The multiple roles of individuals in developing countries

A paper entitled, “Can I sell you avocados and talk to you about contraception? Well, it depends which comes first: anchor roles and asymmetric boundaries”, slated for publication in the Academy of Management Journal, looks at the different roles that people in the developing world play. Ellen Buchan reports

Being a parent, a manager, an activist, a train enthusiast, or a volunteer gardener are all examples of the different roles someone might play on a daily basis in their lives. Some people choose to keep these roles very separate, while others let the boundaries become blurred.

Past research into the different roles people play has mainly focused on developed countries, finding that the more similar the associate behaviours of given roles, then the more likely individuals will integrate them rather than keeping them separate, and vice versa.

Looking at this from the viewpoint of developing countries, the context is slightly different. Both money and time tend to be more important commodities and there is also a heightened expectation that people will volunteer their time for the good of the local community.

To test this, researchers collected data from 73 people who lived in Tanzania, who were self-employed and separately provided family planning counselling. What they found was that when working in their community role, participants were careful not to mix it with work, but when they were involved in their work role, they were happy to reference their family planning counselling.

The researchers suggested that when at work, the participants’ expected behaviour was straightforward, meaning they had the opportunity and flexibility to bring up their community role. When they were involved in their family planning role however, this was seen as more complex, so they didn’t mention their paid work, as this could have been conflicting and confusing.

The paper is co-authored by Geoffrey Kistruck, Professor and RBC Chair in Social Innovation and Impact at Schulich, alongside Patrick Shulist, Assistant Professor of Sustainability in Business, sitting in Aalto University School of Business’s Entrepreneurship Unit; Miguel Rivera-Santos, an Associate Professor of Strategy and International Business at Babson College and Winnie Nguni, Assistant Lecturer at University of Dar es Salaam Business School.

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