Frenemies: When Firms and Activists Collaborate
84 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2021
Date Written: June 10, 2021
Collaborations between organizations from different sectors, such as those between firms and nonprofits or governments, can offer effective solutions to complex societal problems like climate change. But complications arise because organizations operating in different sectors rely on the approval of different audiences, who may not view these relationships positively, for resources and survival. I show how concerns about audience approval impede cross-sector collaborations forming between firms and social movement organizations (SMOs) despite their potential societal benefits. Firms wanting to signal their genuine efforts in support of a movement’s cause are eager to form collaborations with SMOs. However, when SMOs’ supporters or peers define their identity in opposition to firms—what I call oppositional audiences—collaborations do not form. While SMOs who cooperate, and don’t compete, with oppositional peers can better navigate the constraint of oppositional audiences, firms make it worse. Firms’ inclination to collaborate after being contentiously targeted by a movement to repair reputations with their own audiences, exacerbate the challenge of partnering with the enemies of your friends. My arguments on countervailing audience effects stifling collaborations are corroborated in 25 years of data on interactions between SMOs in multiple environmental movements and Fortune 500 firms.
Keywords: interorganizational relations, social movements, cross-sector collaboration, conflict and cooperation, corporate social responsibility
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