Institutional translation gone wrong: The case of Villages for Africa in Rural Tanzania

Laura Claus, Royston Greenwood, John Mgoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why do ideas that have been successfully moved across highly different contexts subsequently fail? To answer this question, we use longitudinal data on the Dutch organization Villages for Africa that introduced ‘macro-credit’ loans to rural Tanzanians that would enable them to establish their own village enterprises. Only two years after the seemingly successful implementation of the idea, it collapsed. Our findings allow us to make two key contributions. First, we provide a process model of high-distance translation that shows how proponents can strategically introduce an idea across highly different contexts by ‘culturally detaching’ it from its institutional origins, leading to the idea being ‘culturally assimilated’ into the recipient context. But, although cultural detachment and cultural assimilation indicate the successful translation of an idea, the means of doing so can later prompt its rejection. We call this the reactance effect of translations across highly different contexts. Second, we showcase the role of history for translation theory more generally. History – particularly the historical relationship between the socio-cultural categories of the mzungu (Swahili: “foreigner”) and the villagers –influenced the way in which the macro-credit idea could be introduced to villagers and played a key role in its subsequent rejection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-63
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Early online date7 Jul 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jul 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Institutional translation gone wrong: The case of <i>Villages for Africa</i> in Rural Tanzania'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this