When ethics trump economics

January 16, 2018
Associate Prof. Ajnesh (Ash) Prasad

Ajnesh Prasad was in the West Bank when his profound curiosity about human motivation struck again. The Royal Roads associate professor wanted to know why he kept meeting people who, according to logic, shouldn’t have been there.

“I was somewhat bewildered by the presence of ethnic Palestinian entrepreneurs who held passports from more institutionally stable countries such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom,” Prasad says. “I wanted to understand why these individuals elected to return to Palestine and endure the precarious conditions to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.” 

Prasad, who researches in the university’s School of Business, was recently selected as Canada Research Chair in Innovative Organizational Practice to explore this phenomenon over the next five years in four developing areas: Mexico, Fiji, Palestine and Libya.

He will study the motivation of entrepreneurs who have emigrated from these areas to more economically advantaged places and then return home to pursue business ventures. He and his team will explore how these entrepreneurs define success and how they create institutional change in their homelands. The research will explore how to best build opportunities between countries and help create sustainable entrepreneurship.

He says his initial research in Palestine led him to a surprising conclusion and a path forward.

“Ultimately, I found the decision of these entrepreneurs to return to their country of origin was motivated more by ideology than economics,” Prasad says. “I want to comprehensively unpack this phenomenon and I am thrilled that the Canada Research Chair award will provide me with the opportunity to do so.”

Prasad has been granted a Tier 2 Chair, awarded to exceptional emerging researchers recognized by their peers as potential leaders in their fields. The award, worth $100,000 a year, funds research by the chair and a team of academics, and has a five-year renewable term.

He was originally drawn to Palestine as a place to conduct research because of his own perceived detachment from its politics and conflicts. But once there, the power imbalance Palestinians face touched him profoundly.

“Palestinians are truly incredible,” he says. “Even while living under some of the most inhumane circumstances imaginable, they persevere, illuminate resilience, and never fail to be hospitable, generous and kind.”

Mexico, Libya and Fiji were chosen for the project because they have a similar culture of diaspora with cases of entrepreneurs choosing to return home for business ventures.

Prasad and his team will conduct interviews with entrepreneurs and collect other information and data. During the life of the project, he will work with a team of graduate students and a doctoral candidate, helping newer researchers acquire important experience.

The ultimate goal of Prasad’s research is to open pathways of understanding for those engaged in international entrepreneurship and to create knowledge that leads to sustainable ventures.

The chair’s focus is particularly appropriate for Prasad, an organizational management expert who critically examines why people think what they think and do what they do.

 “My research interests broadly span the areas of entrepreneurship, gender and diversity issues in organizations,” he says. “I think that we as scholars can learn so much from those individuals in society who have experienced social marginalization in one form or another. Such individuals often present insights that are not often captured by members of the mainstream or the privileged class.”

Prasad is also committed to using his scholarship as a disrupting factor within the study and practice of business.  He explores not only how business can help others as in his CRC research, but how it can harm human beings as well, especially those disenfranchised due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, class or religion.

He even questions the business school experience itself. His edited book, Contesting Institutional Hegemony in Today’s Business Schools, published by Emerald in 2016, explores the experience of the doctoral business student.

He says the interdisciplinary research focus at Royal Roads and the work of his colleagues give him inspiration and permission to explore where his curiosity takes him.

“The academics here routinely subvert traditional disciplinary boundaries. I borrow ideas from sociology, anthropology, history, political science, philosophy and other disciplines,” he says. “I do not consider myself to be a traditional business school professor; I see myself as a social scientist who just happens to be interested in understanding various facets of organizations and organizing.”

This profile was developed with the assistance of the Research Support Fund and will be included in the forthcoming 2018 Research in Action publication featuring Royal Roads University faculty and student research.