Dr Catherine Dolan is a Visiting Scholar at Saïd Business School. An anthropologist, she specialises in the social and political economy of development, primarily in Africa, and over the past 15 years has directed and researched interdisciplinary programmes on poverty, globalisation, commodity chains, rural livelihoods, corporate social responsibility and gender.
Her work is concentrated in three main areas:
Changing relationship between the public and private sectors in international development
Catherine’s research addresses the increasing role corporations play in efforts to reduce poverty, improve health and education outcomes, and empower women, focusing on the culture, discourses and practices of market-based initiatives and their consequences for households and communities. A central theme of her research is the relationship between market and moral economies, an aspect she has examined in relation to corporate social responsibility (CSR), fairtrade, bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) initiatives, and cause-related marketing partnerships.
Her research has shown that market-based approaches can often produce beneficial outcomes for participants (workers, producers, and entrepreneurs) but that there are a number of social, environmental and development implications that need to be considered. As Co-founder of the Centre for New Economies of Development, a collaboration with anthropologists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Sussex, Catherine is engaged in understanding these effects and the potential and limitations of private sector engagement in development.
Corporate governance of global value chains
Catherine’s work explores the connections between global value chains, labour and inclusive development. Her research on global value chains has led to policy recommendations for leveraging high-value agricultural commodity chains as pro-poor growth strategies in Africa; her recommendations have been adopted by the World Bank, DFID and USAID. She has also investigated the nature of employment in global value chains, focusing specifically on the conditions of women’s work and the opportunities it provides for pro-poor development. Her collaborative research on gender and corporate social responsibility advanced the need to make labour standards and ethical codes of practice gender-sensitive, accounting for the differing employment needs, interests and priorities of men and women in global value chains. This is now integrated into mainstream CSR practice by leading retailers and manufacturers in both garment and agricultural industries.
The topic of sustainable food, both in the UK and elsewhere, is a growing area of interest and expertise for Catherine and her research was summoned as evidence in the 2011 UK Food and Fairness Inquiry, an investigation into social justice in food and farming. She is Co-founder of Oxford Food Governance Group, a new and interdisciplinary group of researchers from the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity, and Saïd Business School, who share a research interest in food governance practices. She is also part of a core group of experts working on the UK Food System as part of the UK Global Food Security programme.
Catherine holds BA, MA and PhD degrees in anthropology. Prior to joining the School she taught anthropology and development studies at Northeastern University in Boston and at the School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, and was a Research Officer in the Globalisation Programme at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. She was a Fulbright and Social Science Council Research Fellow, and has held Visiting Fellowships at the Centre of African Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies; the Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the International Center for Research on Women in Washington, DC; and Boston University’s Center for African Studies.
Areas of expertise include:
The nature of Catherine’s research, and in particular her investigation of market-based approaches to poverty reduction, gender empowerment and responsible capitalism, and their consequences for households and communities in developing countries, brings her into contact with representatives of international companies such as Avon, Proctor & Gamble, BATA, Unilever, Danone and Shell. She also works with aid agencies like UNICEF, USAID, DFID and CARE International, and with officials of both government programmes and NGOs, as well as with thousands of women and girls in low income countries.
Her research has been funded by Fulbright, the Social Science Research Council, USAID and the National Science Foundation in the United States, and by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Development for International Development (DFID) and Development Studies Association (DSA) in the UK.
She acts as a consultant and advisor to the World Bank, DFID, USAID, UNIFEM, ILO, UNCTAD and the British government. She is currently an Advisor on the Roundtable on Responsible Capitalism for Ed Milliband, the Leader of the Labour Party, and in 2011 provided expert testimony on Fairtrade for the UK Food and Fairness Inquiry.
Catherine is an Academic College Member of the ESRC Peer Review College and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. She is also a Board Member of MWomen and GSMA, a public–private partnership between the worldwide mobile industry and the international development community that aims to reduce the mobile phone gender gap.
In addition, she is a Board Member of the FTIS Scientific Committee of Fairtrade, an Advisor to Partners for Change and Ideal Philanthropy and serves as faculty mentor to the Oikos UNDP Young Scholarship Development Academy.
Her research has been widely covered in the press, including the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the BBC, Voice of America, Harvard Business Review, and Forbes magazine.
Catherine’s research spans responsible capitalism, bottom-of-the-pyramid initiatives, cultural economies of development and the intricate relationships between global markets, poverty reduction and women’s empowerment. She works both independently and in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Oxford and elsewhere.
Catherine’s research focuses on the role of non-state actors – specifically global corporations and non-governmental institutions – in the governance of food systems. It addresses two broad themes: the governance of global agri-food commodity chains and corporate social responsibility (namely the introduction of labour codes of practice and Fairtrade). The first theme includes research on African agricultural and food commodity chains to determine if and how production for global agrifood markets benefits the poor in developing countries.
Catherine’s research showed that the competitive strategies of global supermarkets led to particular governance structures that both constrained and opened up possibilities for poverty reduction in Africa, with clear consequences for the long-term viability of firms as well as for the security of farmers and workers. She has recently applied the commodity chain lens to Fairtrade to examine whether commodity chains that are organised through relational governance (i.e. norms of trust, obligation and civic ties), are more likely to reduce power asymmetries within global commodity chains as well as inequalities in North–South trade.
A new project with Professor Stanley Ulijaszek and Dr Javier Lezaun of the University of Oxford’s Department of Anthropology is examining the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in European food governance, in particular how consumers use these new systems – whether internet-based consumer organisations, mobile apps or other emergent technologies – and how their engagement is reshaping contemporary modes of food governance.
Market-based approaches to development
Over the past decade, the private sector has been increasingly active in international development, fostering new business models, partnerships and financial instruments to combat issues ranging from malaria and HIV to trade justice and poverty reduction. There has been an upsurge in business as development models, including Fairtrade, bottom of the pyramid, social enterprise, and a range of certification schemes, each of which aims to attenuate the risks businesses confront while holding them to account for developmental outcomes.
Through empirical studies of these models (Fairtrade, bottom of the pyramid, and ethical trade), Catherine is examining the social implications of business as a development actor, focusing on: how business conceptualises engagement in development and to what effects; what normative assumptions and ethical positions underpin the private sector’s conception of development problems; and how the technologies, practices and discourses of market-based initiatives are reshaping informal economies.
Bottom billion capitalism and women’s entrepreneurship
A signature feature of bottom billion capitalism is new institutional configurations that pursue ‘development through enterprise’. One example of this is the mushrooming of trading partnerships between multinational corporations and women’s informal exchange networks that provide new opportunities for women to become micro-entrepreneurs selling a range of goods, from toiletries, light bulbs and batteries to fortified food, shoes and solar lamps.
Catherine is examining the emphasis of contemporary development models on these forms of women’s entrepreneurship and is engaged in two research projects (with Professor Linda Scott) that explore the relationship between global markets, poverty, and women’s empowerment, one on the selling of Avon cosmetics in South Africa and another on the CARE Bangladesh Rural Sales Programme, which provides poor women with an opportunity to earn an income by selling a mix of multinational and locally produced consumer goods in rural Bangladesh.
A three-year multi-method study of Avon showed that selling Avon products improved the incomes of disadvantaged, black South African women and helped to build their skills, confidence and networks – all of which have been identified as barriers for women entrepreneurs worldwide. However, while participation in Avon trading networks can be a source of economic empowerment for women living in poverty, the organisational practices that create ‘empowered’ entrepreneurs also reshape subjectivities along market lines, producing new distinctions between those who are enterprising and those who are not.
Similarly, research on the CARE Bangladesh Rural Sales Programme found that the system opened up new pathways of empowerment for some marginalised women in a context of considerable socioeconomic and cultural constraints; yet whether such schemes will have traction as a model for economic empowerment over the long term remains an open question.
With colleagues in the University of Oxford’s Department of Geography and at the London School of Economics, Catherine is embarking on new research focused on the production of socio-cultural value through economic innovation at the bottom of the pyramid.
Menstruation and the cycle of poverty
Catherine’s work in this area is based on the recognition that improving girls’ access to education positively impacts on development goals, leading to higher levels of economic growth and productivity, as well as reduced fertility rates, lower infant mortality figures, and improved health outcomes. Current work in Uganda builds on a pilot study in Ghana that found a relationship between the provision of adequate sanitary care and girls’ educational outcomes. The research is also exploring, through qualitative methods, how the material circumstances of households interweave with gender norms in ways that might expose girls to reproductive health, education, safety, and economic risks.
Catherine's CV can be read here.
Catherine teaches the MBA courses on Customer Insights and on Social Innovations and Marketing for Change.
Customer Insights is an MBA elective course during which students use a range of methods and techniques to gain strategic customer insights. The course is designed to provide students with a clear understanding of the concepts, tools and techniques (qualitative and social) that are used to understand customer behaviour, and the strengths and limitations of each. A highly practical course, the bulk of students’ learning is by ‘doing’ and they spend the term using a range of qualitative methods (ethnography, in-depth interviews, social media mining, co-creation semiotics and focus group discussions), and analysing the data derived from them to obtain knowledge and insights into consumer behaviour, and developing new ideas for products based on this in-depth market research. The course includes professionally led mini-workshops to introduce students to cutting-edge practice in marketing.
She also teaches Social Innovations and Marketing for Change, which is designed to inform and stimulate thinking on the role of marketing in global development. The course exposes students to innovative models used to address social problems developed by a range of business types, from large multinationals to small domestic firms and from social enterprises to hybrid private/public partnerships. There are also ‘innovation labs’ with leading social entrepreneurs and change-makers.
Catherine believes strongly in engaging students in ‘real world’ problems and has developed two teaching cases for use in the MBA classroom, rooted in her own recent research (in collaboration with Professor Linda Scott) into the potential for market-based approaches to provide economic empowerment for poor women.
The CARE Bangladesh Rural Sales Programme case study, led by Catherine, focuses on a bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) scheme in Bangladesh: a rural door-to-door goods distribution system that aims to reduce poverty and empower women. The case charts the development of the initiative and discusses many of the critical issues associated with BoP schemes, specifically whether such schemes offer a viable model for women’s empowerment.
The Pampers UNICEF case study, led by Linda Scott, explores how a corporate brand (Pampers) partnered with a humanitarian organisation (UNICEF) to deliver life-changing health programmes to some of the world’s poorest countries, whilst also achieving corporate goals.
MBA students are encouraged to critically examine the methodologies and consequences highlighted in these case studies, for example by considering how the profit motivations of commercial companies can be reconciled with the aim of NGOs to deliver effective development aid.
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