At the Frontline of Micro-finance: Cultural Toolkits and Relational Agency in African Microfinance Institutions

Sandrine Tunezerwe, Gary T Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Frontline employees are the critical link translating microfinance institutions (MFIs)’s missions to alleviate poverty into everyday work with poor clients. Existing research views frontline employees' work from an individualistic perspective. Informed by ‘Western’ mainstream management models and theories of efficient organizing (e.g., goal setting and agency theory), frontline employees are held individually accountable and are expected to rely on their own discretion to carry out their work. Drawing on in-depth research of four MFIs and their frontline employees in Ghana, our paper provides new insights into microfinance frontline employees’ everyday work. Specifically, our findings provide unique insights how an individualistic view of frontline work poses critical challenges including to the very safety of the frontline workers and the microfinance’s mission of poverty alleviation when applied to deeply socially embedded and collective cultural settings. To deal with the significant challenges of their everyday work, frontline employees leverage an extensive ‘cultural toolkit’ of relational practices. This practice-based account complements and enriches work on hybrid organizations as social change agents, specifically drawing attention to the often overlooked role of these frontline employees and how these employees enact relational agency in their daily work.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAcademy of Management Proceedings
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017
Event77th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, AOM 2017 - Atlanta, United States
Duration: 4 Aug 20178 Aug 2017


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