Intrapreneurship Clinic: How can we rally communities of support for game-changing innovation?

Recently I’ve been thinking about the power of entourage. Not the Hollywood bros kind. Nor the rapper’s crew. But the often invisible communities of support that exist behind every great person. What I’ve come to notice is that the most successful social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have masterfully gone about creating communities of support for their vision and ideas.

Entourage relationships transcend the weak ties offered by platforms like LinkedIN and Facebook. It isn’t about tweeting support or RTs. Entourage relationships are profound.

Andy Warhol had his factory. Gaga has her little monsters. But for social change agents, the entourage is equally essential for those trying to make change. It could be years – or decades even – before systems start to shift. Developing a supportive entourage where you surround yourself with people that bring you energy and “get it” is key. Your entourage is what gets you through darker times and plays a much-needed role in keeping you going when things appear stuck.

Let’s face it. We aren’t lone wolves. And corporations aren’t merely collections of individuals. Corporations are communities. Behind every business is an environment where people are looking to find connection, fulfillment and identity. And yet, within and across cubicles, it can often be so hard to connect on a human level. So how do we bust through? Outlined below are some questions to get us thinking differently about fostering communities to unleash game-changing innovation within big corporations.

1. What are important models of community that you have been a part of? How replicable / transferable are these to the 21st century corporation?

2. What tactics have you seen for reducing an initiative's dependence on one person / leader - and democratizing ownership of an idea or venture?

3. What sorts of systemic collaborations are you witness to - for example, between social intrapreneurs and social entrepreneurs or between social intrapreneurs and their counterparts in other corporations? How does this alliance building happen?

Editor's Note:

This Intrapreneurship Clinic is the third 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 the authors of the new Cubicle Warriors Toolkit, and other invited panelists. Each time, we will focus on a different element of the Tooklit.

Visit previous Intrapreneurship Clinics - on Making the Business Case for Social Innovation ( and Navigating the Politics of Your Corporate Ecosystem (

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As the founder of VOICES OF WOMEN WORLDWIDE & VOWW-TV, I agree with Alexa Clay creator of this Intrapreneurship Clinic ... which I just reviewed.

Well most women and young girls crave connection ... start off as lone sheep in wolves clothing and need to understand that corporation or any successful business confirms to become"communities" of like minded people ... seeking some kind of fulfillment and identifying with the flock. Agreed that within the cubicles, it is very hard to connect on a human level. So the following questions have led me to think ... aren't most of us aping these big associaitons, corporations fosting community as small business entrrepreneurs ... So far I have not seen real game changes ... just the sheep leading the rest astray ...

1. At VOICES OF WOMEN WORLDWIDE ... each member has a voice ... the website belongs to them ... they lead ... I have been of many women's communities in New York ... each hampering to be President, leader of the pack ... with no real knowledge of how to lead ... There is so much envy, jealousy and back-biting ... because women have no idea what it means to be a leader ... A leader is recognized as a leader by things said and done ... without any kind of domination of rules and regulations ... open acceptance to listen to any and all voices ... no matter how controversial ... JUST TO LISTEN to bring about changes ... leaders are formed within the groups by their actions ... their contribution of ideas ...

2. The tactics used to reduce initiative dependence of one person / leader must be understood - It is by democratizing ownership of creating ideas or ventures to be undertaken ... to be shared ... to be understood by all participants that is very important.

3. Systemic collaborations with one and all is very important - for example, the definition of social intrapreneurs and social entrepreneurs must be an open field of ideas ... shared responsibilities ... Bringing in more alliances to build a strong community of like minded people ... most busy at work and yet focused on what is expected of them ...

Life is too short to keep grasping for leadership ... women do not understand that ... the moment they are given some control ... they feel the power ... never having had the control ... they stand forth as leaders ... But there is much more in being a leader ... moving forward from strength to strength as a community ... with humility, compassion, forgiveness and being fearless to accept commitment ...

Welcome to this live Intrapreneurship Clinic! We're joined by a great panel to discuss how we can foster communities to unleash game-changing innovation within big corporations.

Let's kick off with the first question:

Q1. What are important models of community that you have been a part of? How replicable / transferable are these to the 21st century corporation?

Some of the best models that I’ve seen are outside business. I think corporations can learn a lot from the open source movement. Particularly in fostering openness and transparency and developing more peer-to-peer forms of engagement that gets out of corporate hierarchies.

Overcoming hierarchy within corporates for the purposes of game-changing innovation is key. Particularly in fostering allegiances between young newbie employees that are more idealistic in nature and senior legacy workers. So fostering community that bypasses middle management (“the clay layer”), to some extent, is important for social intrapreneurs.

The Finance Innovation Lab is a collaborative community model in itself, sharing common values of higher purpose, systems thinking and inspired action. The overall intention of the Lab community is to work together, systemically to bring about a finance system that better serves people and planet.

Our community model at the Lab is to work collaboratively in everything that we do. We bring together different voices from society interacting with the financial system (e.g. businesses, advocates, academia, creative industries, civil society and government) to discover, design and build new solutions for a finance system that could better serve wider society and the planet.

What we find working with model is that there is no fixed method and it is important to work fluidly and organically with the system and the community for it to co-create innovative and alternative solutions. We know that different communities have different purposes and require different ways of working however three key elements we consistently seek to include are: (1) creating trusting relationships and a safe space to collaborate, (2) engaging in honest, transparent dialogues, and (3) encouraging a mindset of listening and appreciating different perspectives.

For the 21st century organisation we see value in both individually and collectively being able to think systemically, empathise and work in a co-creative collaborative manner so that both people and organisations are better able to deal with the increasingly complex world we live in.

it's interesting because the Finance Lab is a safe space outside of the corporation that brings stakeholders together. But could you ever imagine that kind of lab being created within a corporation? a space of transparent dialogues, trust, listening etc?

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by models, but I have been involved in different kinds of communities, for example, communities of practice (common hobby, profession, political interests, etc.), communities based on a shared experience (alumni association), and communities based on place (i.e. a group centered around a given neighborhood). A 21st century corporation's community is a little bit of all of the above.

Technology (internet, social media, etc.) has changed the concept of space and place, so you can have communities of practice or shared experience that are distributed geographically, but connected with a shared purpose. Obviously online is still no substitute for face to face real world contact, but it does pose us with a key question in building community, of "how can we craft experiences to make geographically distributed communities more like a 'neighborhood'?"

I break down models of community for intrepreneurs into a simple (!) biforcation: is it a formal network (within or outside of the company) or is it an informal, organically formed group.

I know this isn't a sexy model, but it's the basis of 20th century networks - and 21st century networks tend to be a mix of the two. Organic, but supportered by the formal structure of some sort of social media.

and i guess a related question: why are corporations so bad at fostering community?

Building on that with more specifics, I spent a lot of time in my early career working with international email-based communities. For example, groups like, which now has millions of "members" on their email lists all over the world. It's basically a direct mail model, but on email. This kind of community is tied together with shared political views and a "brand identity," but it is very much a "hub and spoke" model. There is a core group of campaigners that set the agenda and broadcast their message out to members. There is less room for lateral peer to peer interactions.

On the other hand, we have seen other models that are more peer-to-peer and self organizing, like large open source software projects, or Wikipedia.

i feel like within the sustainability and CSR space there is an over-abundance of formal models. everything has a working group / committee. but informal models seem more improvisational and effective to me. how do you know which to employ?

This is a great question and one that I hear a lot of companies talking about. Innovation is driving them to demand collaboration but they are quite bad. I saw a recent statistic that 83% of CEO's value collaboration but 78% are very bad at it. Creating collaborative cultures of innovation is definitely an area to explore further.

Informal, organic = uncontrolable, which in 'older' models of corporate structure pose problems and threats. Of course we know this is an ecosystem which fosters innovation, and is actually unstopable. So i think fostering community so that there is a safe space of transparent dialogue takes very strong leaders.

I'm going to tie my response to this question with my point about "hub and spoke" broadcast models in the other thread.

Many corporations still communicate internally and externally in that broadcast way, which can create a certain kind of community, but it limits the range of participation. When models are more peer to peer, or self organizing, there is more appearance of chaos, but there is also more self-directed responsibility and potentially a greater sense of ownership.

Lee-Sean one thing we've talked about in the past, is the power of identity to community. if corporates want to foster interesting subcultures within their organizations - say a tribe of intrapreneurs - for example - how do they manage the identity piece? is it ok to have multiple identities within a corporation or does this lead to a sort of schizophrenia?

love it. with chaos comes self-direction and ownership!

Diane, I agree and this raises the question about what is required of leaders in the 21st century within organisations? Not only the senior top level leaders but cultivating leadership across all levels of the organisation to create more organic org cultures.

Some of the most ground-breaking models of community I've witnessed have been those created organically through a response to a perceived urgent need. Marshall Ganz ( writes of the spark of a social movement and strong community comes from our mental shift of an "elective" to "urgent" need.

So why is this relevant and what does it mean for intrapreneurs? I believe we're in very exciting period where people are demanding more of the companies where they work - they are seeking purpose and deep community in their occupation and beyond. This will translate to a demand for new resources and most importantly, deeper support networks in vocational domains.

It depends on the sought outcome. If one seeks a specific output - say a corporate code of conduct or recommendations for greening a building or even recommendations for product development - then a formal group can do the trick. Formal groups = (usually clearly) defined desired outputs. Informal, organic outputs seldom start with a common vision of what they want to achieve. They can be wilder, ranging and catalytic.

Alexa, I think for me this comes down to a few key elements. Fostering collaborative community requires clear purpose (above self interest and short-termism), mindset, and being able to deal with complexity. If you look at the traditional corporation, the culture, organisational structure, and incentives for driving behaviour do not lend easily to these attributes. To change this it requires a shift in the power dynamics and the way an organisation structures itself.