A Manifesto for Social Intrapreneurs

By David Grayson and Team, The Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility

A Manifesto for Social Intrapreneurs

We define social intrapreneurs as ‘people within a large corporation who take direct initiative for innovations that address social or environmental challenges while also creating commercial value for the company’. Social intrapreneurs are typically, “going against the grain,” challenging their organisation, questioning the status quo to develop and implement commercially attractive sustainability solutions. Hence another description: ‘corporate provocateurs’. Often, at least initially, their intrapreneurial activity is not part of their job. This is why some social intrapreneurs talk of their day job and their job that they do in their spare time at weekends and night-time: ‘moonlighting’ for their own employer!

To us, the work of social intrapreneurs and their colleagues embodies the best of what businesses can be – creators of both commercial value that sustains them and also social value that helps to sustain the world at large by addressing its biggest challenges. A decade ago one of us (David) wrote about how companies can maximize “corporate social opportunities.” Successful social intrapreneurs are particularly good at spotting such opportunities because they have acquired a deep knowledge of their business and have understood, as Peter Drucker said shortly before he died, that “every social issue and global problem is a business opportunity in disguise.” If you have that perspective, then encouraging social intrapreneurism as part of a wider drive on corporate social innovation makes good business sense.

The three of us have been investigating social intrapreneurism for five years now as part of a wider research agenda examining how companies engage their employees with sustainability issues as well as how innovation emerges in responsible companies. Over the course of our interviews with over 40 social intrapreneurs and their colleagues around the world, we have been humbled and inspired by their commitment and creativity. We wanted to build awareness of the idea that if you want to be a force for positive change in the world, you can do it from inside large companies. Indeed, this is a potentially very fruitful way to have a positive impact because, working with others (as jazz musicians do in an ensemble) you can harness resources on a much larger scale than trying to change the world by “soloing” on your own. As Social intrapreneurs, Gib Bulloch at Accenture explains: ‘Affecting even small change in large organisations can lead to significant positive social impact’.

Encouraging social intrapreneurism can be an important tool for recruiting and retaining younger employees. The 2014 Deloitte Millennials survey[1] has revealed that Millennials want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society.

While most Millennials believe business is having a positive impact on society by generating jobs (46 percent) and increasing prosperity (71 percent), they think business can do much more to address society’s challenges in the areas of most concern: resource scarcity (56 percent), climate change (55 percent) and income equality (49 percent). Additionally, 50 percent of Millennials surveyed want to work for a business with ethical practices. Millennials want to work for organizations that support innovation: 78 percent of Millennials were strongly influenced by how innovative a company was when deciding if they wanted to work there, but most say their current employer does not encourage them to think creatively. Almost one in four Millennials are ‘asking for a chance’ to show their leadership skills. Additionally, 50 percent believe their organizations could do more to develop future leaders. All of this speaks to businesses encouraging their potential social intrapreneurs.

We believe that social intrapreneurs represent the leading wave of a business transformation movement that could go ‘viral’ if companies are prepared to invest time and resources in their own ‘enabling environments’ for social intrapreneurism, join up their efforts in corporate responsibility coalitions, and work with governments and NGOs to achieve shared value for the benefit of their businesses as well as the wider societies in which they operate.

With so many urgent global challenges emerging – including over-population, poverty and inequality of access to financial, educational, nutritional and environmental resources, ill-health, political conflict – we felt that a manifesto for social intrapreneurs and for those inside and outside companies who want to encourage them is needed now, more than ever; and that is what we have set out to do in “Social Intrapreneurism and all that Jazz.”

Editor’s Note:

Social Intrapreneurism and all that Jazz” is published by Greenleaf Publishing on March 20th.

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