Becoming more business-like? Marketization and its impact on the construction of NPO identity in South Africa

We (Frederik Claeye and I) submitted a paper to Academy of Management that investigates the impact of the trend of managerialism on the construction of organizational identity in non-profit organizations in South Africa drawing on the more critical traditions within both Development and Management Studies. 35 semi-structured interviews were conducted with managers and team leaders from 15 NPOs. Using an interpretive framework, this study analysed the outcomes in light of two discourses (managerialism and Ubuntu) at the global/local interface. The data suggest that processes of sense-giving and sense-making shape the construction of organizational identity. Managers derive a sense of identity by internalizing the managerialist discourse and the ‘best practices’ that go with it in order to obtain legitimacy as ‘proper’ organizations. At the same time, however, they also wish to emphasize the distinctiveness of NPOs, which gives rise to an identity that centers on human interconnectedness that is in line with local cultural value orientations, such as Ubuntu, as the corner stone of organizational identity.

We aimed to illustrate how sense-giving structures are being mimicked under influence of isomorphic pressures and the quest for legitimacy. At the same time, however, processes of sense-making may be seen at work through the ways in which culture offers a lens through which the managerialist discourse can be translated, and aligned to local cultural values.

The paper’s main contributions are both theoretical as well as to development praxis. At the theoretical level, it offers critique that blends postcolonial, critical management and critical development approaches in order to build an understanding of the implications the dominance of managerialist modes of thinking may have on the construction of organizational identity. In this way it contributes to the debate on managerialism by offering a more fine-grained and empirical analysis of power and resistance underlying processes of sense-giving and sense-making in the construction of organizational identities in NPOs in a developing country. At the level of development praxis it highlights the need to allow room for the expression of the local cultural values in order to ensure staff commitment and thus enhance our current efforts to make aid more effective.


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