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Espresso for chocolate: place dynamics of Turin’s social impact entrepreneurial ecosystem

May 19, 2023 @ 12:00 - 13:00


What a dignified, severe city, wonderful clarity, autumn colors, an exquisite sense of well-being that is common to all things” – F. Nietzsche on Turin, Italy

The purpose of this paper is to extend understanding of place as a key dynamic of entrepreneurial ecosystems (EEs) aiming to deliver social impact. Research on EEs dedicated to social impact creation is relatively limited, with most of the work relegating social impact to an implicit output of EE actors and factors. The engines enabling some EEs to rejuvenate places are not necessarily portable from place to place. This paper broadens understanding of EEs through examining the role of place in the “pursuit of positive change”. Place provides an emotional charge for entrepreneurial agents identifying and addressing local issues, giving legitimacy to their socially innovative and entrepreneurial endeavours. Place shapes how and why entrepreneurs choose to act and how they live.

This paper is interested in how place-based emotions and entrepreneurial activities interact within the socio-spatial boundaries of EEs. Given the interconnection of global and local realms in the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and corresponding agenda (UN, 2015), it is timely to examine why and how place matters in transforming our world. We chose to explore the EE evolving in Turin, Italy, a place with a rich, dichotomous past split between the industrial and social economy. Rather than concentrating on how certain individuals constructed ecosystems seemingly from scratch, through strategic decision-making, this study concentrates on the creation of social value in the present-day that is endogenously linked to historical legacies of social institutions. We pose two interrelated research questions: how does place influence EE support for social impact? And secondly, how can place-based emotions rooted in the past shape the EE’s present and future evolution? To address these questions, we adopted a qualitative approach, involving interviews as well as participatory and non-participatory observations during a five-week period in the empirical setting. The findings contribute to uncovering the place dynamics playing out in Turin, which we summarise as three place-based practices: i) recalling past legacies of social impact; ii) recognising present socioenvironmental challenges; and iii) rethinking the social economy to overcome challenges to ultimately improve the place. We see temporal dimensions of place-based emotions being conveyed, with actors seeking to reconcile the past, present and future simultaneously. The findings also show that place can encompass different boundaries and relationships depending on the social issue at hand: actors understand Turin in terms of the Piedmont region, as well as at Italian and European Union or global levels. We contribute to the literature on EEs by identifying the role of social sector organisations in encapsulating place-based emotions into social impact initiatives, offering a supportive nest to drive innovation.



Kathleen Burke



Kathleen Burke is a PhD candidate at the Department of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology and Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets at the Stockholm School of Economics and an affiliate researcher at the Center for Innovation Research at Lund University, Sweden. For the past several months, Kathleen has been engaged in a pilot project to launch a program for Social Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College (USA). Kathleen’s research looks at the sociological role of place within entrepreneurial ecosystems, which contributes to understanding the evolutionary dynamics of sustainable development unfolding across different socio-spatial contexts. Her dissertation investigates the influence of place and context on ecosystems being constructed across multiple regions in the UK, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Currently, Kathleen is working on book chapters on the “The Social Structure of Entrepreneurship” and “Global Futures for Entrepreneurial Ecosystems” as well as on the special issue of Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, “Fiction and the Entrepreneurial Imagination”, looking at the role of place-based poetry in creating sources of entrepreneurial agency amongst marginalised local agents, extending understanding of local versus global visions of sustainable development. Last summer, Kathleen had the pleasure of working with Professor Laura Corazza on a paper examining the social impact ecosystem in Turin, looking at the role of place in motivating various actors to drive positive change.

Kathleen earned a BA in Economics from Hobart and William Smith Colleges (New York) and a MA in Latin American Studies with honors in International Business Diplomacy from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service (Washington, D.C.), where she was awarded the Wallenberg International Fellowship in 2017. Kathleen is passionate about inclusive and place-based approaches to sustainable development and interdisciplinary perspectives on the role of entrepreneurship in sustaining societies and communities.


May 19, 2023
12:00 - 13:00

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