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Theoretical Frameworks

Ecological Systems Theory

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (EST) posits that individuals are embedded within sets of environments with which they interact (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). These interactions influence their individual development, in turn affecting how they interact with the environments. He introduces five structures that affect human development: microsystems, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. The systems overlap in a set of ‘rings’ with the individual at the core and microsystems closest to the individual (Fig. 1). EST can be applied to an entrepreneur to understand the parts of the environment supportive to the entrepreneur’s venture, as well as those elements lacking (Kline et al., 2012).

EST has been employed in tourism research to study tourists’ thoughts and behaviors (Woodside & Martin, 2008), tourism development (Fennell & Butler, 2003), the management of a natural protected area (Lacitignola, Petrosillo, Cataldi, & Zurlini, 2007), HIV/AIDS and tourism in the Dominican Republic (Padilla, Guilamo-Ramos, Bouris, & Reyes, 2010), resiliency on Thailand’s tourism-reliant coast (Larsen, Calgaro, & Thomalla, 2011), community perception of its

Fig. 1 Ecological systems theory

entrepreneurial ecosystem (Kline et al., 2012), and as a framework for the comprehensive tourism system that includes economic, social, and environmental spheres (Farrell & Twining-Ward, 2005). Below, each of the environments is outlined within a context of food entrepreneurship; see Kline, Shah, Tsao (2014) for a full outline of environmental elements needed by entrepreneurs.

  • Microsystems are the contexts that influence an individual most directly (e.g., family, neighborhood, faith institutions, interest clubs) and could shape an entrepreneur’s vision and direction. Examples of supporting elements include a family’s food heritage, the economic status of an entrepreneur’s neighborhood, or informal opportunities for networking with other entrepreneurs.
  • The Mesosystem refers to the connections between the different microsystems. A food entrepreneur may be a member of a Chamber of Commerce or restaurant association; however the political bent, savvy, and capacity of the organization’s leadership would influence the level of support it could provide an entrepreneur. The same could be said for other organizational systems in the entrepreneur’s environment, such as the local educational infrastructure or a destination marketing association. Assistance in start-ups, management training, and availability of business support services affect an entrepreneur’s ability to leverage his/her ideas. Physical infrastructure such as road systems, Internet capacity, and available real estate are also part of the mesosystem.
  • The Exosystem is part of a larger social system that indirectly influences the individual but is beyond one’s control, such as laws passed at a state level.
  • Macrosystem describe the culture and value systems in which individuals live. Supportive elements in the macrosystem are quality of life, community culture, and values. Quality-of-life characteristics range from affordable housing and accessible health care to recreational and cultural opportunities in an attractive natural setting, and lively downtown areas. An ethic of natural resource stewardship pervades many entrepreneurial communities committed to sustainability, offering partners that share principles and support the entrepreneur’s business goals.
  • Chronosystems refer to the patterning of environmental events and transitions over the life of an individual, as well as general historical context.

The food entrepreneur’s environment not only impacts the success of the venture, but his/her ability to create value in the community beyond offering a quality product.

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