Topics for Bachelor & Master Theses

Scaling Social Impact

In recent decades, there has been a remarkable surge in social entrepreneurial activities and the proliferation of social enterprises (Saebi et al., 2019). Both academic literature and practical endeavors have widely embraced the concept of social entrepreneurship, which involves addressing societal issues through market-driven approaches (Dacin et al., 2011). Nevertheless, despite the establishment of numerous social enterprises, achieving substantial growth in their social impact has remained a formidable challenge. In fact, Shepherd and Patzelt (2022) have described scaling as "one of the most important yet least understood topics in social entrepreneurship" (p. 9). To gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies involved in scaling social impact, we offer multiple theses within this domain.

The idea is to analyze one specific social startup as an inductive single case study. From this perspective, it would be interesting to find out how the startup pursues its social mission and whether and how it scales its social innovation. Nevertheless, also other emerging research questions could be of interest.

Starting Literature: 

Dacin, M. T., Dacin, P. A., & Tracey, P. (2011). Social entrepreneurship: A critique and future directions. Organization science, 22(5), 1203-1213.

Dees, J. G., Anderson, B. B., & Wie-skillern, J. (2004). Scaling social impact: Strategies for spreading social innovations. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2, 24–32. 

Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of management review, 14(4), 532-550.

Saebi, T., Foss, N. J., & Linder, S. (2019). Social Entrepreneurship Research: Past Achievements and Future Promises. Journal of Management, 45(1), 70–95. 

Shepherd, D. A., & Patzelt, H. (2022). A call for research on the scaling of organizations and the scaling of social impact. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 46(2), 255-268. 

Robert Hoyer
Social Enterprise & Hybridity

Today young people are increasingly concerned with making a positive impact on the world as they are with making money. They are looking to use their skills to benefit a cause while their faith in corporate social responsibility programs, the government or not-for-profit organisations to tackle societal issues efficiently and effectively has declined. 

Against this backdrop, social enterprises (SE) describe hybrid organizations that combine the customs of both traditional businesses and not-for-profits at their core (Battilana & Lee, 2014). They are built and operate under the key premise to sustainably mitigate social issues (Mair & Marti, 2006). SE as a new way of addressing societal challenges and doing business became a hot topic and intensively discussed concept among scholars and practitioners.

If you are interested in the promise of using entrepreneurship to find innovative solutions to address social problems sustainably and are especially curious about the topic of hybridity in SE and its implications, please do not hesitate to contact me and apply within the set timeframes for each semester.

Starting Literature: 

  • Battilana, J., & Lee, M. (2014) Advancing research on hybrid organizing: Insights from the study of social enterprises. Academy of Management Annals, 8(1): 397-441.
  • Mair, J. & Marti, I. (2006) Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1): 36-44.
  • Wry, T., & York, J. G. (2017) An Identity-Based Approach to Social Enterprise. Academy of Management Review, 42(3): 437-460.
Vivien Küst

Strategy & Sustainability

Sustainability initiatives have become an important strategic cornerstone for many organizations. Previous research has examined various aspects of developing sustainability initiatives in the organizational context. One important stream of research uses a framing perspective (Cornelissen & Werner, 2014) to understand how sustainability initiatives are designed and diffused in an organization. For example, Hahn et al (2014) draw on cognitive framing to understand how different frames lead to differences in the breadth and depth of scanning sustainability issues, differences in issue interpretations, and different types of responses managers consider legitimate with regard to sustainability issues. The construct of framing can be understood as the purposeful communication efforts of leaders or managers in shaping the frames of interpretation of others, so that they collectively accept and support a change. Previous research has shown that managers can skillfully use framing tools such as metaphors, analogies, catchphrases, slogans, contrast, spin, and to influence the sensemaking of organizational members and stakeholders (Cornelissen & Werner, 2014). For example, Etzion and Ferrano (2010) show that analogies played an important role in the process of legitimizing sustainability reporting. However, Tregidga et al (2018) encourage fellow researchers to take on more critical approaches when studying corporate sustainability reports. They argue that corporations appropriated the discourse over what is considered “sustainable” which makes vigilant analyses of corporate communication essential. Despite what we already know, there is still room to further (critically) explore the framing lens on sustainability reporting.

We offer different theses within this area of research:

•    In your Master Thesis you will analyze the sustainability reports of one particular company, Henkel, to understand their strategic framing of sustainability initiatives, in particular their ecological initiatives. The German manufacturing company Henkel has been taking a visionary approach to supporting environmental progress for more than 30 years. The company publishes sustainability reports since the early 1990s.
•    In your Master Thesis you will compare the sustainability reports of Henkel (in terms of beauty care products) with the ones from L’Oréal to develop an understanding how they frame their sustainability initiatives.
•    In your Bachelor Thesis you will compare the sustainability reports from 2019 of all Dax 50 companies (if available) to understand how they frame their engagement in sustainability.

If you are interested in conducting research at the intersection of strategy and sustainability please get in touch with us.


Starting Literature:

Cornelissen, J. P., & Werner, M. D. (2014). Putting framing in perspective: A review of framing and frame analysis across the management and organizational literature. Academy of Management Annals, 8(1), 181-235.

Etzion, D., & Ferraro, F. (2010). The role of analogy in the institutionalization of sustainability reporting. Organization Science, 21(5), 1092–1107.

Hengst, I.-A., Jarzabkowski, P., Hoegl, M., & Muethel, M. 2019. Toward a process theory of making sustainability strategies legitimate in action. Academy of Management Journal, 63(1), 246-271.

Hahn, T., Pinkse, J., Preuss, L., & Figge, F. 2016. Ambidexterity for corporate social performance. Organization Studies,37(2), 213-235.

Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinske, J., & Figge, F. 2014. Cognitive frames in corporate sustainability: Managerial sensemaking with paradoxical and business vase frames. Academy of Management Review,39(4), 463-487.

Kaplan, S. 2020: Beyond the Business Case for Social Responsibility. Academy of Management Discoveries,6, 1–4.

Tregidga, H., Milne, M. J., & Kearins, K. (2018). Ramping up resistance: Corporate sustainable development and academic research. Business & Society, 57(2), 292-334.

Stefanie Habersang



Meaningful work and professional identity construction

Intensified by claims of recently formed movements, such as #MeToo and Fridays For Future, critical discussions about the impact of how we live have emerged. Especially work as a major life domain impacts us, our direct surrounding, and the earth/society at large. Today, many people want a job that is meaningful to themselves and, at the same time, has a positive soci(et)al impact. Achieving coherence between the self (“being”) and one’s work (“doing”) is a central motive for finding meaning and for constructing a professional identity (Pratt et al., 2006, p.255). Research has shown that developing a legitimate professional identity is important to be perceived as competent by members of one’s profession (Bloom et al., 2020). However, for many (young) professionals, being successful and achieving legitimacy in one’s profession while creating what they consider meaningful impact is a balancing act that involves multiple tensions.

We offer Bachelor theses within this area of research:
In your Bachelor Thesis you will conduct a systematic literature review at the intersection of professional identity construction and meaningful work. The aim of your thesis is to systematically map the status-quo in these literatures and identity areas for future research.

We also offer a Master Thesis in a specific area of this topic:
Aspiring early career scholars (Post-Docs and Assistant Professors) are especially prone to experience pressures in the development of their professional identity when they hesitate to conform with the publication culture in academia. Many universities define impact exclusively as the number of articles with theoretical contributions scholars publish in highly ranked journals and not in terms of generating practical, societal or educational impact (Aguinis et al., 2020, Wickert et al., 2020). Thereby, they perpetuate a “publish or perish” reward system in which publications (and not practical impact or teaching) constitute the main currency for pursuing an academic career (Bothello & Roulet, 2019; Burrows, 2012). Despite what we already know about professional identity construction „under pressure“ (Dobrow & Heller, 2015), there are gaps in the literature. Exploring how early career scholars experience tensions between creating scholarly and other forms of impact while becoming a professional is a promising research area.

In your Master Thesis you will conduct interviews with early career scholars to understand how early career scholars construct their professional identity through different types of impact

If you are interested in conducting research at the intersection of identity construction and meaningful work please get in touch with us.


Starting literature:

Aguinis, H., Cummings, C., Ramani, R. S., & Cummings, T. G. (2020). “An A Is An A”: The New Bottom Line For Valuing Academic Research. Academy of Management Perspectives, 34(1), 135–154.

Bailey, C., Lips‐Wiersma, M., Madden, A., Yeoman, R., Thompson, M., & Chalofsky, N. (2019). The Five Paradoxes of Meaningful Work: Introduction to the special Issue ‘Meaningful Work: Prospects for the 21st Century.’ Journal of Management Studies, 56(3), 481–499.

Bloom, M., Colbert, A. E., & Nielsen, J. D. (2020). Stories of Calling: How Called Professionals Construct Narrative Identities. Administrative Science Quarterly, 000183922094950.

Dobrow Riza, S., & Heller, D. (2015). Follow Your Heart or Your Head? A Longitudinal Study of the Facilitating Role of Calling and Ability in the Pursuit of a Challenging Career. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(3), 695–712.

Dutton, J. E., Roberts, L. M., & Bednar, J. (2010). Pathways for Positive Identity Construction at Work: Four Types of Positive Identity and the Building of Social Resources. Academy of Management Review, 35(2), 265–293.

Pratt, M. G., Rockmann, K. W., & Kaufmann, J. B. (2006). Constructing Professional Identity: The Role of Work and Identity Learning Cycles in the Customization of Identity Among Medical Residents. Academy of Management Journal, 49(2), 235–262.

Rosso, B. D., Dekas, K. H., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). On the Meaning of Work: A Theoretical Integration and Review. Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 91–127.

Wickert, C., Post, C., Doh, J. P., Prescott, J. E., & Prencipe, A. (2020). Management Research that Makes a Difference: Broadening the Meaning of Impact. Journal of Management Studies,


Dr. Stefanie Habersang


Johanne Düsterbeck