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A Nuanced Investigation of SMEs’ Sustainable Performance and Export Intensity (RDF23/EIS/ONJEWU)

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr Adah-Kole Onjewu, Dr Roseline Wanjiru  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

What are the firm attributes that best predict sustainable performance and export intensity?

The literature on SMEs’ environmental commitment culminating into superior firm performance and export intensity is now a developed body of work (Haddoud et al., 2021). Increasingly, scholars believe that firms’ environmental commitment is no longer a loss-making activity, but a virtuous trade-off that simultaneously generates (1) environmental as well as (2) financial gains (Onjewu et al., 2023). In this domain, studies investigating sustainability and export performance have assessed attributes and outcomes in the context of family and non-family firms (Samara et al., 2018; Onjewu et al., 2022a), alternate sectors such as food and transportation (Jovanovic et al., 2017; Beltrán-Esteve and Picazo-Tadeo, 2015), in national settings (Jermsittiparsert et al., 2019) and within SMEs in general (Tang and Tang, 2012). What is seemingly missing in the literature is a nuanced understanding of the firm characteristics that predict superior sustainable performance as well as greater export intensity. These characteristics may include size in terms of micro vs. small vs. medium entities, sector/industry type, region, gender of top owner/manager, foreign vs. domestic ownership and family vs. non-family ownership. It is likely that profiling firms along such dimensions will increase our understanding of the antecedents of both sustainable performance and export intensity.

Therefore, we invite project proposals seeking to investigate the drivers of sustainable performance and export intensity. Particular interests in our research group include environmental initiatives, strategic environmental commitment, process and product innovation, and export intensity. Suitable applications will identify and conceptualise firm attributes linked to these outcomes which are underpinned by theories not limited to the technological, organisational and environmental framework, the resource-based and strategy creation view, self-selection vs. learning-by-doing view, stakeholder theory, institutional void perspective and resilience (Onjewu et al., 2022b). Relevant theories may also include the network approach, the sunk costs approach, knowledge-based view, country of origin theory, socio-emotional wealth perspective.

For unit of analysis and context, we are interested in projects examining SMEs in national settings not limited to Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Proposals suggesting a comparison of SMEs’ sustainable performance and export intensity by micro vs. small vs. medium entities, sector/industry type, region, gender of top owner/manager, foreign vs. domestic ownership, family vs. non-family ownership, country A vs. country B and other plausible criteria will satisfy the project expectation. Plausible methods will include multi group analysis using structural equation modelling and qualitative comparative analysis.

The overarching research aim will be to examine firms’ intermediate attributes shaping sustainable performance and export intensity as guided by the following research questions:

  1. What theories underpin the links between firm determinants, SMEs’ sustainable behaviour and export intensity?
  2. How do SMEs’ sustainable performance and export intensity differ across size, sector/industry, region, gender of top owner/manager, foreign vs. domestic ownership, family vs. non-family ownership, and country?
  3. What firm determinants best predict sustainable performance and export intensity in SMEs that differ by size, sector/industry, region, gender of top owner/manager, foreign vs. domestic ownership, family vs. non-family ownership, and country?

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Dr Adah-Kole Onjewu and Dr Roseline Wanjiru. For informal queries, please contact [Email Address Removed]. For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please use the email form below to contact Admissions. 

Funding Information

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £10,600 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities). 

Please also see further advice below of additional costs that may apply to international applicants.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student. Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship:

  • Immigration Health Surcharge https://www.gov.uk/healthcare-immigration-application
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on https://www.gov.uk/student-visa. It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-to-england-from-another-country-during-coronavirus-covid-19
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see:


For applications to be considered for interview, please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words and the advert reference (RDF23/EIS/ONJEWU).

Deadline for applications: 27 January 2023

Start date of course: 1 October 2023


Beltrán-Esteve, M. and Picazo-Tadeo, A. (2015). Assessing environmental performance trends in the transport industry: eco-innovation or catching-up?. Energy Economics, 51, 570-580.
Haddoud, M., Onjewu, A. and Nowiński, W. (2021). Environmental commitment and innovation as catalysts for export performance in family firms. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 173(1), 121085.
Jermsittiparsert, K., Siriattakul, P. and Wattanapongphasuk, S., 2019. Determining the environmental performance of Indonesian SMEs influence by green supply chain practices with moderating role of green HR practices. International Journal of Supply Chain Management, 8(3), pp.59-70.
Onjewu, A., Hussain, S. and Haddoud, M. (2022b). The Interplay of E-commerce, Resilience and Exports in the Context of COVID-19. Information Systems Frontiers, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10796-022-10342-w.
Onjewu, A., Jafari-Sadeghi, V., Kock, N., Haddoud, M. and Sakka, G. (2023) The Catalysing Role of Customer Pressure on Environmental Initiatives and Internationalisation. Journal of Business Research, (forthcoming).
Onjewu, A., Puntaier, E. and Hussain, S. (2022a) The Correlates of Energy Management Practices and Sales Performance of Small Family Food Firms in Turkey. British Food Journal, 124(7), 2343-2360.
Samara, G., Jamali, D., Sierra, V. and Parada, M. (2018). Who are the best performers? The environmental social performance of family firms. Journal of Family Business Strategy, 9(1), 33-43.
Tang, Z. and Tang, J. (2012). Stakeholder–firm power difference, stakeholders' CSR orientation, and SMEs' environmental performance in China. Journal of Business Venturing, 27(4), pp.436-455.

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