Dear Colleagues, 

Please find below the Special Issue Call for Papers in International Business Review, on the topic of 'MNE Innovation for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’. 

Warm wishes, 

Shasha, on behalf of the GEs

International Business Review 

Special Issue Call for Papers 

MNE Innovation for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 

Special Issue Editors:

Shasha Zhao II Associate Professor of International Business and Innovation, University of Surrey Business School, UK
Jahan Ara Peerally II Associate Professor of International Business, HEC Montréal, Canada
Claudia De Fuentes II Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University, Canada
Maria Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez II Full Professor of Management, Universidad EAFIT, Colombia

Full Manuscript Submission Deadline: July 1st, 2022


Global sustainability challenges

The world is increasingly facing sustainability challenges that span geographic and economic boundaries. The combination of political discontent with increasing protectionism and trade wars, the digital divide, negative climate change and social backlashes against growing income inequalities have led to dysfunctional market conditions (Doh, Tashman, & Benischke, 2019; Gonzalez-Perez, Mohieldin, Hult & Velez-Ocampo, 2021), mass migration (Barnard, Deeds, Mudambi, & Vaaler, 2019), and unstable global value chains for cross-border production and trade of goods and services (Witt, 2019), which affect economic activities everywhere and which underlie major global sustainability challenges (Ghauri, Strange & Cooke, 2021; Zhao, Gooderham, Harzing & Papanastassiou, 2021). These global sustainability challenges, on the one hand, have been the subject of intense discussion among governments, supranational and international organizations; on the other hand, these challenges have led to an increasingly volatile global business environment, which raises questions on the viability of advanced and emerging economy multinational enterprises’ (AMNEs and EMNEs)  local and crossborder strategies. Thus, it seems necessary for MNEs to establish new and more sustainable practices that focus on the longer-term social value creation (Rygh, 2019) and solutions to grand challenges for all societal stakeholders. Indeed, the short-term and myopic outlook that concerns firm-specific economic value creation solely for shareholders is becoming increasingly unsustainable. This ever-more challenging global environment has led to a call for action from international and supra-national organizations to various stakeholders, including MNEs, who can proactively or reactively develop and implement innovative initiatives as coping mechanisms. This highlights the imperative for MNEs to consider and undertake innovation activities that effectively address current and future sustainability challenges. These challenges are reflected in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted  by 192 member states, and the MNEs’ role and contributions are an integral part of this agenda (United Nations Global Impact, n.d.; Kolk, Kourula & Pisani, 2017).
MNEs and sustainable innovation

The current international business (IB) research on MNEs and the SDGs shows growing attention has been paid to not only how MNEs succeed internationally as profit-driven agents but how their value-adding activities can have both positive and negative impacts on sustainable development (Ghauri & Yamin, 2009; Kolk, 2016; Azevedo, Carneiro, Rodriguez & Gonzalez-Perez, 2020). Some examples are MNEs’ sustainability decisions and practices and offshoring activities (e.g., Zhao, 2019; Lartey, Amankwah-Amoah, Danso, Adomako, Khan & Tarba, 2020), MNEs’ challenges and opportunities within the context of climate change (e.g., Bohnsack, Ciulli & Kolk, 2020; Ghauri et al., 2021), MNEs’ typologies concerning specific SDGs (e.g., Comyns, 2018), MNEs’ impact on SDGs through GVCs (e.g., Amador & Cabral, 2016; Hult, Gonzalez-Perez & Lagerström, 2020; Gonzalez-Perez et al., 2021), and MNEs’ negative effects on widening the inequality gap (e.g., Márquez-Ramos, 2018; Giuliani, 2019; Zhao et al., 2021). However, what is crucial and remains less known is whether and how MNE innovation activities and outcomes are sustainable for society at large. Herein, we consider those innovation activities or outcomes as ‘sustainable innovations’ that have a wider and deeper impact - beyond the traditional single consideration of firm-level performance - on the social, economic, environmental aspects of societies and contribute to achieving the SDGs. More specficially, we view sustainable innovation activities as entailing, for example, new knowledge creation and renewal, knowledge transfer and exchange, and (re)combination and dissemination at local level and/or across the MNEs’ global innovation network , with concerns for social, environmental or economic issues in these processes.  Thus, sustainable innovation outcomes are those that dually address profit-making and one or more of the SDGs, which result in positive impact on social, environmental and economic conditions. The outcomes can consist of, for example, new or renewed product development and service solutions, technologies and patents, operational, management and marketing capabilities, business models, organizational methods, expertise (Baregheh, Rowley & Sambrook, 2009; OECD, 2018), and of inclusive and sustainable industrialization processes.

Indeed, knowledge on MNEs’ global innovation activities for achieving sustainable development is largely missing from the literature. Whilst research on MNE global innovation strategy and structure is substantial (e.g., the literatures on MNE R&D internationalization and knowledge seeking by EMNEs), apart from a few studies that broadly link MNEs, innovation and SDGs (Dionisio & Vargas, 2020; Nylund, Brem & Agarwal, 2021; van der Waal, Thijssens & Maas, 2021), the IB literature offers little insights into the conceptual and empirical relationship between MNE innovation and sustainable development in home and host countries. Given that MNE innovation is commonly characterized as being geographically dispersed across advanced and emerging economies (Chaminade, De Fuentes, Harirchi & Plechero, 2016; Zhao, Tan, Papanastassiou & Harzing, 2020; Zhao, Papanastassiou & Pearce, 2021), MNEs have become embedded not only at home but often profoundly in host-country environments. Their innovation activities and outcomes thus influence and are influenced by actors, processes and systems of home and host countries’ knowledge and business networks (Chaminade & De Fuentes, 2012).

Given the ever more significant sustainability challenges posing impact on all actors and aspects of society, there is an increasing urgency and need within these networks to overcome the challenges and ensure sustainable development (Gonzalez-Perez, 2020; Gonzalez-Perez et al., 2021), often through innovation activities that connect different actors and processes at the local and global levels. In this context, MNEs face major strategic challenges whereby they must balance internal financial objectives and sustainability pressure. However, the question of how MNEs consider, undertake and develop innovation that not only address their interests, but also address sustainability needs is critical, and remains largely unanswered in the IB literature. Particularly, little is known about the important processes through which MNEs create or acquire the knowledge, resources, skills and experiences necessary for developing sustainable innovations within the local and global multi-stakeholder networks within which they are often deeply embedded. 

A multi-stakeholder approach for MNE sustainable innovation

Given that MNEs’ success has often been subject to the breadth and depth of their relationships with different stakeholders in the local and global networks (encompassing not only customers and business partners - as portrayed by the dominant IB thinking - but including governments, higher education, research centres, communities, non-for-profit organizations, environmental groups, advocacy groups), we posit that the wide range of stakeholders and the networks themselves can be important sources of knowledge critical for MNE learning and dissemination of innovative solutions that go beyond financial performance and shareholder value to generate wider societal impact. A similar assertion is made by the United Nations (2015:25) whereby it encourages firms “… to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges” and it also recognizes the role of the multiple stakeholders in this process. Relatedly, the need for, and the benefits of a multi-stakeholder approach as the conceptual basis for MNEs’ sustainable innovation have been increasingly discussed in recent literature through the lens of a systemic perspective (Chaminade, 2020; Peerally & De Fuentes, 2020), whereby the creation and application of knowledge for achieving the SDGs may be viewed as an interactive and collaborative process among multiple stakeholders, including (but not exclusively) the firm sector (i.e., MNEs and domestic enterprises who are producers buyers, suppliers, subcontractors), local and foreign actors from the non-firm sector (i.e., public science and technology and other research institutions) (Narula, 2014), the third sector (i.e., social purpose organizations/enterprises), civil society and consumers, and which are context-specific (Peerally, De Fuentes & Figueiredo, 2019) and embedded in local and/or global socio-institutions. 

In IB research, such a system can be defined as the business world organisations– including stakeholders, organizations, and countries – involved in exchanges, production, business functions, and cross-border trade through both marketplace competition and cooperation (Hult et al.,, 2020). The systemic approach to innovation considers different modes of interactions with different types of actors, and include a variety of processes for innovation under different institutional and sectoral contexts and arrangements. For example, the concept of ‘innovation systems’ which was first discussed in innovation literature (e.g., Nelson, Freeman, Lundvall & Pelikan, 1988; Freeman, 1995;  Lundvall, 1992) encompasses domestic and foreign economic actors (e.g., domestic firms, foreign MNEs), non-economic actors (e.g., government agencies, research institutes), and institutions (e.g., policy regimes) that connect them both within and across countries (Narula & Dunning 2010; Binz & Truffer, 2017; Peerally et al., 2019; Peerally & De Fuentes, 2020). These actors determine the stock of knowledge within any given location because they embody the knowledge available within an innovation systemIt centers on the interrelationships between these actors for understanding the dynamics of knowledge creation for innovation activities, especially by EMNEs. The framework has also been applied to examine systemic failures which impede emerging economies’ domestic and multinational enterprises innovation activities (e.g., Enderwick & Buckley, 2021). Another example is the innovation ecosystem concept, which was first discussed in the strategy literature. Its central thesis is the presence of a common platform for firm-stakeholder interaction and innovation whereby firms create and capture value (Adner & Kapoor, 2010; Autio & Thomas, 2014, Nylund et al., 2021). This value creation process is conditioned upon pre-existing high levels of knowledge stock and innovation capacity which enables firms, often AMNEs, to engage in sustaining, deepening and renewing their innovation activities and competitive (ownership) advantages.

Given the dual macro and micro natures of the SDGs which often require multisectoral involvement for their achievement (Natera, Tomassini & Vera-Cruz, 2019) and the multifaceted nature of innovation, we posit that a more holistic, multi-stakeholder approach - underpinned by a systemic perspective - for analysing MNEs (AMNEs and EMNEs) and their cross-border hierarchical and quasi-hierarchical knowledge activities is useful for generating novel insights into how these MNEs consider and undertake innovation activities to develop innovative solutions that not only contribute to firm-level performance but effectively address current and future sustainability challenges and contribute to the SDGs (Nylund et al., 2021).


Given that global innovation is central to MNEs’ survival and performance and that MNEs are often key actors in the innovation networks of home and host countries, it is believed that their processes for undertaking innovation activities to achieve SDGs is complex and significant. This Special Issue, therefore, serves as a much-needed platform to initiate scholarly conversations concerning the ways in which AMNEs and EMNEs generate sustainable innovation to achieve the SDGs in their home and/or host countries, which in turn adds clarity to the debates in the overlapping IB and sustainability fields, on whether MNEs’ activities do indeed lead to positive outcomes for society at large.

In this Special Issue, we thus call for empirical studies that apply quantitative and/or qualitative approaches as well as conceptual/theoretical papers, both of which should offer significant theoretical contributions to understanding AMNEs’ and EMNEs’ innovative activities and outcomes for achieving the SDGs through their deep involvement with local and global stakeholders as well as in the innovation (eco)systems. We welcome studies that examine,but are not limited to the following illustrative research questions:

Macro/Institutional level -

-To what extent do different sustainability challenges in home and host countries affect how MNEs consider and develop sustainable innovations?
-What are the institutional arrangements (e.g., concerning science technology and innovation) for promoting MNE-level innovation aligned with sustainable development?
-How do different institutional factors influence MNEs’ decisions and activities to innovate for addressing sustainability challenges?
-How do the innovation networks or (eco)systems in advanced, emerging and less-developed economies variably affect MNE’s sustainable innovation activities and outcomes?

MNE level -

-To what extent do different processes of knowledge creation, learning, transfer, integration, and dissemination between the MNEs and the broad set of local and/or global stakeholders help MNEs to develop sustainable innovations?
-What types of knowledge, resources, skills and experiences are needed by MNEs to create the innovative capabilities necessary for developing sustainable innovations?
-How do MNEs interact (through organizational mechanisms or processes) with different local and/or international stakeholders to create the knowledge, resources, skills and experiences needed for sustainable innovation? 
-What are the key managerial, technological and/or organizational considerations/factors that contribute to --or hinder-- MNEs’ willingness or ability to innovate and address pressing sustainability challenges?
-How do MNEs leverage on the different resources, processes, actors, local or global innovation networks to develop innovative solutions which are useful for addressing the various SDG goals?
-How do AMNEs and EMNEs vary in terms of their approach to sustainable innovation?
-Are specific types of MNEs more motivated to or effective at developing sustainable innovations than others? What are the explanatory factors for these differences (e.g., firm attributes, nature of innovation network or (eco)systems, or home-country characteristics)? 
-How do interactions with different stakeholders in the innovation networks or (eco)systems contribute to or hinder MNEs’ motivation and ability to develop sustainable innovation?
-To what extent do different mechanisms or processes within the innovation networks or (eco)systems facilitate the internalization or externalization of MNEs’ sustainable innovation activities and outcomes?
-In terms of innovation (eco)systems, what are the systemic failures that may inhibit MNEs from innovating sustainability?
-What are the connections or strength of dialogues between MNEs and other stakeholders within the realm of innovation policies and SDG-oriented policies? How do these affect the way MNEs consider and undertake innovation activities that  address sustainability challenges?

Multi-/General level -

-To what extent the interplay between individual-, organizational-, institutional-, and locational factors influence or explain MNEs’ decisions and activities to develop innovative solutions for achieving SDGs? What are the variations?
-In what ways do MNEs interact with different stakeholders at the micro and macro levels to learn and develop sustainable innovation capabilities?
-What are the appropriate theoretical frameworks for conceptualizing the links between MNEs, innovation, and SDGs?
-To what extent can the (eco)systems of innovation perspective extend the explanatory capacity of IB theories to better explain the role and impact of MNE innovation for sustainable development?
-What new methodological approaches can be effective for measuring and assessing the empirical links between MNEs, innovation, and SDGs? 


All manuscripts will be reviewed as a cohort for this special issue. All submitted manuscripts will be subjected to double-blind peer review following the journal guidelines. Authors should follow the journal guidelines. Any queries regarding the special issue can be directed to the guest editors.


A dedicated workshop will be organized for authors who submitted their manuscripts to this Special Issue and/or have been offered the opportunity to revise and resubmit. Depending on the potential for global travel, this workshop may be offered in-person or virtually. Participating authors will be offered the opportunity to present their papers and benefit from receiving developmental feedback from peers and the guest editors to enhance the quality and contribution of their papers. Furthermore, a symposium in 2023 will be organized for the final selected papers for publication to enhance their visibility and impact.


Shasha Zhao is Associate Professor of International Business and Innovation at Surrey University Business School and Associate of Centre for International Business and Development at Sussex University, UK. Her research focuses on (E)MNE innovation strategy and knowledge management, and the impact on sustainability. She is Co-Founding Chair of Academy of International Business Sustainability SIG. She has published in International Business ReviewAsia Pacific Journal of ManagementHuman Resource Management JournalInternational Marketing Review, and Thunderbird International Business Review, and Critical Perspectives on International Business, and book chapter in AIB UKI Chapter Best Paper Book Series (Palgrave Macmillan). She is Associate Editor of Asian Business and Management and Senior Editor of European Journal of International Management, on the Editorial Board of Management International Review, and reviews for Journal of International Business Studies, amongst others. Her lead-authored paper on innovation of (E)MNEs in emerging Asia won the Best Paper Award at Euro-Asia Management Studies Association Annual Meeting, 2019.

Jahan Ara Peerally is Associate Professor of International Business at HEC Montréal, Canada. Her research encompasses the activities of multinational versus domestic and social enterprises in developing and emerging economies. Her publications have focused on the technological capabilities and innovation activities of foreign subsidiaries, domestic and social enterprises and on the other socio-economic development effects of these enterprises through inclusive and social innovation. She has published scientific articles in peer-reviewed books (e.g., Edward Elgar) and journals (e.g., World DevelopmentLong Range PlanningEconomics of Innovation and New Technologyand teaching case studies and notes in peer reviewed journals as well.

Claudia De Fuentes is Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University. Her research experience includes innovation in firms, systems of innovation, the creation and use of knowledge in a globalized economy, innovation in global value chains, new forms of academia–industry collaboration, and science, technology and innovation policy. Her work has circulated internationally. She has collaborated with several research groups to work on projects financed by SSHRC (Canada), CONACYT (Mexico), the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Foro Consultivo científico y tecnológico (FCCT) in Mexico, and for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Maria Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez is Full Professor of Management at Universidad EAFIT, Colombia. She was the Vice-President of Administration at the Academy of International Business (AIB) (2015-2018) and the regional chapter chair for Latin America and the Caribbean (AIB-LAC) (2018-2021). She is Area Editor of the Cross-Cultural and Strategic Management (CCSM) Journal; Associate Editor of Transnational Corporations; and Editor-in-Chief of the business journal AD-minister. Her research areas are: internationalization of firms from emerging economies; sustainability; corporate social responsibility; sustainable development; and international migration. Alejandra has published 12 books, and papers at Journal of International Business Studies, Management and Organization ReviewJournal of Business Research, Critical Perspectives on International BusinessCross Cultural & Strategic Management, Multinational Business Review, Journal of World Business, amongst others.

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