This thesis developed a context-sensitive approach to the study of entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka in order to explore the relevance of socio-cultural values to understanding entrepreneurship as a social phenomenon. The new insights coming from this study will facilitate the development of better educational and training programs and socio-economic polices by challenging policy makers' focus on western ideologies.
The development of small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) in Sri Lanka, a developing country, has been recognized as necessary to achieve rapid socio- economic growth. However, up to 85% of SMEs face significant survival challenges and more than 7 5% fail within five years of start up. So, there is a great need to improve the inherent capacities and capabilities of this sector.
Since independence in 1948, government, international organizations and non government organisations (NGOs) have supported entrepreneurship development through training and education programs typically based on western entrepreneurship ideologies. However, there is growing recognition amongst researchers, trainers, and entrepreneurs that these initiatives have not made an appreciable contribution to organizational success in Sri Lanka.
This thesis therefore aimed to explore the nature of Sri Lankan entrepreneurial reality in order to clarify the reasons for this situation. The thesis consisted of two stages. Desktop research was used to identify and clarify reasons for the deficiency of western oriented concepts in Sri Lank and the socio-cultural realities of entrepreneurial performance in Sri Lanka were explored empirically.
Human and cultural aspects of entrepreneurial activity were explored through bottom-up translations of actions consistent with the beliefs and values of the actors involved. Therefore, a subjective ontology and qualitative methodology were employed to ground the reality of human behaviour in its cultural and social contexts. An ethnographically-oriented holistic case study approach was used to capture selected respondents' viewpoints. An intensive three-rounds of fieldwork provided rich information about ten entrepreneurs who had started home-based businesses that had shown significant progress by growth in size and 'Piliganeema' (social power) within Sri Lankan society. Data collection and analysis by pattern and theme building were iterated in three phases towards an emergent theoretical perspective of entrepreneurial social realities. Together, the analyses provide a rich view of the subjective world of entrepreneurial activity.
Emerging conceptual themes related to the world of the Sri Lankan entrepreneur were described in two parts: 'entrepreneurial drive, perceptions, and guiding principles of the entrepreneur' and 'development of managerial knowledge and skills by the entrepreneur'. In the first part, Piliganeema, value based opportunities, social networks, social uncertainty and social benefits emerged as important theoretical concepts. In the latter, the management practices discussed illustrated the impact of traditional feudalistic cultural values on management
The underpinning fundamental value sets (social meanings) of the conceptual themes were exposed as social power, collective work ethics, social rightness, work harmony and paternalism. These were greatly influenced successively by Singhalese civilisation. Buddhism, British colonisation and independence. This exposed the deep-rooted reality of behavioural patterns and actions of entrepreneurial activity within society. Overall, findings indicate strongly that the pattern of entrepreneurial performance can only be « understood successfully as a reflection of the unique characteristics of a particular society and culture and its values.
As this thesis sheds light on the need to move away from a focus on western ideologies, it will provide a more pragmatic, better-informed view of entrepreneurship to policy makers who are the power centres in the Sri Lankan economy and society. Entrepreneurial drive, perceptions, and the guiding principles of the entrepreneur in Sri Lankan suggest that entrepreneurial motivation, opportunity recognition, risk management and performance evaluation criterion based on western norms or rationality have to be transformed into socio-cultural subjective norms pertinent to Sri Lankan society and culture. Existing entrepreneurial management training should be revised to focus on developing appropriate management values and practices for entrepreneurs that are in harmony with national values and beliefs. An education and training framework developed on the basis of these findings has the potential to more effectively prepare entrepreneurs who are well-matched to and successful in the Sri Lankan context.
From the methodological point of view, this study provides an inductive research orientation for entrepreneurship researchers to gain a closer scrutiny of entrepreneurial reality. The research process successfully conceptualised the association between cultural characteristics and entrepreneurship and in turn helped to overcome the deficiencies of normative western approaches. This can be used as a basis for discussing methodological issues associated with the beliefs and values of the actors involved within a holistic approach. Finally, the alternative paradigm, 'socio-cultural-relativism in entrepreneurship' uncovered in this study is appropriate to and has wide applications in researching, understanding, and fostering development of entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial sector in other contexts.