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Remote and resilient

By Dr Chris Williams - October 2020

Our research team consisted of an all Durham University Business School line-up: Dr Chris Williams (Reader, Management and Marketing Department), Jacqueline You (final year PhD student) and Kirsty Joshua (MBA alumna 2015). We conducted a research project on the topic of resilience in small businesses on very remote islands with a focus on the situation facing the remote island of St Helena in the South Atlantic. The first output from this study is now published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism (reference below).

Resilience concerns how people, and also organisations, are able to cope with adversity and disruptions. Considering this in the small business sector is interesting, especially on small remote islands where most of the private sector is comprised of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Resilience in such a setting is an important capability to have; many small businesses struggle and many fail but in the context of a small, remote island, this issue is even more profound.

Problems of inaccessibility and economic size make it much harder for small businesses to draw on external resources in times of need. We utilised instrumental stakeholder theory to guide our work; the idea being that in such remote locations firms have to work with others in order to cope, and there are many ways in which these inter- organisational relationships form and add value.

We used a novel ‘Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping’ technique which captured the mental models of a small sample of entrepreneurs on the island.

This allowed us to identify aspects of stakeholder theory that did apply, such as the importance of having mutually beneficial interaction with partners, and nurturing relationships with partners that are valuable, as well as aspects that were less relevant. We also identified some aspects of government policy that were perceived as directly and indirectly undermining the resilience of small businesses on the island.

The research is particularly interesting given recent plans to transform the island’s economy to be more sustainable and using tourism and the private sector to achieve this goal. We have fed the results of the work back to the economic development agencies on the island and I have received funding from Durham’s ESRC IAA panel to return to the island to discuss the findings with relevant stakeholders, including the chamber of commerce and small businesses.

  • Williams, C., You, J. J., & Joshua, K. (2020). Small- business resilience in a remote tourist destination: exploring close relationship capabilities on the island of St Helena. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 28(7), 937-955.