Strategic Philanthropy and Family Business: The Construction of Corporate Social Responsibility in Manuelita, 1920-1950

This study discusses the origin and construction of corporate social responsibility in emerging markets from a historical perspective. Departing from an attention-based view of the firm (Ocasio, 1997; Ocasio & Joseph, 2008, 2018) and institutional theory (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983) We analyze the emergence of decision routines and practices of corporate social responsibility using case analysis (Eisenhardt, 1989, 1991; Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007) based on documents from the archive of “Ingenio Manuelita” (monthly board minutes, correspondence and managment reports), a leading family business in the sugarcane industry in Colombia. The evidence allows us to characterize the decisions and routines related to philanthropic actions and the management of the demands of its stakeholders over 1928 to 1947, a period marked by changes in the governance of the company, growth of the sugar industry in Valle del Cauca and institutional transformations in Colombia. We argue that the consolidation of RSE practices was determined by stakeholders´ claims, the ethical predispositions of corporate board members, and by the expected benefits of increased control and business legitimacy. Based on this, we discuss the motivations and advantages of the adoption of this type of strategies in the context of family businesses in the early twentieth century. Overall, our study proposes the concept of strategic philanthropy as a relevant term to understand the origins and dynamics of socially responsible behaviour of family businesses in Latin America.