Two men help build a home from recycled materials in Malawi

Two men help build a home from recycled materials in Malawi. Photo: Jenny Parkins / Flickr .

In efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, social entrepreneurship has gained popularity as a vehicle for positive change in developing countries. The multiplicity of stakeholders, diverging sociocultural contexts and the hybrid mission complicate the process of legitimacy construction for social entrepreneurs as a basis for the acquisition of scarce resources. This study investigates how social entrepreneurs operating in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia tackle this challenge of bridging conflicting directions in discursive interaction with their European funders. The authors conduct a multimodal discourse analysis to uncover discursive strategies for legitimacy construction by combining linguistic data from interviews with visual data from social media accounts. Legitimacy construction, and thus resource acquisition, centers on three aspects which interlink pragmatic, cognitive and moral legitimacy: developing innovative solutions, mobilizing private-sector efficiency, and contributing to local empowerment. Presenting these aspects as mutually reinforcing overcomes contradictions between social and business logics and provides an expanded space for legitimacy construction of social entrepreneurship. Discursively constructing legitimacy around a ‘glorified version of social entrepreneurship’ mobilizes resources but downplays the risk of being an entrepreneur in the Global South, contributing to increasing corporatization of social purpose organizations.