Professor Diane Holt

Professor Diane Holt


Diane Holt (BSc, MSc, PhD) is an experienced teacher, researcher, and academic administrator. At Queen's University Belfast (2007-2013) she was programme leader for a suite of postgraduate programmes in the sustainability area. She previously held a position as Principal Lecturer at Middlesex University Business School (1996-2007) including 1.5 years seconded to their Dubai campus responsible for the roll out of their Business Programmes. During her time at the University Essex (2013-2019) she held various roles including Head of the Management and Marketing group, and the grant holder for three externally-funded research grants focused on various aspects of inclusive growth, poverty alleviation, social innovation, value chain and hybrid social enterprises. In summer 2019 she moved to the University of Leeds to take up a Chair in Entrepreneurship and Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Studies.

Diane has published over 100 peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters and conference papers. She has over 4800 cites in Google scholar in areas such as the role of business in development, social, entrepreneurship, green supply chain management and sustainability discourse. She has won over £800K of external funding with grants from the ESRC, NRF (South Africa), British Academy, British Council, Newton Fund and Nuffield Foundation. She was the Principal Investigator on the ESRC funded Trickle Out Africa Project (TOA) which considers the impact of social and environmental enterprises on poverty alleviation and sustainable development across the 19 countries of Southern and Eastern Africa. The online Directory now lists over 4000 social purpose ventures. Honours linked to this work include nomination and short listing as a finalist for the 'Outstanding Academic Study in Development' category of the International Development Awards - All Party Group on International Development (May 2013).

She was also the PI for the South Africa Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship PhD partnership in associations with Wits, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan and Pretoria Universities and held a Newton Advanced Fellowship exploring value chains in producer communities in the Amazon in Brazil. She was recently awarded a Newton Fund Impact Scheme award to continue impact activities based on the team’s fieldwork in Brazil and will be working in partnership with UFAM.

Other recent activities include contributions to the youth social entrepreneurship United Nations expert meeting in December 2018; keynote speaker at the Social Enterprise World Forum Academic Symposium held in Glasgow (September 2018); speaker, facilitator and pre-colloquium workshop organiser at Social Enterprise Colloquium Pretoria South Africa organised by Luven, Rutgers and Pretoria Universities; panel speaker at Impact!Social Enterprise 1st world event (organised by Ashoka/British Council) held in South Africa in June 2018; and keynote speaker at the ISDG and Sustainable Supply Chains in the post-global economy International Symposium held at Royal Holloway University of London. She also authored the United Nations report on Youth Entrepreneurship published in 2020.

She is also a member of the ESRC & GCRF Peer Review College, the British Council Newton Fund Social Science Panel, a Marie Curie expert reviewer, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


  • Director - Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies

Research interests

Diane is recognised internationally for her research activities. She has a broad focus on the role that enterprises (commercial, non-profit, social, hybrid) in both the formal and informal economy can play in sustainable development and poverty alleviation. She explores these organisations, their stakeholders and beneficiaries and various interactions with environmental and social issues especially in low-income contexts in the developing world. In particular her work explores various processes, decision making, use of innovations and strategy in such enterprises, as well as their impacts on communities and the natural world. In the case of her informal economy work this focus is on their reactive natures, their strategic gaps, links with the formal and role in livelihoods for millions in poverty. She is amongst the leading international scholars on hybrid social enterprises and businesses based in the informal economy (primarily in subsidence markets).  Her work on the institutional and cultural-cognitive factors influencing hybrid firms in sub-Saharan Africa is on the cutting edge of narratives emerging in this field.  

Her Trickle Out Africa Project (ESRC First Grants Scheme (Feb 2011 - April 2013)), was the first to profile social and environmental enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa and remains the primary source of public information on a large number of these 

Other awards included:

- Newton Fund Impact Scheme – Brazil (May 2020- April 2022)

- British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship - Brazil (Sept 2016 - Aug 2019), “Inclusion and formalization of Amazonian informal entrepreneurs into MNC value chains-mechanisms, partnerships and impacts”

- ESRC- NRF PhD Partnering Programme – South Africa (Nov 15 - Oct 18), “South African PhD Partnering Network for Inclusive Growth through Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship - The SASIE Programme and Network”. In partnership with university of Witwatersrand (Wits), University of Pretoria and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan

- Exploring the use of a low-tech tool for conservation agriculture: A Field Experiment in Kenya”. Ongoing field experiment set in 41 subsistence farms in near Mount Kenya. 

- British Council Researcher Links Workshop South Africa (5 days Sept 14), “Development through Enterprise - Inclusive and sustainable futures through entrepreneurial initiatives and cross-sector partnerships”. Partnership with the University of Cape Town, Bertha Center for Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship ""

-  Nuffield Small Grant (2009), “What future for green small businesses? Tracking the longitudinal evolution of ecopreneurial businesses from the 1990’s”




  • PhD (Management) Middlesex University 2005
  • MSc Environmental Management, University of Stirling, 1993
  • BSc (Hons) Environmental Science, 1991

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy

Student education

Areas of teaching interest include:

- social entrepreneurship

- supply chains

- sustainable management

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies