Change Agents Working Across Multiple Networks: Role Divergence and Microfinance Participation Among Women in 43 Indian Villages

Valentina Assenova, Management, The Wharton School

Abstract: Microfinance is an important method of lending to female micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries. This method leverages social influence in networks to promote program participation through central change agents in the community. Existing networks literature would suggest that central change agents should be more effective at promoting participation. This expectation, however, did not hold for a microfinance intervention in India. Participation decreased – rather than increased – with change agents’ centrality. To explain these contradictory findings, I look beyond centrality and draw on role theory to identify another possible mechanism: change agents’ role divergence across multiple networks. Role divergence pertains to ‘being different things to different people’ and captures variance within agents’ role-sets across networks. I find that agents’ role divergence increased with centrality and contributed to lower influence. These findings challenge existing notions that centrality promotes social influence and diffusion and have theoretical implications for studies of agency and influence in networks, and practical implications for how organizations select agents to effect change.

Michelle Eckert is Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Mack Institute, where she works to engage students, researchers, and corporate partners in opportunities for collaboration. Michelle received her B.A. in Art from Valparaiso University in 2007. Her background includes two AmeriCorps terms of service working to teach mathematics, computer literacy, and job readiness skills to out-of-school youth in Philadelphia, focusing particularly on promoting access to post-secondary education.