Social Intrapreneurship — Creating Change From the Inside

No, it’s not a typo! Entrepreneurship and INTRApreneurship are certainly related, but with an important distinction: while social entrepreneurs establish separate enterprises to create social good, social intrapreneurs create that social good from inside an existing entity.

Entrepreneurship vs. Intrapreneurship

What is Social Intrapreneurship?

Steve McCreadie, Founder of the social enterprise The Lens, defines it this way:

Social intrapreneurship (noun): Successful adaptation of entrepreneurial attitudes and strategies inside of a bureaucratic organization

While the concept isn’t new, Steve argues that intrapreneurship is needed now more than ever. Most organizations are so busy delivering today that they aren’t focused on transforming tomorrow, and our ‘corporate immune systems’ are very adept at killing off new ideas.

Intrapreneurship is a way to drive innovation in even these seemingly unlikely environments. Steve shares ways we can nurture these intrapreneurial skills from the stage at TedxGlasgow:

What is a Social Intrapreneur?

Social intrapreneurs are employees that start initiatives within existing institutions — corporate, education, public, or nonprofit — that create social and/or environmental good, while moving the institution’s mission forward. They use existing infrastructures and organisational capabilities as levers to deliver social value on a large scale.

Profile of a social intrapreneur

According to SustainAbility’s Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers, the employees who are able to do this successfully share the following traits:

  • They are more ambitious for social change than for personal wealth and advancement
  • They are willing and able to take risks
  • They have an understanding of business processes and priorities as well as sustainability imperatives
  • They balance tactical and strategic skill-sets
  • They are adept at fighting and surviving cynicism, caution and the status quo
  • They work across sectors, business units, and skill sets
  • They never stop learning, innovating, and simplifying

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.

- George Bernard Shaw

The History of Social Intrapreneurship

The term “intrapreneurship” first appeared in a white paper titled “Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship” in 1978, written by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot for the Tarrytown School for Entrepreneurs. That paper generated a conversation and rigorous debate that led the Pinchot’s to publish a book on the same topic, Intrapreneuring: Why you don't have to leave the corporation to become an entrepreneur, in 1985.

The Intrapreneurship Initiative catalogues how the term gained traction after the book was published, appearing in Time Magazine that same year and again in Newsweek in 1986 when Steve Jobs used it to describe the Macintosh team. In 1992, the term was added to the American Heritage Dictionary, and less than ten years later the first Intrapreneurship Conference was held in London in 2011.

Three years later, Forbes magazine declared the social intrapreneur ‘2014s Most Valuable Employee.’ The adoption of intrapreneurial initiatives within large companies has taken off since then, and the term ‘intrapreneurship’ has continued to evolve as its been popularized by mainstream culture.

Getting Started as a Social Intrapreneur

From our work helping some of the world's most admired brands launch, scale, and/or optimize social impact programs, we’ve learned a few things about what it takes to drive change from within.

In our Guide to Social Intrapreneurship, we've combined our lessons with leading frameworks and resources to help you identify ideas, get buy-in, and create lasting change. Download our guide by by submitting the form below to:

  1. Learn the 5 steps to scaling impact at your company
  2. See real-world examples from leading corporations
  3. Access templates to help you take the first steps
  4. Understand the frameworks you’ll need to drive change
  5. Learn how you can get the experience you need to create change at your organization

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.

- William Pollard

Social Intrapreneurship Resources

Introduction to Corporate Social Intrapreneurship
Introduction to Corporate Social Intrapreneurship

8 Must-Read Books for Intrapreneurs
8 Must-Read Books for Intrapreneurs

Want to launch a CSR program at your company? Show, don't tell
Want to launch a CSR program at your company? Show, don't tell

SustainAbility's Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers
SustainAbility's Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers

Advice from 20 Career Coaches on Finding More Meaning at Work (Without Changing Jobs)
Advice from 20 Career Coaches on Finding More Meaning at Work (Without Changing Jobs)

Innovation by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires 'courageous patience.'

- Warren Bennis

Examples of Intrapreneurial Innovation

Accenture's not-for-profit consulting group

Gib Bulloch shares his personal story of how he became the Founder and Executive Director of Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP), a ring-fenced not-for-profit consulting group within Accenture, whose clients include many of the major international NGOs and development agencies.

Microsoft's internal carbon fee

Tamara diCaprio at Microsoft launched a new reporting practice that makes every business unit fiscally accountable for its energy consumption by charging a carbon fee. The proceeds of those fees then go into a fund for purchasing renewable energy and carbon offsets. The results speak for themselves - in the first 3 years alone, Microsoft reduced company-wide emissions by 7.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mtCO2e) through investments in efficiency, green power, and carbon offset community projects.

Vodafone's M-PESA Mobile Money Transfer Service

Two middle managers from Vodafone and Safaricom launched the mobile payment product M-PESA from within their established companies in 2007. As of 2012, M-Pesa had over 17 million customers, many of whom previously did not have bank accounts.

Nick Hughes, one of the original team who created M-PESA, talks about how the mobile money transfer platform emerged and quickly took off in Kenya. He also discusses his latest venture, M-KOPA, a start-up that finances solar energy lighting for low income households In Kenya.

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