Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 329–345 | Cite as

Tightrope Walking: Navigating Competition in Multi-Company Cross-Sector Social Partnerships

Original Paper


Many challenges to economic and social well-being require close collaboration between business, government, and civil-society actors. In this context, the involvement of multiple companies (i.e., business partners) rather than a single company may enhance such cross-sector social partnerships’ (CSSPs) outcomes. However, extant literature cautions about the tensions arising from companies’ competitive interests and the detrimental effects on the CSSP’s social outcome. Similarly, studies analyzing simultaneous collaboration and competition (i.e., coopetition) suggest shielding off competitive elements from the collaboration. Based on insights into two multi-company CSSPs, we conversely find that government and NGO partnership managers deliberately leveraged competition through the CSSP design. They used similar segmentation mechanisms to enhance CSSP contributions, but differed in the way they integrated collaborative and competitive elements, leading to sustained corporate commitment in one CSSP and unmet promises in the other. These insights expose the paradoxical nature of coopetition at the interface of social and economic goals, and advance current research by indicating competition’s positive effects and the respective partnership design implications. On this basis, our study helps reveal and better understand sustainability-related tensions and opportunities at the inter-organizational level.


Coopetition Competitive dynamics Corporate sustainability Cross-sector (social) partnerships Paradox Sustainability tensions 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Grenoble Ecole de ManagementGrenobleFrance

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