The Organizational Communication Division of the International Communication Association has awarded Assistant Professor of Communication J. Sofia Fu the 2019 W. Charles Redding Dissertation Award. Her dissertation, “Where Does Innovation Come From? Exploring the Dynamic Processes of Organizing and Managing Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation” answers the overarching question Fu sought to address through her research: “How can social entrepreneurs and social ventures create social innovations to tackle social problems more effectively?”
Fu received the award at the annual ICA convention, “Communication Beyond Boundaries,” held in Washington, D.C. from May 24-28.
“This dissertation research is grounded on the communicative model of organizational innovation,” Fu said. “In embracing this model, I argue that communication is central for social entrepreneurs and social ventures to recombine diverse information into new ideas to more innovatively address social challenges. This dissertation not only provides much-needed benchmarks on social entrepreneurship, but also offers tangible solutions to help practitioners create useful social innovations. As such, it will likely create transformational change in underserved communities in China, the United States, and possibly beyond.”
According to the ICA, the winning dissertation chosen annually for the Redding Award, “will be theoretically driven, methodologically rigorous, and make a significant contribution to our field. In the spirit of Redding, the dissertation should present ideas that advance our understanding of organizing and communicating, and that make a difference in the lives of organizational members.”
“We knew Sophia’s dissertation was outstanding and that was part of why we hired her here as a faculty member,” Craig Scott, SC&I’s Communication Department Chair, said. “It is really nice that our colleagues in the field have also recognized Sophia’s work by awarding her this prestigious honor.”
Fu said the challenges she sought to address in her dissertation work are wide-ranging and of critical global importance. “Contemporary society is confronting many pressing grand challenges and persistent wicked problems, such as climate change, poverty, gender inequality, educational disparity, and social injustice. In light of the urgent need to understand how organizations can contribute to tackling grand challenges, scholars have considered social entrepreneurship and social innovation crucial for tackling the most formidable social challenges of our era.” These grand challenges, she said, presented the background for her dissertation.
Fu’s work has advanced scholarship around organizing and communicating in significant ways. “In researching how organizations can create social innovations to tackle complex social problems,” Fu said, “my dissertation project integrated research in organizational communication, management, social entrepreneurship, social networks, and information and communication technologies (ICTs). I undertook three interrelated studies in two institutional contexts (i.e., China and the United States) to advance a communicative model of social entrepreneurship organizing and social innovation creation. Overall, the findings from the three studies highlight the institutional, structural, network, technological, and organizational factors that influence the communication processes of social entrepreneurship organizing. Hence, this dissertation contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the communicative drivers of organizational innovation. Moreover, in contrast to most prior studies that examine innovation in the business sector, this dissertation furthers our understanding of the dynamic processes of organizing innovation that result in societal well-being. It marks the introductory step in communication research to studying social innovation to leverage the potential of organizations to tackle grand challenges.”
The outcomes of her work that will have the greatest impact on and benefit for the general public are broad and address social entrepreneurship and management. Fu said, “This dissertation research has important implications for social entrepreneurs and practitioners to engage in social entrepreneurship and social innovation to address complex social problems. This dissertation uses large-scale datasets to summarize the current state of social entrepreneurship and social innovation. This research offers a better understanding of the complex organizational dynamics inherent in social entrepreneurship organizing. The process-based view of social entrepreneurship can help practitioners develop managerial strategies by guiding deeper and systematic analyses of the factors contributing to their social innovation creation.
“Taken together, these three studies suggest that to improve social innovation, social ventures and social entrepreneurs should:
(1) proactively manage the tensions among market and social goals using various communication strategies;
(2) develop robust relationships with organizations in the nonprofit, private, and public sectors;
(3) regularly use ICTs for internal and external communication and knowledge sharing;
(4) maintain a high level of entrepreneurial orientation by actively experimenting with various new ideas.
“This dissertation also has important implications for institutional funders (e.g., foundations, governments) to evaluate the potential social impact of social ventures critically. It sheds light on whether institutional funders should mandate social ventures’ development of business models and collaboration networks.”
Associate Professor of Communication and the Larry J. and LeAnne E. Merlo Presidential Chair in Communication and Entrepreneurship, Rebecca Gill of Wake Forest University, who was chair of the ICA Organizational Communication Division committee that selected this year’s winner, said the “review committee offered these comments regarding Fu’s submission:
- Clear theory, methodological rigor, and contribution to field
- Beautifully written and accessible, made all the more of an accomplishment given the scope of the empirical work being reported (‘Each impressive on their own, this structure of studies aimed at building organizational communication theory relevant to problems that matter was especially compelling’)
- Impressed by its methodological rigor and theoretical contributions
- Appreciated inclusion of data in and outside the US context
- Speaks directly to communication and organizing in a lot of different ways
- Appreciated commitment to improving lives of organizational members in the spirit of Redding
- Focus on engagement was compelling (‘this dissertation seeks to improve the lives of organizational members by investigating organizing involved in addressing pressing social problems’).”
Expressing gratitude for the support she received at Northwestern and Rutgers Universities during the research and writing of her dissertation, Fu said, “This award is the result of a collaborative endeavor. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my dissertation advisor, Dr. Michelle Shumate, for her enormous encouragement and support. I am also very grateful for the other three committee members, Dr. Noshir Contractor, Dr. Ned Smith, and Dr. Klaus Weber, for their constructive feedback. Finally, I would like to thank my super-supportive colleagues here at Rutgers SC&I for various inspirations.”
Fu’s research was funded by a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant of the Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences division of the National Science Foundation, as well as Buffet Institute for Global Studies, Northwestern University The Graduate School Graduate Research Grant, and Northwestern University School of Communication Dissertation Research Grant.
“The department has hired several Redding award winners over the years and our faculty have supervised award winners also. We are honored that Dr. Fu is now part of that history,” Scott said.
For more information about the Communication Department at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I) click here.