Madeline Toubiana joined the Telfer School of Management in January as an associate professor and the Desmarais Chair in Entrepreneurship. She completed her PhD at the Schulich School of Business and was previously the A. F. Collins Chair of Business at the University of Alberta. We interviewed her to learn more about her research interests in entrepreneurship and social change.
Why did you choose to study entrepreneurship? Any personal motivation behind your research interests?
My research at its core is about social change. More specifically, it is about better understanding what stalls and supports social change. After I had finished my business degree and was out working in the world, I started becoming frustrated with so many of the social problems we were facing, why there was so much resistance to change and the fact business seemed to be causing many of these problems. This motivated me to go back to school and think about ways in which business could be part of the solution, drivers of social change. This led me to discover the power of entrepreneurship, among other things.
How does your PhD training inform your current research program?
My dad used to joke that PhD stands for “piled higher and deeper”… And there is truth in that. My PhD training was about getting deep engagement with the theories that management scholars have been using to explain the social world and businesses’ role in it. My supervisor was a well-known institutional theorist, Christine Oliver. Her influence led to my more “macro” or sociological approach to studying social change. So, I look at people, but I look at how they are embedded in social systems — institutions — that shape the way they see and react to the world.
Do you have any new research highlights to share?
This month I had two great pieces published – one in Harvard Business Review on how we can manage and overcome change in our careers and another in Administrative Science Quarterly on how the dynamics of stigma can stall social change efforts. I have published a paper in Academy of Management Journal where my colleagues and I reveal the ways in which entrepreneurship can be an engine for positive social change, even in a very stigmatized context. In addition to continuing my work in examining the potential of entrepreneurship, I have a lot of new and exciting ongoing research projects that relate to my broad objective of studying social change. For example, I have work that looks at how fly fishing practices were transformed to protect freshwater fisheries and a very new project that looks at innovations in the death-care industry that are changing the way we grieve, die and are buried.
How can your research influence businesses in Canada?
My work reveals what can stall social change — for example, emotions or stigma — and outlines pathways to potentially overcome these issues. I also reveal ways to move forward towards change. I think that given the climate crisis, rising inequality and social unrest, we need change — but we have to be ready for it, both as organizations and as people. My research sheds light on both of these elements and thus has impact for businesses — and for society more generally.
By Rania Nasrallah-Massaad