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Four Tips to Foster "Intrapreneurship"

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As the world's business, government and non-profit leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting, it was clear that the concept of social "intrapreneurship" has made its way from the academic and non-profit world into the C-suite. However, while a growing number of top executives are focusing their attention on social intrapraneurship, many still wonder "what makes someone a social intrapreneur as opposed to a social entrepreneur?"

In a wide-ranging discussion on the topic during a Thursday morning panel session, several insights emerged that showcased the value that is being placed by business on social intrapraneurs -- the internal change makers or innovation forces -- who have the ability to innovate and drive growth.

First, it's important to note that social intrapreneur is not a job title. No one leaves college or university to become one. It's a role that lacks a clearly defined job description. Social intrapreneurs are two-thirds change maker, one-third trouble maker. And, companies that embrace the power of these intrapraneurs to think differently and innovate have significant opportunities to leverage their passion and benefit the business.

One of the most highly acclaimed examples of the power of social intrapreneurship is Vodafone's M-PESA mobile banking business. The idea of using mobile phones as bank accounts for the un-banked in Kenya was not born in the corporate boardroom. It was the brain child of a middle manager in the marketing department, Nick Hughes, who came up with the concept and brought it to the attention of those who could advance its development, both inside and outside the company. Seven years into the program, a thriving M-PESA business now delivers socio-economic benefits for Kenya and business benefits for Vodafone.

Therein lies the key to social intrapreneurship. It is not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It is a business growth initiative that tears down barriers and embraces the passionate ideals and innovation of the millennial generation now flooding into the workplace. It is a concept that captures the zeitgeist of young people who care less about making a fortune on Wall Street and more about making a difference on Main Street.

For organizations that aspire to leverage the rare win-win of business benefit with social good in 2013, four key takeaways have emerged as guideposts for developing an effective social intrapreneurship program:

• The role of leadership is key: In the early stages of an innovation program, leadership must provide the air cover required to protect bottom-up ideas. As the best ideas mature, they must be promoted within the organization and embraced from the top down.

• Harness the troublemaker: Social intrapreneurs are at their core different from their peers. They march to a different drum beat and their passions fuel both their personal and work lives. Having a culture that both nurtures the change maker's innovative spirit but also harnesses the troublemaker's enthusiasm and energy to break molds and achieve where others have come up short will return significant rewards.

• Realize the retention value: For the social intrapreneur, making a difference is often equal to making money. For organizations that embrace the value of providing "bottom up" channels for creative business solutions that provide social good, the long term benefits for retaining your best innovators cannot be understated. Simply put, for the millennial generation, making a difference matters.

• Base decisions on the Business Case: Even for the most passionate social intrapreneurs, the numbers still matter. Innovations that pull on the heart strings as opposed to the levers of business value are unlikely to be sustainable or scalable in the long run

And for employees. playing on one of Gandhi's most famous quotes: "Be the change you want to see in your company." You don't have to wait until you get to the top to make a difference in your company and in society at large.