Until the 1990s, multinational corporations (MNCs) from developed countries were considered by researchers and policymakers to be the most effective vehicles for the transfer of organisational and technological knowledge to developing and emerging countries. This perception was evident not only in the literature on international technology transfer, but also in the whole field of international business, where the notion of the primacy of large organisations in the cross-border transfer of knowledge was emphasised.
Because of the ‘sticky’, hard-to-transfer nature of tacit knowledge, the organisational and contextual differences between the knowledge suppliers and recipients may constitute important determinants of the transfer effectiveness. In the case of transferors from developed economies and recipients from developing and emerging countries, the cultural and institutional differences, as well as the managerial and technological gap are frequently invoked to explain the importance of resources and firm size. Large firms would then be at an advantage in comparison with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Their considerable tangible and intangible resources – for example the number of international managers, the amount of financial capital and the breadth of tacit knowledge – would give them an advantage over their smaller competitors.
Are large organisations actually more effective than smaller transferors in dealing with the complex issues originating from institutional and cultural distance, as suggests the literature on international knowledge transfer and international business? Of course a definite answer to that question cannot be provided. However, some recent developments in entrepreneurship theory and SME internationalisation may qualify the views generally held in international business. Somewhat paradoxically, these developments have brought out the predominance and advantages of tacit knowledge and localised learning in smaller organisations (Audretsch and Thurik, 2001; Acs, 2009).
In these entrepreneurship-based views, globalisation and the dominance of MNCs are not considered as prime factors of international competitiveness. Thus, Audretsch and Thurik (2001) argued that ‘the so-called death of distance resulting from globalisation has shifted the comparative advantage of high-cost locations towards economic activity that cannot be easily and costlessly diffused across geographical space’. Local and regional characteristics, with their rich source of tacit knowledge, constitute better opportunities for the creation and diffusion of innovations, and are better exploited by SMEs.
For some other researchers, on the contrary, the SMEs’ reliance on tacit knowledge, and the institutional barriers to the international diffusion of that type of knowledge play a constraining role on smaller firms’ capacity to transfer their expertise abroad, especially when the recipient firms are located in less developed countries. Is the constraining effect more important than opportunity creation for smaller organisations? A nuanced answer to that question requires more conceptual and empirical research. In comparison with the international business literature focused on large organisations’ involvement and effectiveness in international knowledge transfer, the research on the role of SMEs in this area of activity has been much less abundant.
We invite scholars to submit conceptual or empirical ─ qualitative or quantitative ─ papers addressing the following themes related to technology transfer to developing or emerging countries:
- Firm size and effectiveness of technology transfer
- Contextual - cultural or institutional - issues
- Forms of knowledge and types of technology
Acs, Z. J., Braunerhjelm, P., Audretsch, D. B. and Carlson, B. (2009). The knowledge spillover theory of entrepreneurship Small Business Economics 32: 15-31.
Audretsch, D. B. and Thurik, A.R. (2001) What’s new about the new economy? Sources of growth in the managed and entrepreneurial economies Industrial and Corporate Change 10: 267-315.
Suitable topics include but are not limited to the following, which must be specifically related to technology transfer to developing or emerging countries:
- How to measure effectiveness
- Comparing SMEs and large firms on measures of effectiveness
- Cultural values
- Institutional issues
- Entrepreneurship theory versus international business theories
- Firm size and modes of transfer
- Characteristics of entrepreneurs
- Firm size and forms of knowledge
- Firm size and types of technologies
Deadline for Submission: 1 November, 2010