Session 4. Small and medium sized enterprises’ (SME) strategies for social sustainability in the High-North

Session description:

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute the bedrocks of many northern communities. While local communities rely on Northern SMEs, Northern SMEs also tend to be deeply reliant on their communities and relationships to local stakeholders. This session highlights how SMEs build business models to handle this reciprocal dependence.

The UN Global Compact describes social sustainability as a proactive way of managing and identifying business impacts on employees, workers in the value chain, customers, and local communities. Strategies of social sustainability thus are likely to form a critical and integral part of many Northern SMEs strategies. Yet such strategies also incorporate a series of potential conflicts and dilemmas, between different logics and different values, such as between expectations about local affiliations on the one hand and market competitiveness on the other. “Strategies” here may not always constitute formal strategies but rather refer to something that SME’s “do” or “are”.

Small and medium sized enterprises differ in significant ways from larger enterprises in their approach to corporate social responsibility and social sustainability. SMEs tend to be independent, internally financed, cash-limited, multi-tasking, flexible, largely local and characterised by informal relationships inside and outside of the firm. Unlike larger companies, which can deploy specialised structures or functions to cater to community-relations, local SMEs usually, have little or no excess resources and will need to build social sustainability into their core business model and processes.

SMEs perspectives and strategies will differ reflecting different social, economic and institutional contexts. To reflect this, we hope to include a geographically and diverse set of contributions spanning the Circumpolar North. In this session, we welcome contributions that explore such questions. Possible contributions include but are not limited to:

  • How do northern SMEs see social sustainability relating to their local communities?
  • What are some of the challenges and opportunities that SMEs see present themselves and, which strategies do SMEs draw on while seeking social sustainability for their organisation and their communities? Particularly welcome are process-studies that describes how such strategies form, or changes over time.
  • Can we see social sustainability as a strategy for resilience? Or, do resilience based strategies of SMEs and their symbiotic relationship with local communities, lead to social sustainability?
  • Social sustainability and organisational resilience during crisis, including the Covid-19 pandemic
  • How do managers of northern SMEs attract, develop and retain employees with relevant competencies? To what extent and how does HRM strategies transcend organisational boundaries?

The science committee plans to arrange a special issue or collection of articles in an international peer-reviewed journal in conjunction with the session.

Science committee:

  • Trude Høgvold Olsen, Associate Professor, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Harstad, Norway (co-lead)
  • Svein Tvedt Johansen, Professor, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Harstad, Norway and lead, UArctic thematic network “Thematic Network on Managing Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in the North” (co-lead)
  • Vibeke Tannvik, Project manager politics and communication, NHO Arctic, Norway (The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) is Norway’s largest organisation for employers and NHO Arctic is one of 10 regional offices).
  • Yaso Thiru, Professor, Alaska Pacific University, USA
  • Hjördís Sigurdsteinsdóttir, Associate Professor, School of Business and Science, University of Akureyri, Iceland
  • Markku Vieru, Professor, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland
  • Kristian Wærness, PhD-student, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Harstad, Norway (secretary) 
Alexey Pavlov Photo: Lars Olav Sparboe

Alexey Pavlov
+47 948 45 342

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