How Can Companies Develop Systems That Drive Commercial Innovation With Social Impact?

[Hester Le Roux], Challenge Director, Business Fights Poverty.

We are delighted to launch our new Intrapreneurship Systems Challenge, with support from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and CEMEX, and in partnership with The League of Intrapreneurs, to explore how we can create an enabling environment that will systemise social innovation and intrapreneurship.

As a community of individuals convinced of the potential for business to have a positive impact on people and planet, we are very encouraged to see a growing number of inspiring corporate initiatives that put social impact at the heart of commercial innovation. Driven by a growing band of ‘intrapreneurs’ – social entrepreneurs working inside established organisations – these initiatives are delivering real impact and helping business enhance their contribution towards meeting the Global Goals. Our recent Challenge on Social Innovation showcased a handful of great examples of social innovation, including Barclays’ Social Innovation Facility, CEMEX’s Patrimonio Hoy initiative and Pearson’s Tomorrow’s Markets Incubator. Among the Challenge outputs were a series of practical tip sheets and how-to videos aimed at supporting intrapreneurs, which can be downloaded here.


But what will it take to turn these examples from one-off, exceptional stories of success-against-the-odds into a widespread trend where social innovation becomes commonplace and business-as-usual? Where should companies focus their investment to help intrapreneurs flourish throughout the business and bring multiple innovative ideas to fruition? What does a supportive intrapreneurship ecosystem look like? How do we create an enabling environment that will systemise social innovation and intrapreneurship, allowing business’s social impact to be truly transformative at scale?


These are some of the questions we will consider during the next Business Fights Poverty Challenge, that we are launching with support from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and CEMEX. We are delighted to host this Challenge in partnership with The League of Intrapreneurs, the global learning community for intrapreneurs driving innovative solutions to address pressing societal and business challenges.


The Challenge will bring together a core group of experts from our business, NGO and research communities, creating a collaborative platform for mutual learning. Over the course of the next six months, we will curate a series of workshops in the UK, Mexico, Brazil and Germany where seasoned practitioners can share their stories of success – and, equally importantly, of failure. Collaborating with leading academic researchers in the field, including David Grayson, Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management, we will use these interactive sessions to identify common features of successful and impactful projects and distil from these the building blocks of an enabling intrapreneurship ecosystem.


Work on developing a framework for such an ecosystem has already started. Our ‘living framework’ draws on decades of experience from our teams developing social innovation and intrapreneurship inside major corporations around the world. We have begun testing this framework with our wider community of intrapreneurs and subject experts to understand gaps as well as how we might usefully apply the insights from such a framework to help teams and organisations create thriving social innovation ecosystems. Sign up for the Challenge here , to add your insights and examples. We will continue to finesse this living framework and to enrich it with real-life examples, practical tips and useful resources as the Challenge progresses.


In common with all Business Fights Poverty Challenges, the opportunity to engage with peers, experts and stakeholders will be a key output of the process. In addition, we plan to co-create a practical tool for individuals within large companies and other organisations who are developing system-level initiatives to spur and sustain commercial innovation with social impact, and for any organisation wanting to build an intrapreneurial culture and supportive ecosystem. Through our collaborative Challenge process, we hope to help organisations codify and share tools, processes and techniques for incentivising and supporting internal commercial innovation with social impact.


We recently kicked off the Challenge with a one-day private workshop at Eynsham Hall in Oxford on 9 March 2018. The event brought together innovators from across the range of multinational corporations, smaller businesses, academia, the armed forces and a number of intrapreneurs-at-large. The purpose of the workshop was to draw on participants’ collective experience and insights to identify key elements of a supportive enabling environment and to learn more about works and what doesn’t. A number of case studies were shared from business and other sectors, showcasing both successes and failures, and various models of intrapreneurship promotion were explored in an effort to understand what is needed to move on from individual examples of success to engendering more systemic change. Key messages from the day’s discussions have been incorporated into our living framework. We will continue the process of extracting key messages from each of our Challenge workshops and use these to keep enhancing and refining the framework.


Are you a social innovator working inside an organisation to get a potentially transformative idea off the ground? An intrapreneur faced with systemic barriers? Or a business wanting to foster social innovation within your own organisation? An international finance institution interested in helping create an enabling intrapreneurship ecosystem throughout a sector or economy? If so, we invite you to join our learning community and sign up to this Challenge.


We also are seeking a few, progressive organisations to join us as Challenge Partners. As a Partner, you will help set the direction of our research, join an incredible learning community of peers, be featured in our media outreach, public events and outputs and have the opportunity to work with our team of experts to apply Challenge insights to address your organisation’s priorities. Interested? Please contact Zahid at Business Fights Poverty or Maggie at the League of Intrapreneurs, who can share more about the benefits of becoming a Challenge Partner.

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