Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Stacey L Connaughton

Committee Member 1

Patrice M Buzzanell

Committee Member 2

Ralph Webb


A majority of the research on social entrepreneurship focuses on stories about individual entrepreneurs (Bornstein & Davis, 2010) and the characteristics that make entrepreneurs and their nascent organizations successful (Renko, 2012); this study instead puts the focus on organizational founders and members in an attempt to analyze how they made sense of critical moments in the organization’s early history and stories that helped to shape the organization’s identity and individual members’ identities. A total of 8 interviews were conducted with members of two organizations. Cultivadores (pseudonym) is an organization focused on the creation of psychosocial processes within the rural community of San Martin in Mexico. Viewfinder (pseudonym) aims to increase and create employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. Cultivadores and Viewfinder are presented as case studies to examine the process of sensemaking, specifically the notion of retrospection, for members of social entrepreneurial organizations. Publicly available artifacts were also included to supplement each case study. At the time data were collected, both organizations had undergone major organizational shifts which changed the way each one works to address social issues. This study provides support for the idea that organizational members’ identities change as the organizational identity changes, and vice versa, pointing to a recursive relationship between the organizational member and the organization. A recursive relationship, between an organization and an individual, is one in which sensemaking is used to change (and maintain) the identity of either party involved in an iterative manner that repeats itself throughout the relationship between the two. Unlike prior research, this study focused on nascent social entrepreneurial organizations and found that as the bond between individual and organizational identity became stronger organizational members made decisions based on future-oriented sensemaking processes that favored the bond between organizational and individual identity.