Tor many people who want to solve pressing social and environmental problems, founding a social enterprise is the strategy of choice. The lure of establishing an organization that uses market mechanisms to achieve its mission is substantial. Our data show that MBA students are flocking to classes to learn the art of social entrepreneurship. Over the last five years there has been a substantial increase in the number of leading business schools offering courses to meet this demand.
But there is another way to tackle these problems and find meaning in work. Some innovative and determined professionals working in world’s largest and most complex corporations are choosing to stay put and use their corporate platforms to lead change. They are a new breed of business professional — the social intrapreneurs. They are finding creative — and in many cases disruptive — ways to tackle some of society’s toughest problems and create long-term value for their companies as well.
The men and women who choose this path have diverse expertise and job responsibilities: marketing, leadership development, communications, operations, new business development, purchasing. Some have decades of experience in their industry. Some are recent graduates. What all have in common is a vision about possibilities. They see opportunities others do not for their companies to operate in ways that serve multiple constituencies — shareholders, employees, communities, and the planet. And they dare to take action.
In the First Mover Fellowship Program at the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, we have a chance to work with exceptional social intrapreneurs in businesses around the world and to study the innovations they are piloting in their companies.
Take James Inglesby at Unilever, for example. James is using his expertise as a chemical engineer to develop new business models for base-of-the-pyramid consumers. Suzanne Ackerman-Berman at Pick n’ Pay in South Africa is leading an innovation lab to help small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs become reliable suppliers to the retail industry. Dawn Baker at Dow is revamping leadership development offerings to ensure they mesh with their company’s sustainability objectives. Matt Ellis at CBRE, a global leader in real estate services, is designing financing structures that will provide capital for clients’ energy efficiency initiatives. At the cloud-computing company VMware, Nicola Acutt is running technical service projects to tap into the creative energy of talented employees to solve social problems and uncover business opportunities.
All these business professionals are using their institutional savvy, their personal credibility, their determination, and their deeply held sense of purpose to lead the changes they envision. In the fellowship program, we get to observe the passion these individuals bring to the possibilities they see ahead of them. We watch as they work around institutional constraints and build a network of colleagues who are eager to help. We see how they persist when the going gets tough, and we marvel at the humility they bring to the work they undertake. Intrapreneurs know they can’t get to the goal by themselves, but they also know that if they don’t lead the change, others may not have the opportunity or foresight to get on board.
Do they always succeed in these endeavors? Certainly not. Social intrapreneurs know they won’t always get it right the first time. They have to embrace the possibility of failure and be ready and willing to learn from their efforts and try again. Their ideas for products, services and management practices may not survive market tests. Moreover, they encounter plenty of roadblocks which can slow down or completely derail any project: organizational apathy (or worse, antipathy), financial constraints, inevitable corporate restructurings, economic disruptions, organizational cultures that are slow to adapt or are singularly focused on meeting a quarterly financial target.
But certainly the hurdles social intraprenurs face are no greater than those encountered by their social entrepreneur counterparts. And intrapreurial visionaries have a distinct advantage. They know that if they can prove their concepts and get colleagues on board, they will have a chance to tap into the deep and global resources that multinational corporations have to offer. Moreover, they can harness the drive to win that characterizes companies competing on the world stage today. And if these social intrapreneurs are really good, they have a shot at changing the success metrics not only for their company but for their industry as a whole.
In other words, they are able to make a real difference. An increasing number of mission-driven, innovative professionals are finding they can’t resist this opportunity.
“Serving Leadership Through Ministry”
Phone: (914) 297-8501 (24 Hours)
Crystal Key Ministries – Event Listings
Subscribe to Crystal Key Ministries Updates Via Email
Make A Donation Today
Find us on FaceBook and Twitter for the latest updates.