Modern Missionaries : An Ethnography of Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurial Legitimation in the Humanitarian Field

Sammanfattning: In nearly six decades of international interventions, the question of how to promote societal progress in African societies is still the subject of lively debates. The persistence of wars, famine, political instability and economic underdevelopment on the continent continues to fuel spirited discussions about how to organize aid most efficiently and whether old forms of international assistance still work. In this scenario, modern missionaries appear bearing promises to solve poverty related problems. Some of these people call themselves: ‘social entrepreneurs’. These entrepreneurs have during the last decade gained increased space in the humanitarian field.   Based on the premise that business and self-interest may in fact be the most effective way to assist the ‘extreme poor’ in the Global South, entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs have increasingly begun to gain recognition as innovative humanitarian players. By applying business principles and practices to the humanitarian field, social entrepreneurs are constructed as challengers of previously institutionalized forms of organizing aid, such as charities and NGOs. The aim of this dissertation is to create a greater understanding of how social entrepreneurs gain legitimacy in the humanitarian field. Drawing on ethnographic methods, I address this aim by exploring the realities of social entrepreneurs creating organizations in Kenya’s largest urban slum Kibera, in Nairobi.   I argue that, to gain legitimacy in the humanitarian field, social entrepreneurs depend on the interplay between social, cultural, symbolic and economic capital. Furthermore, I emphasize the symbolic power of places in the processes by which entrepreneurs gain social acceptance and support for their interventions. While seemingly fostering social transformation and entrepreneurship in the Global South, social entrepreneurs may informally create and support an economy which justifies the existence of NGOs in Kibera. Within this economy local actors create several mechanisms for profiting from foreign led organizations. This phenomenon I call ‘unexpected entrepreneurship’: activities that emerge as reactions to processes of development and the delivery of humanitarian services and products as well as the implementation of policies. Although often commercial and informal in nature, this form of entrepreneurship influences how social entrepreneurs gain access to local settings. Unexpected entrepreneurship also changes how social entrepreneurs design and deliver their solutions.