The Intrapreneurship Ecosystem: Creating the Conditions for Social Intrapreneurs to Thrive

By Hester Le Roux, Business Fights Poverty

We are delighted to share a new guide that provides a framework for understanding the Intrapreneurship Ecosystem. Our intention with the guide is to contribute to the growing body of knowledge about incubating, scaling and replicating successful inclusive business models and social innovation.

As more and more companies commit to using their core business to help meet the Global Goals, the spotlight is falling on social intrapreneurs – those talented individuals working inside organisations to generate and develop innovative ideas for projects with social impact.  Much has been written about what makes an intrapreneur: the characteristics and attributes, the skill sets and mindset needed to challenge the status quo and think outside the box. Last year, Business Fights Poverty hosted a Challenge that explored what know-how social intrapreneurs need to help them create, develop, launch and scale up new initiatives with social impact.  That Challenge culminated in a series of short videos and practical tip sheets for social innovators, which are available to download here.  

This year, with our partners at The League of Intrapreneurs, we widened our focus beyond the individual intrapreneur to take in the bigger organisational systems within which they operate. We wanted to know: How can companies create a supportive environment for social innovation ideas to be generated, tested and taken to scale, while serving their core business interests. In short, what conditions do social intrapreneurs need to thrive inside an organisation?

To find an answer to these questions, Business Fights Poverty, The League of Intrapreneurs, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), CEMEX and The BMW Foundation undertook a six-month, collaborative process to understand the key components of the Intrapreneurship ‘Ecosystem’ – that complex set of processes, practices, resources and relationships which collectively serve to facilitate or inhibit intrapreneurship and social innovation.

Together, we hosted workshops around the world – from Berlin to Brazil – to better understand barriers to and enablers for social innovation and intrapreneurship. We ran online discussionsand learning sprints to capture the insights of our global communities and interviewed dozens of intrapreneurs, leaders and subject matter experts.  Weighing in from back offices and boardrooms, our global communities homed in on several internal and external factors that comprise the Intrapreneurship Ecosystem.  

Today we are delighted to share the product of these months of collaborative thinking, learning and creating: a guide that provides a framework for understanding the Intrapreneurship Ecosystem.  Our intention with the guide is to contribute to the growing body of knowledge about incubating, scaling and replicating successful inclusive business models and social innovation. The Intrapreneurship Ecosystem: Creating the Conditions for Social Innovation to Flourish in your Company’ will be launched at the Business Fights Poverty NYC 2018 event in New York on 24 September 2018.

The guide identifies four key components of the internal Intrapreneurship Ecosystem: Purpose beyond ProfitPeople as Change AgentsPower of We and the Generative Pipeline. It explains the ways in which each element can either serve to help intrapreneurship to flourish, or hinder the process of innovative ideas being generated, developed and scaled.  While the Intrapreneurship Ecosystem includes both internal and external factors, as well as those that cross company boundaries, the focus in this guide is on the internal ecosystem and specifically those factors a company can actively manage and act upon to encourage social innovation and support intrapreneurs.

For each of the four key components, we offer a set of guiding questions to help companies assess how they are performing in that area. We explore the primary tensions in each area that companies face when attempting to stimulate social innovation. And, finally, we share examples of how leading companies are working to proactively address these tensions and, in effect, redesign their companies from the top down and bottom up.

While much of the guidance is equally applicable to other organisations wishing to stimulate social innovation, from donors to NGOs, the primary intended audience is companies who wish to use their core business to increase their positive impact on society and the environment. We hope that the guide will be especially useful to intrapreneurs and managers responsible for stimulating or supporting social innovation inside established businesses, who want to ensure that their organisational culture and practical set-up provide the best environment for intrapreneurship to flourish.  

 This is a live project and we are continuing the exploration of this important question with our communities and relevant partners in person and online. Our intention is to build on the insights shared in the guide to collaborate with companies to create practical tools that will help them to unlock the human potential in their organisations to change the world.

 If you are interested in learning more or getting involved in a future phase of this work, please get in touch with Zahid Torres-Rahman at Business Fights Poverty (za***@bu*******************.org) or Maggie De Pree at The League of Intrapreneurs (ma****@le*******************.com)

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