Social entrepreneurship is a path I’ve chosen, embraced, and continue to relish. But it begs the question: Is the only viable path to social impact achievable by resigning from Big Corp and starting one’s own social enterprise?
While that is certainly my bias, I do recognize that it’s not for everyone.
Effecting change from within corporations
Lately, there seems to be another option emerging, and it’s called “social intrapreneurship.”
SustainAbility, in partnership with IDEO and the Skoll Foundation actually released a very informative report entitled “The Social Intrapreneurs : A Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers”.
While Social Entrepreneurs drive impact by starting something entirely new from scratch, Social Intrapreneurs try to effect change from within their large-scale corporations—and upon succeeding, achieve a level of scale that will admittedly take social enterprises much more time to get to.
The report actually proposes working definitions of this new animal, the Social Intrapreneur :
1. Someone who works inside major corporations or organizations to develop and promote practical solutions to social or environmental challenges where progress is currently stalled by market failures.
2. Someone who applies the principles of social entrepreneurship inside a major organization.
3. One characterized by an “insider-outsider” mindset and approach.”
There are quite a number of interesting examples of such people in the report. Whether that be Luis Sota of CEMEX which developed Patrimonio Hoy, an initiative to develop and deploy low-income housing for Mexican consumers; Dan Vermeer of Coca-Cola who channeled his passion for sustainability and the environment into their corporate supply and value chains; Unilever’s Vijay Sharma who developed Project Shakti, which supports woman entrepreneurs to educate and market their products in rural areas.
There are several more inspiring examples, and if you are in a similar position, working in a large corporation but daydreaming of enabling social impact, I highly encourage you to download and read the full report.
Social Intrapreneurs vs Social Entrepreneurs
From my point of view, going into Social Intrapreneurship might be a viable option for a lot of people who want to change the world but either don’t want to leave their day jobs or are more comfortable working in a large corporate setting.
There really are people who will be more attuned to this path, especially since navigating the start-up world vis-à-vis the corporate world requires a different set of skills between a Social Entrepreneur (SE) and a Social Intrapreneur (SI).
Let me run through some of the potential divergences:
1. In starting out: An SE needs to contend with starting with very minimal resources; On the other hand, a Social Intrapreneur can gain access to large resources. An SE must bootstrap, improvise, raise funds, work out partnerships; the SI has to lobby internally to strategic stakeholders to gain the go signal in exploring the social business opportunities.
2. In developing the Social Business Model: A Social Entrepreneur will mainly be focused on developing something sustainable and scalable – code-speak for a lot rapid experiments; A Social Intrapreneur will also be conducting a lot of experiments, but the ideal model that should emerge is one which synergizes and enhances the core business objectives of the company. As such, the output is a business case that will be pitched to management for more widespread adoption.
3. In scaling-up: A Social Entrepreneur will be focused on raising more resources, whether investments, debt, or grants, funds are needed to deploy and spread the social impact. The Social Intrapreneur, armed with a successful business case, will be able to deploy more rapidly as he gains the approval and the budget to deploy across the company, thus ensuring built-in scale.
Divergent paths, same direction
Regardless of the potential differences in approach between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur, both kinds of people are headed towards the same direction.
As such, this is actually pointing us towards a new kind of synergy and partnership—the powerful combination of social entrepreneurs working hand-in-hand with social intrapreneurs.
And as somebody on the side of the former, let me tell you that this paints a very exciting terrain in the emerging future: a future wherein we can achieve our collective dreams of driving impact and creating a better world.