The inaugural 3-day Intrapreneur Lab offered a unique and intimate insight into the minds of today’s leading ‘social intrapreneurs;’ the enterprising individuals working on the inside of large corporations to create innovative business solutions that drive social change.
Of course, entrepreneurial employees with noble motives have been part of large companies for years, but increasingly, the large corporations of today are supporting social innovation from within.
Bringing together pioneers of this emerging movement with aspiring future social innovators from Barclays, Novartis and GSK, the Intrapreneur Lab kicked-off as an experimental meeting of minds at the Said Business School, Oxford.
Amongst those who shared their intrapreneurial story with Lab participants were mobile banking pioneer Nick Hughes of M-PESA and M-KOPA, Dr Graham Simpson of GSK, and Amit Mehra, creator of Reuters Market Light.
Here are some common themes that emerged from their journeys:
- Find your ‘holy discontent’. Find the thing that really excites you. If water scarcity doesn’t float your boat but women’s empowerment does then focus your energies on that. You’ll be able to recognise your passion, because it evokes some emotion inside of you. Then understand what your unique skills are and what your long-term journey could be to make an impact through a profit-making model.
- Commit to the fact you’ve chosen a long and unconventional path. Reflecting on his work with Coca-Cola, Adrian Ristow said, “I was clear very early on that my career path would be an unconventional one. Entrench that in your spirit, and become at ease with the messiness.” He also advised taking a long-term view, as chances are you may not be able to implement your plans instantly and there will be many twists and turns along the road.
- Explore the link between your passions and the passions of your CEO. Positive politicking is finding people who share a common goal. Back off if the chemistry isn’t right for pitching a certain idea, and understand at every step what matters to the person you’re talking to.
- It all boils down to innovation. “I struggle to separate social innovation from innovation, its just about finding better ways to do things as a business,” said Nick Hughes. A social intrapreneur is a serial ‘problem-solver,’ always thinking about customers and finding ways to do things better.
- Become a great storyteller. Every successful social intrapreneur shared the importance of being able to articulate the vision of your idea very clearly to the right people at the right time, to the right audience.
- Find a godparent. Find people to support you when the inevitable problems arise. It doesn’t need to be the most senior person in the organisation but someone who can back you and prevent your idea from being snuffed out.
- Keep challenging the status quo, even though you may work in an environment with rules, procedures and established ways of doing business. You are likely to face significant internal stumbling blocks inside a huge corporation, but the opportunity to take your socially viable business idea to scale is immense.
- Rarely are there epiphany moments where things fall out of the sky. Find a way to get going, but expect to make mistakes – many of today’s intrapreneurs spent years developing and adapting their ideas, and are great believers in piloting and experimenting. It takes persistence and ingenuity.
Milan Samani is Director of Leadership Laboratories & was Course Director of the first Intrapreneur Lab 2013.
The Intrapreneur Lab is a collaboration between Business Fights Poverty, Leadership Laboratories and Accenture Development Partnerships. Last week’s Intrapreneur Lab was hosted by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Said Business School, University of Oxford. The three days in Oxford with thought-leaders and successful intrapreneurs, will now be followed with 3 months of coaching, consulting and networking.
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If you would be interested in participating in a future Intrapreneur Lab, please email us.