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.