Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role of Wasta, a culturally based system of social networks of exchange among in-group members in the Arab world, as exemplified by three groups of Arabs in the Palestinian Authority, and then compares it to Guanxi (China), Sviazi (Russia) and Jaan–Pechaan (India). The use of social networks is a common business model around the world to accomplish business objectives and is especially relied upon in emerging economies where formal institutions are weak. It is important to understand the commonalities and differences in the use of reciprocity in various cultural contexts in order to conduct business effectively. The aim of the paper is to illustrate the structure of Wasta and how it is perceived and constructed among three Arab social groups, and then compare and contrast it with social business models in three other high context cultures. Design/methodology/approach: Qualitative approach based on interviews to better understand the relationships involved. Findings: The findings provide the foundation for a number of critical insights for non-Arab managers seeking to do business in the Arab world. For international managers to conduct business successfully, it is essential to understand how Wasta works, and establish relationships with members of influential social networks by building trust over time such that they create Wasta for themselves and indirectly for their firms. Using Wasta in the Arab world, as noted above, is similar to doing business successfully in other emerging economies such as using Sviazi in Russia (McCarthy and Puffer, 2008; Berger et al., 2017), Guanxi in China (Yen et al., 2011) and Jaan–Pechaan in India (Bhattacharjee and Zhang, 2011). The authors feel more confident in stating this view after comparing Wasta with these other three concepts, and noting that all four are built upon the same fundamental constructs. Research limitations/implications: The authors recognize that the study is limited in terms of the geographical sample since it does not include any non-Palestinians, although the managers the authors sampled came from various regions in the Palestinian authority. Additionally, Palestinian managers are highly educated and mobile, and can be found in many other Arab countries working in managerial positions (Zineldin, 2002), thus potentially broadening the generalizability of the findings. Nonetheless, the samples would be called ones of convenience rather than randomly drawn from the three groups, since the latter would be extremely difficult to execute not only in the Palestinian Authority but in most of the Arab world due to the culturally based reluctance to provide sensitive information to those outside one’s network. Despite the difficulties that might be involved in exploring such culturally sensitive issues as the authors did in this study, the benefits in knowledge gained can be of significant importance to the study of international business in emerging and transition economies. Originality/value: Little research has focused on the use of Wasta in the Arab world, a gap which this paper addresses. The authors do so by analyzing the views of Wasta held by three important groups – leaders, business people and students. While each type of reciprocity has its own unique characteristics, the authors focus on three interrelated constructs that have been found to underlie the use of reciprocity in various cultures. In the Arab world, these are Hamola, which incorporates reciprocity; Somah, that incorporates trust; and Mojamala, which incorporates empathy through social business networks.
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