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Lessons from Shorefast

Business professor wins SSHRC grant to study ‘unique’ organization


By Susan White

A researcher at Memorial’s business faculty has won a national grant for a project to study the challenges of rural sustainability through social enterprise.

Dr. Natalie Slawinski, associate professor at the Faculty of Business Administration, recently won a Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), a federal research funding agency and the premier supporter of social sciences and humanities research in Canada.

Dr. Natalie Slawinski has won a SSHRC Partnership Grant to study social entrepreneurship and the Shorefast Foundation.
Dr. Natalie Slawinski has won a SSHRC Partnership Grant.
Photo: David Howells

“I’m thrilled because it means I can keep doing this work that is so personally fulfilling and that I think will be important, not just for understanding social enterprise, but understanding different ways that business can serve society,” she said.

The research project, Building Resilient Rural Communities Through Social Entrepreneurship: Lessons from the Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, is a partnership between Memorial University and the Shorefast Foundation. The research team includes Dr. Blair Winsor from the Faculty of Business Administration, Dr. Mark Stoddart from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Wendy Smith from the University of Delaware, and Diane Hodgins from the Shorefast Foundation.

A place-based model

Dr. Slawinski’s research will examine the Shorefast Foundation’s model of social entrepreneurship, which relies heavily on the culture, history and geography of Fogo Island and its communities.

Social entrepreneurship uses business tools and practices to address societal challenges.

The team will also attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities of social entrepreneurship in rural areas and attempt to develop some lessons and best practices from the Shorefast model that can be shared with other rural communities and social enterprises.

Dr. Slawinski on Fogo Island with the Fogo Island Inn in the distance.
Dr. Slawinski with the Fogo Island Inn in the distance.

“The project is about understanding how social enterprise as a model can facilitate rural economic development and can help communities find a way to regenerate, revitalize and create employment in a way that is respectful of the place,” said Dr. Slawinski.

“So, we are trying to understand what the Shorefast Foundation has been doing on Fogo Island. The challenge for us is how do you take lessons from an initiative or a project like Shorefast that is so unique? How do you take away lessons that are generalizable and can be shared with other communities? And so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

‘Unique and inspirational’

Dr. Slawinski has been interested in the Shorefast Foundation for a number of years and has co-written two published teaching case studies on the organization, which she uses in her classes, as well as a book chapter. She’s also collected data on how Shorefast manages the seeming contradictions between social and business goals to achieve a balanced approach to the island’s economic development for a publication she’s developing.

“I think what has attracted me to the Shorefast project is the importance of what it’s trying to accomplish and how it’s going about accomplishing it.” — Dr. Natalie Slawinski

“I think what has attracted me to the Shorefast project is the importance of what it’s trying to accomplish and how it’s going about accomplishing it,” she said. “Shorefast is really trying to change the way that we think about the world, our place in the world, the role of business in the world. And it’s doing this in novel ways, including using the power of art and design to help achieve and communicate its goals. Everything about Shorefast’s approach to building rural resilience is unique and inspirational.”

Academic and community benefit

Undertaking this project in partnership with Shorefast allows for a deeper understanding of its approach as well as the challenges it faces, she adds.

“I think it gives you deeper insights when the organization you’re studying is now also a partner. They have a stake in this research, as well,” said Dr. Slawinski. “We want this research to benefit not just us as academics in terms of publications and knowledge creation, but also the communities on Fogo Island and other rural places, along with the Shorefast Foundation.

“Our goal is to study the Shorefast model and its impact on Fogo Island objectively and with a critical eye, and that includes examining what’s working better and what’s working less well, with the hopes that these insights then inform how rural communities can effectively engage in social entrepreneurship.”

Dr. Slawinski received her PhD in strategic management from the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in 2010, where she was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal. Her research focuses on how organizations balance short-term economic goals with longer-term social and environmental goals. Her articles have appeared in such journals as Organization Science, Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies and her work has been cited in the Globe and Mail, the Financial Post and Canadian Business magazine.

Dr. Slawinski currently sits on a guidance committee for the Community Sector Council of Newfoundland and Labrador and the advisory board of Memorial’s Centre for Social Enterprise.

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