Intrapreneurship Clinic: How can we make the business case for social innovation?

Have you spotted an opportunity to make positive change from inside your company? Are you trying to get decision makers to invest in your great idea? Frustrated that people don't seem to 'get it'?

Making the business case is a key first step in the life of a social intrapreneur. But, this is about more than just running the data. It's also about creating a compelling emotional case that will rally support from your decision makers.

Given the importance of 'the pitch' for social innovation, The League of Intrapreneurs has developed an entire toolkit dedicated to showcasing the tips and tricks used by successful social intrapreneurs in making the business case.

We hope this kit will inspire others to share their ideas for what works and doesn't when trying to drive change from within.

In particular, we're keen to hear your thoughts on questions like:

1. How can social intrapreneurs connect long-term visions with short-term business priorities?

2. What are effective methods for creating space for experimentation and learning?

3. How can social intrapreneurs avoid being pigeonholed as 'CSR' - i.e. philanthropy or tangential to the business?

Editor's Note:

This Intrapreneurship Clinic is the first in a 5-part series with the League of Intrapreneurs. Twice a month, members of Business Fights Poverty will have the opportunity to engage with Maggie De Pree, a lead author a the new Cubicle Warriors Toolkit, and other invited panelists. Each time, we will focus on a different element of the Tooklit.

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Welcome to this live forum discussion! Maggie and our great panel will guide us through a conversation around the first in a series of toolkits from the League of Intrapreneurs; this one looking at making the business case for social innovation.

So let's start!

Q1: How can social intrapreneurs connect long-term visions with short-term business priorities?

The biggest insight emerging from our conversations with intrapreneurs is that to connect your idea with the business - requires BOTH an analytical business case as well as an emotional case. So, do the math on your idea - the potential for revenue or other tangible benefits, but also look at the emotional dimensions - surface protagonists and how these folks will benefit from your idea. Connect it to the history or the values of your organization.

Get people to have an emotional stake in your future vision - and they'll help make the case for you!

Another tip we've learned from intrapreneurs is: know when to operate above the radar and when to stay more in stealth mode. Some of your longer term vision may be too radical to 'out' early on - so stay pragmatic - surface the stuff that people are ready to work with, while also pursuing your long-term vision in the background.

I have also learned that if this is your first or one of your first projects it is always good to find more senior intrapreneurs and get them on your team. Give yourself the opportunity to learn fro

One other suggestion that works well for intrapreneurs is to find a sponsor who can give you air cover to pursue longer term experiments --- David Grayson refers to these people as 'godparents'. This seems to be an effective approach, but the risk is that you become someone's pet project. So, work to bring others on board quickly and democratize ownership of your idea.

What a great question, Zahid. It's definitely one of the biggest challenges for change-makers (in my humble opinion). This is especially pertinent for publicly owned companies beholden to shareholders.

Where I've seen intrapreneurs have the most success is when they can:

  • Articulate an inspirational long-term vision, and bring at least one, C-level champion into that aspirational future
  • Set clear and realistic expectations of what can be accomplished and when
  • Define at least a few, meaningful metrics for success in those early years, and communicate progress regularly

Outside of profit-interested shareholders, that need for short term success can often be supplanted by showcasing progress by any creative way you can.

Sometimes that feels nearly impossible, especially when trying to get a program off the ground, but if you can communicate an upward trajectory across some meaningful, early-stage metrics, it helps to give a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve. Breaking it off in bite sized chunks will also help leadership communicate these goals (and wins) to the rest of the company.

Many intrapreneurial projects are composed of a series of smaller projects. One thing that has worked for me is to divide the project into outcomes that I can show int he short-term and that add value to the company- kind of one product at a time. It is key to makes sure that these products are "affordable losses"- as has been mentioned by some of our contributors to the toolkit

Q1. How can social intrapreneurs connect long-term visions with short-term business priorities?


There are various needs in the short term. Cost of doing business , materials, labor and other fees exist in the short term. We are reminded of these daily or weekly. The long term vision ought to exist and step by step we move to those goals. The steps are in the short-term and the vision is the Land of Oz at the end of that yellow brick road. The Regional Sustainable Energy Center of Excellence (RSECE) in Africa is a good example.

Q2. What are effective methods for creating space for experimentation and learning?


RSECE is a consortium in the framework of a Type Two Partnership as suggested in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in South Africa. We are a consortium of governments, non profits (university and tax exempts) as well as for profit businesses. The profit motive is clearer when risks are reduced and a fair return on investment can exist. A profit after taxes paid into the government can also support the grants to non profit entities that ought to be in support of the business community which indirectly is their source of income. The university that is the beneficiary of the government programs and indirectly or at times directly the beneficiary of the for profit business can be directed to be more supportive. Often the system is gamed to maximize the university professor and grad students who benefit in patent protection based on access to expensive equipment paid for by the public, but also it can be argued get some benefit from those results.

Q3. How can social intrapreneurs avoid being pigeonholed as 'CSR' - i.e. philanthropy or tangential to the business?


CSR programs are important, but for a non profit a term has developed that fits them is a: Social Enterprise. Any earnings after the service is a retained earnings for growth of the service. For the for profit business a similar service or product can be intended as having a: Social Mission. A for profit business with a social mission can be very similar to the non profit and the profit can be used to expand their program as a means of growth to create a greater good.

One concrete example I can think of is something I have been working on for awhile- dont know how succesful I will be and its getting a Social Impact Bond in the Violence Prevention area. Since its a new concept inside the organization and also in the countries we work for, it was first necessary to design 3 intermediary projects to get there. First a conference to introduce the innovation and potential execution agencies. Then a project evaluating the social and financial viability of the interventions and now we will be moving towards discussing a potential social impact bond.

That's interesting, Maggie. You looked at lots of companies in developing your toolkit. Were some better than others in giving people space to thinking innovatively and longer-term? If so, how did the better ones do it?

Sidney - thanks for your really thoughtful ideas. I love the notion of grant-type funding for intrapreneurs. We heard recently from Nick Hughes - intrapreneur behind Vodafone's m-PESA - that this project would not have developed if it weren't for the £1 million in grant funding they received from DFID. Risk capital allows intrapreneurs to experiment beyond the confines of quarterly returns.

I think the companies that are better at this are the ones that have a values-based lens or moral compass they are using in addition to financial metrics. If it's just about quarterly returns and share price, then most intrapreneurial ventures are bound to failure - or short-term shelf life.

So, companies who have connected the dots between values/sustainability and the long-term health of their organization are ones where intrapreneurs can more easily plug in.

Another thought on this, Zahid, is that most intrapreneurs we spoke to 'create' the space rather than are 'given space'. I don't think most companies are yet in a place where they are actively cultivating intrapreneurship. This is - hopefully - the next phase of the movement!

Hi Sidney,
The RSECE is definitely a great example. Thank you for sharing. I will spend more time looking into it since I will start working with Africa in the coming months. The convergence of different sectors is key in most large-scale projects and it is something we are starting to explore since most of the projects we work with entail governments and NGOs. What we are still learning is how can CEOs create the right space for experimenting, learning and developing the right tools for intrapreneurs to do so. We are looking into the following:

1) Allow 5-10% of people's time for creative thinking( Design thinking- proposals etc);

2) Establish Innovation Funds that can provide seed capital for proto-types and to invest in projects with potential

3) Come up with very good metrics (establishing great baseline data from day 1) to show progress and results

Q2: What are effective methods for creating space for experimentation and learning?

It would be interesting to hear some examples - both from companies that are more conducive to thinking innovatively, and those that are less so.

Maggie- this is such a great example- and what we are learning is that there are ways for impact investors to have a significant role financing these ventures and acting as the FIRST LOSS investor. There are over 18 billion dollars invested in CSR activities by Fortune 500 companies a year. That money is not invested looking for any financial return. Mark Thornton from B4P is looking for innovative ways to invest these funds with a financial return that could then be used to finance social innovation in its early stages.

I am curious to learn about companies doing this well also as I see intrapreneurship often is a response to the lack of effective 'official' space-making!

That said, I think companies are starting to do some great work in the up front 'learning' process by sending employees out into the world through volunteer programs like 'PULSE PROGRAM' at GSK or 'One Young World' program at Shell or TIE - who is working with ad agencies. All of these programs expose employees to the issues facing society - from health, to poverty to environmental degradation. These individuals come back fired up to make change from within!

GSK has now developed a Pulse Lab - to help support intrapreneurial ventures emerging from the Pulse experience. Though it's still early days.

Companies like Barclays have set up social innovation funds and are actively seeking ideas that can be funded through this mechanism.

Heather might want to share what they are doing at Interface too.

Zahid- on your question of CSR and how intrapreneurs can avoid being pigeonholed as CSR/Philantropy I have been getting interest feedback on this question from CEOs from Latin America. I was recently at the Latin Trade Symposium- CEO Breakfast Roundtable in Miami and here is a summary of what I heard from them I put a similar question on the table:

1) CSR/Philantropy has been getting a bad rep lately and most feel it is not fair. CSR has been evolving and so has Philantropy. Both trends are moving towards becoming more sustainable and more integrated with the business case/focus of the company. There is a wealth of experience and support that intrapreneurs could tap into if they reached for the CSR department/ Philantropy branches of the company. Maybe collaborating with CSR and Philantropy partners is key to show results and establish a track record. Most likely they are the departments willing to finance your project in the first place. Kind of like friends and family for ENTREPRENEURS.

2) Some CEOs feel the distinction between CSR/Shared Value is going to merge and is merging and the distinction will cease to exist. And that it is important to look at resources within the organization in all departments and to NOT JUDGE one department vs another as being more instrumental and key to the productivity and profitability of the company. they are all part of the system.