Mapping the Field of Social Businesses in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

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Social businesses are organizations aimed at addressing social problems through business and marketing strategies. Of particular concern are issues connected to poverty, social inclusion among emerging consumers and sustainable development (Travagline, Bandini, Mancinione, 2009; Márquez et al. 2010). However, due to its hybrid nature that pulls from different sectors, the notion of social businesses is generating significant debate among scholars and practitioners regarding its purpose, approaches, and identity. In an effort to shine a light on how the concept of social business is developing and playing out in a particular city in South America, this study examines the ecosystem of social businesses in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Using qualitative methods, the study offers an in-depth look at the central actors, how they conceptualize social businesses, and the discourse around approaches they use to overcome these social issues. The findings reveal that social business actors are particularly concerned about impact and participatory action that ensures enterprises work with and not for marginalized populations. Of particular relevance to the EPIC audience, the paper adds insight into how inclusive practices, grounded traditionally in Brazil’s third sector and solidarity economy movements, shape the conceptualization and operationalization of social enterprises, which aim to instigate new product and consumption patterns and inclusive capitalist trends. Being the first study in Brazil to examine how social business is framed within a specific urban context, the findings reveal new insights and old views on topics such as poverty, development, emerging consumers and emancipatory ways of overcoming problems caused by socioeconomic dynamics.

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