creation. Further, this study’s findings are supported by literature to connect the corresponding theories to these findings.

One of the most powerful takeaways from this data in terms of making sense of these shared experiences is the participants’ sense of normalcy in terms of life and its challenges.  Similarly to Holocaust survivors, part of the miracle of life is trust in it. There is a rudimentary trust in life present among participants that is not miraculous in nature; it is organic. One of the most basic and challenging questions framing this dissertation was, When you survive victimization, what do you do then? This study and my own narrative tell me that it is not just about resilience but also about creativity and resourcefulness. These study participants are not just being resilient. They are creating value in society. They are not creating it simply for themselves; they are rebuilding Liberia and they are pushing their life forward not just theirs but others’ lives as well.  There is a tremendous amount of love for country. It is home.  It is all about that voice and capturing the love of country participants felt toward Liberia.


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