While adversity abounds worldwide, refugees, in particular, experience extreme adversity from war-related disasters and the resulting death and destruction. These people must leave their homelands in response, which triggers additional loss and separates family members and friends (Betancourt et al., 2015). Such adversity—both more generally and in the context of refugees specifically—can lead to personal dysfunction in individuals (e.g., depression and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]). However, such “dysfunctional” responses to adversity are not always the most common. Rather, some (or even most) individuals demonstrate resilience—namely, they maintain (or quickly resume) positive personal functioning after experiencing adversity. For example, Bonanno and colleagues (2006) found that after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, 65.1% of a sample of residents exhibited resilience after the attack. Others have revealed similar findings for refugees (Hooberman et al., 2010). In explaining why some people demonstrate higher resilience in the face of adversity compared to others, scholars have highlighted individuals’ pre-adversity resource endowments, organizing to decrease vulnerability before adverse situations, and both cognitive and behavioral responses to crises (Bonanno et al., 2010; Hobfoll, 1989; Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003; Weick, 1993). For most of this research on resilience, adversity is marked by a beginning (e.g., an event) and decreases over time.

In this chapter, we argue that in addition to exploring resilience under conditions of short- to medium-term adversity, scholars need to investigate resilience over more extended periods. Specifically, we need a deeper understanding of resilience when there is no “before adversity” period to prepare and decrease people’s vulnerability. Take, for instance, Rami Saaf, a 34-year-old Palestinian refugee who was born and still resides in the Beddawi refugee camp north of Lebanon. He described the ongoing adversity he faces in the camp, a place “where raw sewage and water leak onto (electric) wires” (Khoury, 2017). These harsh camp conditions emerged before his birth and will likely persist into the future. How can people be resilient to such adverse conditions?

Entrepreneurial action can be both an antecedent to and an outcome of resilience. While many factors motivate entrepreneurial action, including individuals’ opportunity beliefs, access to resources, and entrepreneurial passion (Cardon et al., 2009; George, 2005; McMullen & Shepherd, 2006), when it comes to adversity, entrepreneurial action is vitally important, and identity becomes a particularly significant issue. Namely, entrepreneurs’ identities underlie their perceptions of and responses to adversity, leading to three main scenarios: people who perceive adverse situations as opportunities embrace adversity, people who perceive such situations as challenges attempt to offset adversity, and people who perceive such situations as threats try to accommodate adversity (Powell & Baker, 2014). Because identity plays such a key role in entrepreneurial action under adversity, we focus on this construct to explore refugees’ entrepreneurial efforts and resilience outcomes. With our resilience approach to refugee entrepreneurs, we extend the identity view of interpreting and responding to adversity by theorizing on the multiple identities underlying an entrepreneurial action perspective of resilience outcomes. An individual’s multiple identities reflect a person’s different roles in life (Thoits, 1983), such as doctor, mother, wife, and soccer coach. These multiple identities can be challenging to manage, especially when an individual’s identities conflict, such as under high adversity (Powell & Baker, 2014). Indeed, facing adversity tends to threaten an individual’s identity (or multiple identities), but entrepreneurial action may provide a means for identity change in this context (Haynie & Shepherd, 2011).

In this chapter, we explore the severe and enduring adversity facing Palestinian refugee entrepreneurs who now reside in Lebanon. The term refugee entrepreneur simply refers to a person whose main income comes from “the activity of organizing, managing, and assuming the risks of business or enterprise” (Shane, 2008: 2)Footnote 1 and who is a refugee. Moreover, a refugee is a person who

as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

Refugees are exposed to significant adversity, which can constrain their behaviors differently. First, refugees who live in camps experience overcrowding, severe poverty, squalor and unsanitary living conditions, low literacy rates (Khalil, 2011), and death and destruction from war (e.g., 78% of residents of the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon have faced a war-exposure event) (Segal et al., 2018). Second, this adversity can lead to dysfunction in some refugees, including emotional distress, PTSD, anxiety, and depression (Ssenyonga et al., 2013). Third, many refugees do not experience dysfunction despite facing adversity but instead demonstrate resilience (Hutchinson & Dorsett, 2012). Finally, even though identity often plays a role in explaining resilience to adversity, identity-related issues tend to be more complicated for refugees (compared to non-refugees) as they must grapple with identifying with both their “birth” and “residing” countries. Thus, how do refugee entrepreneurs develop and manage their multiple identities under substantial and persistent adversity, and what are the outcomes?

In this chapter, we report on our extensive data-collection effort to investigate refugee entrepreneurs (in refugee camps and not in camps) over 15 months (see Shepherd et al., 2020). As detailed in this chapter, we identify a pattern of intertwinement of adversity and identity-related issues among refugee entrepreneurs. This pattern triggers these individuals’ (informal) entrepreneurial action, which directly contributes to (and reflects) the entrepreneurs’ resilience to their persistent and harsh living conditions. Further, for some refugees, their entrepreneurial action indirectly contributes to resilience outcomes via host-country integration efforts—namely, identifying, living, and speaking like a local; marrying a local; and connecting with other locals (i.e., with members of the host country). Such resilience outcomes reflect refugee entrepreneurs’ positive functioning under adversity, increasing their integration efforts and entrepreneurial action but not addressing the persistent adversity they face.

The findings of this study add to the entrepreneurship literature by providing insights into how refugees’ entrepreneurial action under adversity affects (both directly and indirectly) different aspects of their resilience outcomes. By exploring a context characterized by substantial and persistent adversity, we provide a deeper understanding of the influence of entrepreneurial action against the backdrop of (what appears to be) an unsolvable problem: realizing long-term resilience outcomes without necessarily decreasing the objective adversity. We also highlight the mechanisms underlying some refugees’ efforts to integrate with locals, thereby shedding light on the role of multiple identities in a highly constraining environment. This approach extends knowledge of the entrepreneur identity map and positive functioning under ongoing adversity. Furthermore, most resilience research exploring refugee entrepreneurs under persistent adversity has focused on these individuals’ utilization of slack capabilities—namely, cognitive, relational, and emotional capabilities (Hobfoll, 2011; Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003). However, identity management stood out in our data, thus facilitating our novel theorizing on this topic. Finally, we explain how the underlying dynamics of entrepreneurial action and social integration interact to influence resilience outcomes (and vice versa), which may be useful in elucidating entrepreneurial action as a means to “deal with” highly constrained contexts.

Theoretical Background

The theoretical background of this study comes from positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship focusing on resilience—“the process by which an actor (individual, organization, or community) builds and uses its capability endowments to interact with the environment in a way that positively adjusts and maintains functioning before, during, and following adversity” (Williams et al., 2017: 742). In this context, adversity refers to “an unfortunate event or circumstance or the state of serious and continued difficulty” (Tian & Fan, 2014: 252). Although it is widely assumed that all people experience dysfunction in response to adversity (e.g., a natural disaster, death of a loved one, or another significant event), research has shown that a sizable number of people do not have such a response but instead maintain positive functioning (Bonanno, 2004, 2005) and even experience personal growth from adversity (Maitlis, 2009). Unsurprisingly, scholars have become increasingly interested in explaining these differences in people’s responses to adversity.

In providing theoretical explanations for more and/or less resilient outcomes, researchers have studied individuals’ resource endowments, pre-adversity organizing, and responses to adversity. Research on resource endowments has investigated individuals’ trait-based attributes and their cognitive, behavioral, and emotional capability endowments (Luthar et al., 2000; Shepherd & Williams, 2014; Williams et al., 2017). Research on pre-adversity organizing has explored pre-emptive ways to reduce vulnerability and restore positive functioning (e.g., high-reliability organizations [Weick et al., 1999]). Finally, research on adversity has focused on individuals’ cognitive and behavioral responses to major disturbances, including entrepreneurial action in response to war-torn Afghanistan (Bullough et al., 2014), an earthquake in Haiti (Williams & Shepherd, 2016a), bushfires in Australia (Shepherd & Williams, 2014), and the Great Recession in America (Powell & Baker, 2014). While much of this research on resilience has considered adversity as an event (emerging at a specific point in time or as the result of a buildup of factors that reach a threshold), a recent call encourages researchers to expand the investigation of time about the types of adversity we explore in this chapter. Indeed, Williams and colleagues (2017: 753) highlighted that “adversity is heterogeneous; some challenges are triggered quickly, evolve rapidly, and are short in duration, whereas other challenges emerge slowly, evolve more gradually, and are extended over time.” Aleinikoff (2015: 2), for instance, explained this more persistent form of adversity in the refugee context:

The relief-to-development mantra can make sense in a natural disaster, when a temporary shock has taken a community off its normal development course. And this logic links to the mot dujour: “resilience.” A resilient society is able to withstand shock and begin rebuilding more quickly. But these concepts are more difficult to apply in situations of long-term displacement. Refugee camps and settlements persist in host communities, usually as isolated, unproductive islands sustained largely by the international community—or neglected altogether. Host states are not likely to include refugees in their national development plans, meant for their own citizens, and are not likely to want international funders to divert development dollars to non-nationals. As a result, international assistance to displaced communities continues to be sourced from “humanitarian” baskets no matter how long the displacement continues.

Although the literature on refugee entrepreneurship does acknowledge the adversity refugees encounter, this research has tended to focus on the benefits attained from refugees’ entrepreneurial action in terms of their integrationinto localcommunities as a route to self-sufficiency, belongingness, and increased domestic entrepreneurship (Fong et al., 2007; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2006). Moreover, numerous anecdotal stories tell of refugee entrepreneurs who have displayed resilience. Still, scholars have yet to explore the nature of the adversity these individuals face, the attributes of their resilience outcomes, or the way entrepreneurial action operates under such adversity to produce different resilience outcomes. In addition, while we know entrepreneurial action can facilitate positive outcomes for individuals facing adversity more generally, the role of entrepreneurial action in generating resilience outcomes for individuals facing persistent adversity is less clear. Indeed, some highly adverse contexts have endured so long that there is no “pre-adversity” stage for the individuals involved. The forces driving the adversity are so unrelenting that no solutions to the problem seem to emerge.

While Knight (1983) applied the term refugee entrepreneurs metaphorically to describe individuals who undertake entrepreneurial action to overcome the “limitations and constraints” of their former lives, we explore refugee entrepreneurs literally to understand better how they engage in entrepreneurial action to overcome the limits and constraints of their lives under substantial and persistent adversity. Namely, we aim to elucidate how entrepreneurial action influences resilience in the context of substantial and persistent adversity by investigating how refugee entrepreneurs manage the “limitations and constraints” of their lives to realize positive resilience outcomes in what many would deem a helpless situation.

Identity is central to a person’s life. According to identity theory (Ashforth, 2000), individuals create and maintain multiple role identities through interactions with their social structures, which they then apply to understand their lives. In this case, identity refers to the different meanings attached to a person by himself or herself and others as the person embodies a particular role (Ibarra, 1999). Accordingly, these role identities are “socially constructed definitions of self-in-role (this is who a role occupant is), consisting of core or central features and peripheral features. Core features tend to be important, necessary, or typical characteristics of the identity and more defining of the identity” (Ashforth et al., 2000: 475). Therefore, individuals’ different roles establish criteria that guide their expectations, meanings, and behaviors such that they focus on achieving a fit between the meanings they associate with a specific role and the behaviors they engage in when in that role and interacting with others (Burke, 1980). When people can manage their multiple identities to avert or overcome identity conflict around their different roles, their psychological well-being is likely to improve.


In this chapter, we report findings from our study on entrepreneurial action as a vehicle for refugee entrepreneurs’ resilience under substantial and persistent adversity, as shown in Fig. 3.1. The first column of Fig. 3.1 describes the initial conditions of the substantial and persistent adversity in our context and the refugee entrepreneurs’ multiple identities; the second column presents these individuals’ entrepreneurial action (which mainly occurs in the informal economy); the third column details the refugee entrepreneurs’ efforts to integrate and/or manage their multiple identities; and the fourth column captures their resilience to the substantial and persistent adversity they faced. We now turn to further developing these emergent findings before presenting our theoretical model.

Fig. 3.1
A flowchart illustrates the key dynamics of refugees including Substantial and persistent adversity, acting entrepreneurially, efforts at integrating, and resilience outcomes.

Key dynamics of refugees’ entrepreneurial actions to enhance integration and resilience (Figure from Shepherd et al., 2020)

The Refugee Context of Substantial and Persistent (Objective) Adversity

To explore refugee entrepreneurs’ resilience under substantial and persistent adversity, we chose the extreme context of the Palestinian refugee situation in Lebanon, in which “long-term dependency for forced migrants, coupled with a lack of membership in a state, denies millions of persons a present and a future” (Aleinikoff, 2015: 3). While this extreme context facilitates theory building, we realize the refugee situation in Lebanon is controversial. Our aim is neither to contribute nor to resolve this political controversy.

Palestine refugees have been residing in Lebanon for the past 70 years, with roughly 90% of present refugees born in Lebanon (International Labor Organization [ILO]; Committee for the Employment of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon [CEP], 2011). While exact numbers are hard to obtain, the latest census in 2017 revealed that 174,422 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon (Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee [LPDC], Central Administration of Statistics, and Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2018). Of these individuals, 63% reside in 12 official camps administered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and the remaining 37% have settled in 39 refugee agglomerations (i.e., gatherings) and other cities and towns throughout Lebanon (Chaaban et al., 2016). The refugees we interviewed described the following constraints and difficulties they faced in these environments.

Legal constraintscreate economic adversity and reinforce social adversity. In our findings, the most common theme surrounding the substantial and persistent adversity in this refugee context is international law (or the inapplicability thereof) regarding the Palestinians in Lebanon. As mentioned, Palestinian refugees have lived in Lebanon for 70 years, and a dedicated body within the United Nations (i.e., UNRWA) is tasked with providing them aid. However, these Palestinians’ rather unique refugee status has left them in a state of legal uncertainty. Namely, both international and local laws have led to a sort of “no man’s land” for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon with no legitimate route for them to escape (Al-Natour, 1997). These circumstances have created economic adversity for the Palestinian refugees mainly because they only have access to a few (low-paying) careers to earn an income, leading many to rely on international aid for survival. For example, Rania, a 45-year-old Lebanese national who lives and works in Beirut, described the refugees’ economic hardship in the following way:

They are denied work in 77 professions, although it is said that legally that number is lower. However, effectively, the barriers to being employed are very high. Essentially, they are prevented from employment in white-collar positions. They are not allowed to open an NGO or association on their own. They must have a Lebanese partner. Our former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, went even further and prevented the Palestinians from the right of inheritance. So, not only did they prevent them from owning property, but they also prevented them from passing on this property. The Americans, the Swiss, the Europeans, who we know nothing about and to whom we are not related, they are allowed to come to Lebanon, own property, and pass it on. But the Palestinians, who are from our land, who are our relatives, who share the same history, they are not allowed to own or inherit property. This [situation] is unacceptable.

These economic constraints are further exacerbated by social adversity. Specifically, Palestinian refugees are frequently disdained, institutionally discriminated against, and stigmatized by Lebanese citizens—characteristics that fit one definition of modern racism. Atallah, a freelance copywriter, living in Beirut, captured this social stigma well:

In some areas of a specific religious majority, people are not comfortable with the idea of Palestinians living in Lebanon, working and starting families, sharing a state, who have dreams and ambitions, and are educated and cultured. One feels in some sections of society that racism exists against the Palestinian people due to the memories of the civil war; I don’t think we can get into this now.

Ultimately, this economic and social adversity has created harsh conditions for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. For instance, Wafaa, a social entrepreneur who is devoted to empowering Palestinian women and lives in Sidon, outlined her beliefs about the refugees’ situation in the following:

The Lebanese people are racist, and if they don’t practice their racism, then they hide it inside. For example, they say that foreigners took all the job opportunities, but employers used refugees and exploited them with low wages, and even if they were good workers, they are still not paid well. There are employers who say that they are against racism but hire Palestinians with a $400 [USD] salary and Lebanese employees with higher wages. In Lebanon, whoever says that they are not racist are in fact racist in their hiring practices, and they don’t give others their social rights.

Providing a different view, a 57-year-old Lebanese national, who declined to provide his name and lives in an area known to be unfriendly to Palestinian refugees, described his beliefs about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as follows:

They are a burden to Lebanon. They work illegally without permission from the [Lebanese] authorities. They earn social benefits, they receive support from UNRWA, and get a hundred other benefits. They beg in the streets and live in squalor in their camps. They are responsible for 75% of the thefts in the country. Three-quarters of the country’s problems are caused by them. They work for illegal businesses. Most of our problems are caused by them. If not three-quarters then half of our problems are caused by them. They are responsible for security issues. Their presence in Lebanon does not have even a 1% benefit to Lebanon. There should be restrictions on their presence here. I don’t know about their rights and duties in this country. In fact, I don’t care. It’s better if they sent them back to their country.

Refugees develop andmanage multiple identities. In addition to creating extreme economic and social adversity, the refugee situation in Lebanon has also created an extreme context for multiple interacting identities. While Palestinian refugees face many of the same issues from having multiple identities that most people do (e.g., being a spouse and an employee), they typically encounter additional identity-related challenges.

First, the refugees identify with Palestine. Initially, this identification might seem natural for individuals classified as Palestinian refugees, but most of these individuals have never even seen Palestine. Indeed, most Palestinian refugees were born in refugee camps in Lebanon (i.e., those aged 30 or younger). All are subject to strict travel restrictions, including being prohibited from leaving Lebanon to travel to Palestine. Regardless, the refugees still feel Palestine is their home—not their birth home per se but their spiritual home. Khaled, a freelance accountant, living in a refugee camp near Tripoli, illustrated this identification with Palestine when explaining where he was born and why Palestine is such a salient part of his identity:

I am Palestinian; it’s only natural that I feel that I belong to Palestine. It is like asking a Lebanese or a Syrian the same question. Why should I be any different? Regardless of the fact that I cannot live in Palestine or how hard it is to live here.

Second, the refugees also identify with Lebanon (the country but not always the people). As discussed, many Palestinian refugees were born in Lebanon, and those who were not born in Lebanon have typically lived there for most of their lives. Thus, these individuals unsurprisingly identify with the country. For example, Mohammad, a furniture designer, and carpenter who lives in a village in the Chouf district, told us how he identified with Lebanon: “One’s belonging is defined by where they were born and raised. Sometimes, the places that you belong to on paper do not mean a thing to you.... I consider myself an ordinary citizen of this country [Lebanon].” When pressed, the refugees we spoke to indicated they likely feel more Palestinian than Lebanese, but they largely believed their multiple identities were additive rather than trade-offs. For instance, music entrepreneur Marwan described how he was “equally from Lebanon and Palestine,” reflecting this additive perspective of national identities. Similarly, Ihab, a construction sub-contractor, added an Arab dimension when explaining his multiple identities:

My identity is Palestinian, my soul is Lebanese, and my nationality is Arab. I am like any other human being. I have no issues with race or nationality.… We are human beings living in this country; humans made of flesh and blood like everyone else.

Third, these individuals also identify with their refugee status. Bayan, a freelance graphic designer, and animator who lives in Beirut, described this identification with being a refugee well:

Yes, I am a refugee in every sense of the word; there are rights that we do not have. As a Palestinian and as a graphic designer, I know that we have a syndicate, but I cannot belong to this syndicate because I am Palestinian. If I have an accident or anything, I do not have national healthcare. I have to buy life and health insurance so that if something were to happen to me one day, insurance can cover my treatment costs.... I feel that I am a Palestine refugee in every sense of the word.

While the Palestinian refugees tend to enact their refugee identity in light of how the Lebanese view them and the refugee identity is mostly formed from interactions with others, this identity takes a slightly different form when conceived of in a self-directed manner. For instance, Waad, a translator, creative writer, and resident of Sidon, explained that his refugee camp is comparable to a nation: “The camp is very important. It’s like the capital of the refugee diaspora. It’s home to a large number of Palestinians.”

Finally, some refugee entrepreneurs need to quickly switch from one identity to another or a combination of identities. For instance, Marwan, a music entrepreneur living in the southern suburbs of Beirut, described such identity switching: “I am an artist and... [when] someone asks the question [about my nationality], I can try to avoid the answer, but when they insist, I answer clearly.” Ghazi, a freelance photographer, also noted how he has created multiple identities and combines them in different ways: “My (Lebanese) accent is not artificial anymore. It has become natural for me. However, I sometimes try to use some Palestinian words when I communicate with other Palestinians.” Moreover, some informants told of their Lebanization, which represents a combination of multiple identities with multiple levels that can be mobilized differently depending on the situation. In sum, we discovered that for many refugees, the demands of their social context drive them to engage in identity switching and combining, which appear to be triggered rather automatically by social cues to “fit in” as means to survive.

Overall, Palestine refugees in Lebanon face substantial and persistent adversity in their external environment and a complex coexistence of multiple identities in their internal environment—namely, in their own minds and their interpersonal interactions with others (refugees and local Lebanese).

Refugees Acting Entrepreneurially to Overcome Constraints

As for many who undertake entrepreneurial action, some of the refugee entrepreneurs we spoke to noted that they are motivated by economic rewards. Freelance graphic designer Bayan, for instance, explained that he engages in entrepreneurial action so he can earn an income: “Sometimes if I need to finish a job for a customer in a competitive timeframe, then I earn good money for the job. In these cases, I work all days of the week, even on weekends.” On the other hand, Salah el Din, who operates a t-shirt printing business and lives in a refugee camp near Tyr, seems to be more intrinsically motivated: “The ambition inside me makes me special.... I would do the impossible to keep developing.” However, to build theory, we directed our attention to the specific refugee context being studied because it serves as the foundation for new insights.

First, because of the international and Lebanese laws mentioned earlier, Palestinian refugees are not legally allowed to work in Lebanon (with a few minor exceptions). While it is challenging to bypass these laws to obtain or provide employment, it is not impossible. Indeed, employing firms put themselves at risk to hire these “illegals,” and firm owners go to great lengths to conceal wage payments to refugees. However, refugees tend to have an easier time circumventing Lebanese laws by becoming entrepreneurs. In such situations, customers and suppliers of refugees’ informal businesses can deny knowing these businesses’ operations and legal status. Our findings reveal that most customers and suppliers are indifferent about who owns a business as long as they receive high value. For instance, Mustafa, who runs a printing business in the Chouf district, mentioned that he is not worried about his suppliers reporting his illegal business to the government: “My suppliers are only interested in commercial trade; they don’t care about anything else.” Thus, many of the interviewed refugees became entrepreneurs to earn money (outside of charity) because they were mostly blocked from traditional employment opportunities.

Second, because these entrepreneurs broke the law to create businesses, they operate in the informal economy. For instance, Iman, who lives in a Palestinian gathering in Tyr, explained the informal nature of her home-based catering business in this way: “I try working from home so no one can find out what I am doing. I also select my customers and suppliers very carefully.” Although operating their business illegally, these entrepreneurs generally do not worry about being caught as they believe the authorities do not care about this legal violation very much. Most believe that both the likelihood of and the punishment for being caught are low. Some of the refugee entrepreneurs did mention that for more serious legal troubles, they could call on Lebanese contacts to make “the problem go away” (i.e., through protection or a bribe). For instance, freelance graphic designer Bayan talked about such contacts and his lack of concern over being caught and punished by the authorities:

What could happen [if I get caught]? I could call someone. I always say to my friends in Lebanon that they should always have protection, like a politician. Every person should be able to count on a strong person in this country even if that person is a crook. Why? Because at some point we all might have a problem, and we need this backing.

Finally, while we chose to explore this group of entrepreneurs due to the substantial and persistent adversity they face, our findings reveal their strong drive to help other refugees. Social entrepreneur Wafaa, for example, told us the following about this desire to help other refugees:

We propose issues and projects that are different. We don’t teach [Palestinian] women to become hairdressers because we want to break gender stereotypes. Instead, we propose projects that are linked with social realities—those that concern the female youths. We study their problems, and we carry out developmental projects. We don’t give them ration boxes like the rest of the organizations.

Similarly, Mohammad, an engineering construction sub-contractor residing in Sidon, told us about his motivation to help his fellow refugees through his work:

Like all youth, I had many goals, and I dream of having a role to play in rebuilding Palestine upon my return or in tidying up the camps that we currently live in. I dream of fixing narrow alleyways and tangled electrical wires and the sewage systems. The career that best suited this dream is civil engineering. Being a civil engineer enables me to serve my people and my country.

In many instances, when under adversity themselves, individuals are near others who are also suffering from the situation, which triggers them to help alleviate this suffering. However, some refugee entrepreneurs are motivated to serve as role models for other Palestinian refugees by fulfilling their desire to stand out and be exceptional, which may occur from financial success. For example, Mona told us how the Palestinian refugees she knows in Lebanon perceive her cousin freelance designer Bayan: “The Palestinians in Lebanon, they love her [emphasis original]. She is what we call ‘a winning model’; she is someone we look up to.” This entrepreneurial motivation likely stems from a sense of solidarity, which has arisen among Palestinian refugees from the shared misery of their situation and the Palestine cause in Lebanon (not from a shared solution to their adversity). Indeed, Ahmad, a social entrepreneur, briefly described how this solidarity motivates behavior within his own team: “I work with a team that is young, talented, and experienced, that cares about their cause to the largest extent.”

Acting Entrepreneurially Facilitates Refugees’ Integration Efforts

As mentioned earlier, most Palestinian refugees reside in one of 12 camps located throughout Lebanon. Most of the refugee entrepreneurs we spoke to who live in a camp recounted numerous benefits of camp life. First, by living in a camp, the refugees can better maintain a national identity that is separate from the rest of Lebanon. Ahmad indicated this sense of national identity in the following:

Life in the camp is composed of several layers: social, political, economic and cultural. The camp is our nation until we return to Palestine, and it is similar to any other city..… We love the camp through our culture and with our ideas. Our opponents will always be afraid and terrified by the Palestinians, and we will keep it this way.

Second, living and working in a camp enables the refugee entrepreneurs to continue using their traditional language, which also benefits maintaining their Palestinian identity. For instance, Nabil, a social entrepreneur who runs a sports and cultural organization in a Palestinian gathering in the Beqaa Valley, discussed the many social benefits of living in a camp, including the language aspect: “You always feel that the Palestinian likes to live in camps for their emotional and social aspects. The Palestinian dialect remains intact. You feel that the Palestinian’s social and political life is more active within the camp.”

Third, camp living helps the refugee entrepreneurs forge strong social bonds with other refugees. For example, a social and cultural entrepreneur who grew up in a camp but now lives in Tyr, Nader, told us about these bonds between camp residents: “There are strong social connections; we celebrate together, and we mourn together. If someone is sick, people raise money, so he gets treatment. These things make you feel safe.”

Finally, the camps appear to serve as a buffer from “outsiders.” Indeed, according to freelance accountant Khaled, living in a camp provides “virtually a closed life”—one in which discrimination is non-existent, and the refugees are free to use their traditional language and enjoy greater comfort. Amina ultimately believes it is better to live outside the camps, but she did note the alienating atmosphere the refugees experience outside the camp bounds:

Living outside the camp is better, but you cannot escape the feeling of estrangement— people constantly make us feel like strangers in this country. Of course, things changed after the arrival of Syrian refugees to Lebanon; people now treat them like strangers instead of us.

Besides these more positive aspects, other refugees explained the negatives of living in a camp. For example, when describing the difficult socio-economic realities of camp life, freelance copywriter Atallah told us the following: “A young man my age would live in anxiety if he fell in love, for example, not knowing where to live if he decided to get married. He can’t build over his parent’s already modest house. In short, life there is miserable.” Others condemned the insufficient infrastructure and rough living conditions in the camps, such as construction sub-contractor Ihab, who lives in a town south of Beirut: “There is no drinking water. The water that we get is salty and polluted. Mafias sell us clean water. Things got worse when the Syrian refugees arrived, and the camp became too crowded. No electricity, no infrastructure.” The refugees also detailed the camps’ negative impact on refugee children. For instance, freelance photographer Nasser reported, “All these circumstances create deprivation, frustration, and abuse for little kids; this affects the foundation of their character. When they are older, it leaves an impact, a negative impact.”

The majority of the refugee entrepreneurs we spoke with—68%—live outside the camps (according to recent estimates, 37% of Palestine refugees live outside the 12 official UNRWA-administered camps in Lebanon [Chaaban et al., 2016]). These individuals depicted life outside the camps as less arduous and more enjoyable than camp life. Social entrepreneur Zafer, for instance, who lives and operates a cultural Lebanese-registered non-governmentalorganization (NGO) in Sidon, spoke of this increased comfort: “For those who live outside the camp, they are removed from the difficulties of the camp, such as the constant state of siege and the deteriorating security.”

While Palestinian refugees are outlawed from owning or leasing property, some find means to sidestep property laws to live among Lebanese citizens (which often requires having a Lebanese relative sign a real estate contract). For example, freelance photographer Nader explained how he found a way to procure his apartment:

I am the legitimate owner of the flat, but it is not registered in my name. I want to make this point quite clear; I am not allowed to own property. In fact, when I got my first job after finishing my schooling, my fiancé, my now-wife, was also working for UNRWA. We pooled our resources, and we bought a flat by monthly installments. But sadly, I cannot register it. My sister is Lebanese because she is married to a Lebanese, so we registered the flat in her name.

Living outside the camps seems to allow refugee entrepreneurs to interact with local Lebanese citizens and people of other nationalities, which affects these refugees in different ways. First, the refugee entrepreneurs who established housing outside the camps explained how they could cultivate a stronger Lebanese identity (in combination with their Palestinian identity) than they could have had they lived in a camp and how this enhanced Lebanese identity facilitated their integration. For example, food caterer Iman noted the more conservative nature of the camps and the effects on interaction:

I am afraid of moving into the camp; the situation in the camp is very difficult. Life outside the camp is good. Dealing with people is easier than in the camp; it is less conservative. The camp is a closed space. People who live there do not leave the camp very often.

Moreover, social entrepreneur Nabil highlighted the increased mobility outside the camps, explaining, “Once you live outside of the camp, movement becomes a little easier. It’s because you’re living in a Lebanese environment and society, and so everything is open. Going out and returning is different than being under siege in camp.” Thus, living outside refugee camps facilitates refugee entrepreneurs’ integration with non-refugee locals in both their businesses and their lives more generally.

Indeed, while most Palestine refugees identify with Lebanon as a country, they vary more in the extent to which they identify with the Lebanese people (even those living and/or working outside the refugee camps). In particular, those who have integrated to a lesser degree tend to resent the Lebanese people because of the discrimination and stigmatization inflicted on Palestinian refugees. However, refugees who are more integrated into Lebanese society typically have a more nuanced view of the people of Lebanon. Catering entrepreneur Imam illustrated this nuance well: “My relationship with the Lebanese is good, but I feel that there is something that separates them from us; it is a strange feeling.” Likewise, Ghazi, a freelance photographer, described how he receives different treatment from different Lebanese citizens:

My relationship with the Lebanese is excellent. As I said, it’s my second country. I was born here, and I am proud of Lebanon. I am thankful that I am Palestinian born in Lebanon and not somewhere else. Lebanon is a great country. I am good with people. Some don’t accept you because you’re Palestinian. They think you came from another planet. Others behave differently; they truly care about Palestine and the cause.

Second, Palestinian refugee entrepreneurs who live outside the camps frequently alter their language to sound more like a Lebanese local so they can fit in more and advance their businesses. The refugees tend to refer to this adaptation as being “Lebanized.” While some believe this term has positive overtones of integration (predominantly those living outside the camps and those with Lebanese parents or relatives), others have more negative associations with the term (predominantly those living and/or working in the camps). Indeed, Ahmad, a filmmaker who lives in Sidon, described the notion of being Lebanized with scorn:

Perhaps it doesn’t mean as much to me as to others. Maybe some would say that a person has become Lebanized and lost his identity. But for me, a Lebanized person is someone who fakes being Lebanese to get by in life. When a person is not true to himself, he begins to lose a lot of things. He is a fake.

Thus, it seems when Lebanization proceeds more organically, it reflects the evolution of the refugees’ integration; however, when it is exercised inauthentically (i.e., faked, “put on”), it serves as an impression-management strategy the refugees use to overcome the social stigma applied to them by the Lebanese people.

Third, refugee entrepreneurs who live outside the camps sometimes marrylocal Lebanese, reflecting and facilitating their integration efforts. Specifically, marrying a local appears to help the refugees integrate more easily (see Haddad & Jamali, 2003). For example, Mariam, a social entrepreneur who empowers Palestinian women through a Lebanese-registered NGO, told us the following about these marriages:

We have been here 70 years, and intermarriage between the Palestinians and the Lebanese plays a major role [in society]. I sense this during international conferences when Palestinians and Lebanese meet. We behave as if we are from the same country and are related.

However, those who marry a Lebanese local still face some adversity. For instance, furniture designer Mohamad shared, “Even if I were to register the business in my wife’s name, then I would be an employee. By law, the company would then have to employ two Lebanese employees, and I wouldn’t be able to work in my own company!”.

Finally, refugee entrepreneurs who run a business outside the camps appear to integrate with Lebanese locals more easily (vis-à-vis those inside the camps) and develop relationships with a broader range of people. This broad range of relationships is essential for the refugees’ social networks. For example, furniture designer Mohammad found that his extensive network helped both his integration efforts and his business: “The nature of my work relies on building connections with everyone in Lebanese society, with people from all political parties and religious sects without exception.”

Refugee Entrepreneurs’ Resilience Outcomes

Our findings show that refugee entrepreneurs in Lebanon still experience positive functioning under the substantial and persistent adversity they face—that is, they realize resilience outcomes. We found that while these entrepreneurs share some resilience outcomes, they differ in others largely based on where they live. Namely, the refugee entrepreneurs who live and work in the camps realize some but not all of the resilience outcomes attained by those living and/or working outside the camps. We begin with the shared resilience outcomes for refugee entrepreneurs (regardless of their interactions outside the camps) and then move on to the diverging outcomes.

First, we found that all the refugee entrepreneurs we interviewed were proactive problem solvers. Mustafa, who runs an advertising and printing press business, for example, illustrated such proactive problem solving when he noted, “In this country, you need to be prepared; you must have a generator, and you need to be equipped. These precautions pay off. So, you need to know how to commit to your business.” Similarly, Miriam described her creativity in overcoming her adverse environment: “Perhaps because of our hardship, Palestinians are forced to innovate. If we were more privileged, then we would not search for new ideas.” Indeed, while this proactive problem solving may enable the refugee entrepreneurs’ positive functioning, it is also an indicator of the positive functioning they have already achieved (e.g., Folkman, 2013).

Second, the refugee entrepreneurs reflect on the past, contemplate the future, and are ultimately motivated to fulfill a purpose beyond the self. Social entrepreneur Ahmad described this motivation well: “I am a person who grew up belonging to a great cause. I have a grand dream: to return to Palestine. I think of my work as a bridge toward the right of return. All I do is a part of a cause I believe in.” These entrepreneurs often take a historical perspective to formulate and ground a broader purpose in their lives and achieving what they see to be moral gains—namely, the “appropriate” treatment of Palestinian refugees—reflects this broader purpose.

Finally, all the refugee entrepreneurs in our sample frequently spoke of a lack of help. However, these statements were not meant to blame anyone but were merely expressed as simple facts. Our findings reveal that this “lack of help” motivates the refugee entrepreneurs to proactively look after themselves and their community members (because they think no one else will). Indeed, the refugees frequently exhibit strong self-reliance. For example, filmmaker Ahmad’s self-reliance is apparent in the following:

I guess every person is responsible for himself in Lebanon. I don’t believe anyone is responsible for the Palestinians in Lebanon. Palestinians are only considered people who were born here.… So, when I think of myself as a Palestinian, and I think about working, I must forget all the obstacles I am faced with, and I must consider that no one will help me. This is why I must be responsible for myself in all situations, whether positive or negative.

While all the refugee entrepreneurs we spoke to have experienced the aforementioned resilience outcomes, those who live and/or work outside the camps have realized two additional resilience outcomes. First, although they face substantial and persistent objective adversity, the refugee entrepreneurs living and/or working outside the refugee camps generally have an optimistic outlook. Sara, a catering entrepreneur who makes diabetic-friendly sweets, highlighted this outlook well: “Yes, of course I am optimistic because determination leads to success, God willing. I will keep going as long as I can, and working will help us achieve our goals. I will pursue this till my last breath.”

However, these entrepreneurs’ optimistic outlook also has undertones of realism. In other words, they are as optimistic as their challenging situation permits. Therefore, their optimism appears to be future oriented but tempered somewhat by a feeling of realism emerging from past setbacks and experiences. Exemplifying this realistic optimism, Nicolas, who is an NGO project manager for an entrepreneurship-development program targeting underprivileged youth, told us the following about the young Palestinian refugees who join in the program: “There are some who are still very skeptical about a lot of things but still manage to push forward. They still doubt it, but you know that deep inside, they are willing to take that leap and see where it might lead them.” Optimism also played a significant role for freelance copywriter Atallah when he started his venture:

It is necessary to take risks, to get rid of the nagging feeling that keeps telling you, “What if? What if I started my own business, what would happen?” When I started, I felt a psychological relief frankly. I had to overcome difficulties for sure. However, as I told you, I am optimistic; you never know how far you can go if you don’t start.

Second, although having multiple identities creates some identity-management challenges for the refugee entrepreneurs who live and work outside the camps, these identities also represent multiple sources of belonging. As discussed earlier, these refugee entrepreneurs feel a sense of belonging to both Palestine (including to other Palestinians in Lebanon and to those around the world even though they know they are unlikely to meet such people) and Lebanon (including to the Lebanese people to a greater or lesser degree). The refugee entrepreneurs who live and work in the camps, on the other hand, typically identify with the former but seldomly with the latter.

Reciprocal Relationships

Our model of refugee entrepreneurs comprises three main recursive relationships. First, the refugee entrepreneurs’ resilience outcomes enhance their entrepreneurial action. For instance, Amina’s husband described how her positive functioning in the face of adversity enabled her to act entrepreneurially:

Amina is very dynamic; she loves her work and does it with great care. She knows how to overcome the difficulties when resources are lacking. When she launched her business, she had very small starting capital.… She started with only $200 [USD], and she bought spools of thread, and she recruited women to embroider for free. She then held an exhibition, and she sold the robes, and after paying the women, she used the profits to buy additional equipment and supplies. She used every opportunity to spend her savings on improving the business. Within six years, she managed to become very well known in our community.

Second, the refugee entrepreneurs’ resilience outcomes facilitate their integration activities. For example, Wissam’s Lebanese employer (and eventual customer) was so impressed with the entrepreneur’s determination that he became his business partner:

Wissam used to be my employee, and then he decided he wanted to start his own business. So, I decided to partner with him because this is a business I am familiar with. I became his partner, and at the same time, I became his customer.… He is a very hardworking and perseverant man.… He is technically very good, and he masters his work.

Third, the refugee entrepreneurs’ integration efforts often influence the nature of their multiple identities and how they manage those identities, thereby aiding them in avoiding some of the adversity in their context. Amina’s husband, for instance, explained how her business-related interactions had influenced her social, psychological, and physical development:

Our social situation is very good. Amina has developed many relationships and is able to make introductions. The benefits of her work are not only financial, and there is another side to it: especially as a woman, she feels that work gives her a purpose in life. She is here, and she is working. She is not wasting her time around coffee and waterpipes; she is filling her time in a good way, and this is important. Her work also helps her psychological and physical well-being. There are material and moral benefits to her work. That’s for sure.

Although these three relationships were prominent in our findings, we also found that our model excludes notable recursive relationships. In particular, the model does not seem to include any recursive relationships related to the source of adversity—thus, its persistent nature. Thus, our model reveals how entrepreneurial action and the associated identity dynamics bolster the refugee entrepreneurs’ resilience under high adversity but do not directly impact the objective level of that adversity. In this case, entrepreneurial action does not serve as a means to change the statusquo. Instead, it enables the refugee entrepreneurs to proactively form personal shields to deflect some adversity to achieve resilience outcomes.

Entrepreneurial Action and Resilience to Substantial and Persistent Adversity

Resilience entails maintaining positive functioning under adversity. We found that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face a type of adversity that is both substantial and persistent and that entrepreneurial action and multiple identities are closely linked to resilience to this adversity. In this section, we expand on our analysis to propose a grounded model outlining the most important progressive and recursive relationships underlying the dynamism in our findings. Not only does our model highlight the dynamism of entrepreneurial action and resilience for Palestine refugees in Lebanon, but it also applies more generally to other refugee situations and other contexts involving substantial and persistent adversity.

Our grounded model is shown in Fig. 3.2. When faced with substantial and persistent adversity, individuals have to contend with legal, economic, and social constraints that sustain their adversity. They also have to manage multiple identities—formed both by the self and through interactions with others—that have emerged from living and interacting in such an adverse environment. The substantial and persistent adversity these individuals face signals that passive responses are unlikely to help their situation. Instead, the nature of their adversity necessitates entrepreneurial action to sidestep the constraints of the statusquo. Under such adverse circumstances, however, entrepreneurs must hide their entrepreneurial action to overcome these constraints while avoiding the sanctions that go with doing so. Moreover, although these entrepreneurs are often motivated by personal gain, they are also motivated to help others through their entrepreneurial action (i.e., alleviating others’ suffering and demonstrating solidarity). In turn, their entrepreneurial action leads to resilience outcomes, including proactive problem solving, moral gains as a broader purpose in life, and self-reliance.

Fig. 3.2
A model of refugee entrepreneurship includes persistent adversity, multiple identities, acting entrepreneurially, isolating and integrating with outsiders, and shared and distinguishing resilience outcomes.

A refugee entrepreneurship model of resilience to substantial and persistent resilience (Figure from Shepherd et al., 2020)

In addition, there is an indirect path between entrepreneurial action and resilience outcomes through entrepreneurs’ integration activities. Namely, entrepreneurial action facilitates entrepreneurs’ interactions with individuals outside their adverse context, thereby providing a foundation for these entrepreneurs to adopt new behaviors and enlarge their networks with a broader range of relationships. Subsequently, these integration efforts enable resilience to be substantial and persistent adversity in the form of the previously mentioned resilience outcomes—proactive problem solving, moral gains as a broader purpose in life, and self-reliance—as well as the resilience outcomes of realisticoptimism and multiple sources of belonging.

Finally, our model entails three main recursive relationships: (1) resilience outcomes enhance entrepreneurial action, (2) resilience outcomes facilitate integration activities, and (3) integration activities influence the nature and management of multiple identities.


This chapter highlights the importance of the direct, indirect, and recursive relationships among actions (i.e., entrepreneurial action and integrationactivities), multiple identities, and resilience outcomes in the context of substantial and persistent adversity. Living and working under such adversity, the refugees we studied are driven to act entrepreneurially by self-interest and the desire to help others. While the resulting entrepreneurial action, directly and indirectly, influences these individuals’ resilience outcomes, it does not change the underlying source of their adversity. Moreover, some of these refugee entrepreneurs we spoke with work and/or live outside refugee camps, which triggers integration activities and strategies to manage their multiple identities.

While the context we explored is extreme, it is both important for theory building and practically relevant for many entrepreneurs who are refugees and/or operating under especially constraining circumstances. Thereby, this work answers calls for more contextualization of entrepreneurship research (Welter et al., 2017). Further, the findings presented in this chapter have important implications for how scholars (1) explain the motivations underlying entrepreneurial action in highly constrained environments; (2) explore the antecedents and consequences of entrepreneurs’ resilience outcomes under substantial and persistent adversity; and (3) consider the nature, management, and integrationof multiple identities by refugee entrepreneurs. In sum, our findings demonstrate that entrepreneurial action can be a means to achieve resilience outcomes without addressing the underlying source(s) of adversity. These findings offer new insights for the literatures on entrepreneurship, resilience, and refugees, to which we now turn.

First, scholars have explored resilience in terms of individuals’ resource endowments before an adverse event, their vulnerability to and preparation for an adverse event, and their responses to continue functioning until the ramifications of an adverse event diminish (Bonanno et al., 2010; Hobfoll, 1989; Shepherd & Williams, 2014). However, adversity does not always entail a specific event within a fixed period of time (as with adversity caused by a disaster) but can continue over a prolonged period. Indeed, adversity can endure over such a long time frame that a person does not know a pre-adversity period, and the underpinnings of such adversity can be so locked in that the objective conditions are unlikely to change shortly. Nevertheless, the resilience literature has paid scant attention to this context of substantial and persistent adversity. Hence, our work represents a meaningful contextualization of recent research on the role of entrepreneurial action under adversity.

This lack of attention to resilience to substantial and persistent adversity is surprising since this type of adversity is so prevalent throughout the world. Indeed, when thinking of those facing suffering in the world today, most people would likely recall an example of persistent adversity that has endured for generations—for example, the substantial and persistent adversity many farmers and other entrepreneurs contend with in depleted areas (Korsgaard et al., 2016). While a substantial stream of research has explored the characteristics and causes of persistent adversity as well as its consequences and possible solutions (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Matthews & Gallo, 2011; Prahalad, 2006), the findings from this work have rarely included resilience outcomes for the people facing this adversity. As a counterweight, in this chapter, we highlight the importance of understanding resilience outcomes in the context of substantial adversity over a prolonged time frame and demonstrate that entrepreneurial action plays a critical role in enabling individuals to cope with this type of adversity.

Second, scholars have generally explored resilience as either a process or an outcome (Williams et al., 2017). However, the findings presented in this chapter reveal that resilience outcomes are both a consequence and an antecedent of entrepreneurial action (i.e., there is a reciprocal relationship). Perhaps the most enlightening finding is that resilience outcomes facilitate the entrepreneurial action that produces resilience outcomes. Indeed, we found that resilience outcomes include the dimensions of realisticoptimism, proactive problem solving, moral gains as a broader purpose in life, self-reliance, and multiple sources of belonging. Considering that resilience outcomes reflect individuals’ ability to maintain positive functioning under adversity, it is somewhat unsurprising that these dimensions of positive functioning are similar to the dimensions of well-being identified by other scholars (Ryff, 1989). Interestingly, however, in our case, resilience outcomes are also key inputs to the refugee entrepreneurship process. In other words, there is mutual causation between entrepreneurial action and resilience outcomes that can generate a resilience spiral. To provide a fuller picture of this dynamic relationship, scholars can engage in additional theorizing and empirical research to elucidate (1) how the different dimensions of resilience outcomes enhance the dimensions of entrepreneurial action; (2) what begins, perpetuates, and ends the resilience spiral; and (3) whether the resilience spiral can induce personal growth (i.e., increased personal functioning) and related constructs from positive psychology (e.g., flourishing, vitality, and psychological capital).

Third, a substantial research stream has shown that individuals’ social capital and networks (Aldrich, 2012; Janssen et al., 2006) are key capabilities for cultivating resilience. This capability argument reflects the conceptualization of adversity as an event (including an event with a long incubation period) and the logic that individuals can draw on their resource endowments to facilitate resilience outcomes. However, many of the individuals in our study were born into adversity, leaving them with no pre-adversity period nor any pre-adversity capabilities to draw on. Consequently, under such substantial and persistent adversity, individuals must develop the capabilities needed for resilience as they confront the adversity directly. Our findings thus extend the capability argument by revealing the following: (1) rather than being an endowment, the “social” capability for resilience is formed through activities that create a social foundation; (2) social integration activities are initiated and facilitated through engagement in entrepreneurial action with non-similar others; and (3) resilience outcomes help individuals both undertake integration activities and form the social capability of resilience. Thus, as these insights reveal, individuals who face substantial and persistent adversity need to act to develop (rather than merely deploy) their social capability of resilience.

Fourth, an important stream of work has studied the role of identity in recovering from adversity (Maitlis, 2009; Powell & Baker, 2014; Shepherd & Williams, 2018). Our findings add to this research stream by providing a deeper understanding of the role of identity in influencing resilience outcomes under substantial adversity. The research context we explored is undoubtedly extreme regarding the strength and diversity of individuals’ multiple identities. The nature of these multiple identities is directly affected by the substantial and persistent adversity individuals face; namely, this adversity shapes the self-categorizations and social interactions comprising individuals’ multiple identities. Therefore, while the adversity they face may not change, individuals’ actions (i.e., entrepreneurial and integration) and resilience outcomes provide the means for them to alter the nature (i.e., mix) of their multiple identities. Indeed, research has already shown that identity is crucial in driving entrepreneurial action and that entrepreneurial action can help individuals develop authentic identities (Haynie & Shepherd, 2011; Powell & Baker, 2014). The findings detailed in this chapter add to this work, showing that in the context of persistent adversity, the relationship between entrepreneurial action and identity is not unidirectional and fixed but bidirectional and dynamic. To add to this research stream, future work can explore how an individual’s configuration of multiple identities changes over time and how this configuration impacts the evolution of entrepreneurial action and social interactions. Indeed, this evolution may be so slow that a longitudinal study across generations is required to capture the full effects.

Finally, we found that some entrepreneurs are motivated to engage in entrepreneurial action to alleviate others’ suffering stemming from adversity (in line with the concept of compassionventuring [Shepherd & Williams, 2014; Williams & Shepherd, 2016b]). In addition to this prosocialmotivation of compassion, however, we also found the prosocial motivation to promote solidarity: “You are not alone; we are in this together as part of a broader purpose in life.” While our study did not focus on others’ suffering, future research can investigate how entrepreneurial action affects both individuals’ resilience outcomes and their motivation to help others (e.g., by alleviating others’ suffering or promoting solidarity) and explore inter-relationship between the two.


Prior research exploring individuals in adverse situations has provided important insights regarding the significance of resource endowments and pre-adversity organizing before adverse events. In particular, this work has emphasized adversity in the form of overwhelming events and the cognitions, emotions, and behaviors required to maintain positive functioning under such adversity. As a complement to this prior work, we highlight the importance of understanding resilience over a longer period and the more persistent adversity faced by refugees born in refugee camps. Accordingly, we provide an account of substantial and persistent adversity and develop a model in which identity plays a critical role in facilitating entrepreneurial action, and entrepreneurial action plays a critical role in generating resilience outcomes under adversity. We believe this emergent theorizing on the direct, indirect, and recursive relationships among entrepreneurial action, integrationactivities, multiple identities, and resilience outcomes adds important insights to the entrepreneurship literature. Unfortunately, substantial and persistent adversity is pervasive throughout the world, and the number of refugees is significant, thus generating considerable research opportunities. We hope our model is useful for such research endeavors as scholars continue this important line of study.

Although we intended to explore how entrepreneurial action influences resilience outcomes in a specific context of substantial and persistent adversity—namely, refugee entrepreneurs—we uncovered a series of recursive relationships when developing our model. These recursive relationships reveal that to understand resilience outcomes fully, scholars need to consider (1) not only entrepreneurial action but also how resilience outcomes enable entrepreneurial action, (2) not only how entrepreneurs’ interactions with others facilitate resilience outcomes but also how resilience outcomes affect these interactions, and (3) not only how multiple identities initiate entrepreneurial action for resilience outcomes but also how resilience outcomes (through integrationactivities) impact the nature of entrepreneurs’ multiple identities. Overall, we argue that just as entrepreneurial action and identity are essential for understanding resilience outcomes, resilience outcomes are essential for understanding entrepreneurial action and identity in the context of substantial and persistent adversity. While a host of literature streams have investigated adversity, entrepreneurial action, and resilience, none have taken an integrative recursive perspective to explore these concepts in the context of substantial and persistent adversity. Our findings on refugee entrepreneurs thus provide new insights on resilience under substantial and persistent adversity.