Connections to Distant Knowledge:

Interpersonal Ties Between More- and Less-Developed Countries


Daniel Z. Levin

Management and Global Business Dept.

Rutgers Business School Newark and New Brunswick

Rutgers University

1 Washington Park

Newark, NJ 07102

(973) 353-5983, Fax (973) 353-1664


Helena Barnard

Gordon Institute of Business Science

University of Pretoria

26 Melville Road, Illovo, Sandton, 2191 South Africa

Fax: 27 (86) 638 0545

Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 44, No. 7, July 2013, pp. 676-698


Less-developed countries benefit from being connected to technologically and economically advanced countries. The well-documented mechanisms for this cross-national flow of knowledge all involve interfirm connections, such as trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), and alliances. We examine the potential of a different mechanism  interpersonal ties abroad  that has only recently become practicable, owing to advances in communication and transportation technologies, globalization, and increased migration. We investigate when business knowledge obtained from interpersonal ties in more-developed countries is more useful than locally sourced knowledge. Using a sample of South African managers, we find that knowledge from more-developed countries is not always more useful. Rather, overseas knowledge is preferable when novel and accessible: that is, when new-to-the-industry knowledge is needed, when there is already a strong tie, and when the knowledge does not involve a long discussion. Conversely, local knowledge is preferable when new-to-the-industry knowledge is not needed, when the interpersonal tie is a weak tie, and when a longer discussion is warranted. This study demonstrates the value of connections between individuals in countries at different levels of development as sources of useful knowledge, and suggests that international business research will benefit from exploring further the networks of individuals in addition to those of firms.

Keywords: diaspora, economic upgrading, emerging markets/countries/economies, knowledge transfer, long-distance communication, social networks

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