What can social intrapreneurs learn from social entrepreneurs?

It's been an important few days for social entrepreneurs. On 9 April, we'll found out the winners of the Ashoka Changemakers League of Intrapreneurs (the winners were profiled here) and from 10 to 12 April, the biggest social enterprise event of the year - the Skoll World Forum - took place in Oxford. Business Fights Poverty participated in both (and tweeted via @FightPoverty).

During Skoll, we moderated a discussion on "Leveraging Multinational Value Chains for Social Impact". As businesses look to engage poor people as consumers, producers, distributors and employees, new partnership opportunities emerge for social entrepreneurs. A summary of the discussion is posted below.

One of the big themes that seems to come up again and again (and which came up in the live discussion we held recently with Ashoka, ADP and Syngenta), is around understanding what social intrapreneurs (those driving change within large organisations) can learn from social entrepreneurs.

What do you think? What lessons can social entrepreneurs share with those working within large companies? How can social intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs connect in practical ways to drive impact at scale?

Please post your comments below!

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Dear Zahid


Entrepreneur: operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so

Intrapreneur: is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization

Although the "new" word "Intrapreneur" is derived from the word "Entrepreneur" and the difference in wording seems slight, from E to I. In reality the two, Entrepreneur and Intrepreneur, are two very different individuals. More like "chalk and cheese" or oil and water" or “fish and bird” and both speak different languages. Just because there is this “new title” for a “new product manager” namely " Intrapreneur” the individual is still a corporate thinking mind earning a pay packet. Whereas the true Entrepreneur takes on the financial risk.

Because some fish fly and some birds swim does not make the bird a fish or the fish a bird – This behaving like” is an “act” or “impersonation” . In my opinion “Fish cannot teach birds to fly”


An Entrepreneur

bless Wikipedia, here at Mix-Fits (http://www.mix-fits.org @mixfitters) we're not one for labels but hey lets go with the intrapreneur/entrepreneur thing & even social intrapreneur/entrepreneur..

Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs are indeed different. Wanting to be within an organisation - large or small is definitely one of them.

I would like to think there was an element of risk taking in intrapreneurialism (is that a word?) just by sticking your neck out within an organisation to get something done differently and doing it. Just a different type of risk taking to the one taken on by the entrepreneur.


Co-Founder of Mix-Fits

Point taken, maybe labels can also limit/put off who gets involved, its fun trying to explain these things without them though. I would definitely recommend the hangout..

I think maybe the issue is with the wikipedia definition of an intrapreneur 'behaving like an entrepreneur'.. maybe its more about having entrepreneurial characteristics with a difference and with different drivers etc.

The point of all of this is making a difference in society and the potential to scale social impact and if labels help that then labels it is

I moderated a discussion this afternoon at Skoll World Forum on “Leveraging Multinational Value Chains for Social Impact”. We had a very rich discussion, and this issue of making better connections between social intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs came up. Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:

  1. MNCs can bring value to social entrepreneurs in the form of the large markets represented by their value chains. At the same time, social entrepreneurs can help MNCs design and distribute innovative products and services to low-income communities.

  2. We need to build more peer-to-peer connections between intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, and also between intrapreneurs in different organisations. There is an important role for platforms and intermediaries to make these connections and raise awareness of specific partnering opportunities.

  3. There can be cultural barriers between social intrapreneurs and social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are often more focused on the innovative nature of an idea than its business case. There is an important role for those providing support for developing the business case.

  4. When looking for social entrepreneur partners, MNCs look for ones with a good strategic fit and the opportunities for a mutually beneficial relationship. We heard the example of Novartis using its distribution chain to support the roll out of Embrace Infant Warmer (http://skollworldforum.org/2012/03/29/building-corporate-partnershi…)

  5. There is growing interest among donors to “co-invest” alongside MNCs tackle development challenges, but there is an important role to build the connections at the country level between the profit objectives of the company and the development impact we are trying to achieve.

  6. Consumer-facing companies have been most active in this space, reflecting a clear ROI. A key priority is engaging more large national companies. This is particularly important around local sourcing and job creation.

  7. There is a deeper paradigm shift underway, with companies moving from a philanthropic/CSR perspective to an investment / core-business related perspective. There needs to be a deeper reframing of the issues - so rather than seeing this on a quarterly returns basis, we need to see the longer-term life cycle business benefits / cost-savings of tackling issues around health, education and gender inequality.

  8. Actions needed include:

    (a) An organisation like Skoll and/or WEF can play an important role in bridging the worlds of social intrapreneurship and social entrepreneurship.

    (b) Build a culture of intrapreneurship in companies and institutionalise this through recruitment, pay and performance incentives - so this does not have to rely on one CEO, who will move on eventually. This is all part of building an enabling environment for social intrapreneurs (In my last blog, I mentioned the Doughty Report published yesterday here: http://www.businessfightspoverty.org/profiles/blogs/league-of-intra…)

    © Build more company-to-company collaboration to have more systemic level change.

Very excited for this discussion tomorrow! One thing I've been thinking about is if intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs are really that different in terms of their skill set. I think it's somewhat of a false distinction to talk about intrapreneurs versus entrepreneurs in terms of skills and motivations, because I would imagine a successful entre/intrapreneur are more similar than different in the ways they approach challenges and are motivated.

What if we instead talked about the ways we could support individuals to make a difference no matter where they were coming from? And talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches for creating change?

Welcome to this discussion about what "social intrapraneurs" can learn from "social entrepreneurs". Over the next hour, we’ll be hearing from two people who have been thinking a lot about this issue - Katherine Bierce and Jeff Raderstrong. I also know that many members of the Business Fights Poverty will have a lot of experience developing new business models with social impact - either from within big organisations or as entrepreneurs. Please share your views!

Jeff - interesting point. Do you think there is enough out there right now to support these individuals? If so, what are your favourites?

I like that phrase: "Liaison." That's a great way to frame it. So in your mind do you see intrapreneurs as the entry point for entrepreneurs to work within (or with) businesses? Because in my mind, that would make them more of "connectors" rather than "creators."

Hmm...great question. I think there are a lot of great programs out there that support the "preneur" side of both intra/entrepreneurs, but I wonder how much is out there that supports that "intra" part. To Marzena's question below, I see that as really a "connection" activity, and I don't think there's enough out there to fully support those interested in simply making connections and finding similarities. (Of course, there are tons of affinity groups out there, but I don't think they focus enough on this intentional "network building" aspect.)

Laura Tomasko has written quite a bit about what she call "infrapreneurs"--infrastructure builders. I think this is an important part of this conversation: http://www.unsectored.net/tag/infrapreneur/

I believe one thing to remember is that the intrapreneur is not just working to come up with innovative ideas and changes for their organization, but also to create resources for others within the organizations or to bring new employees in.. this is how job generation within organizations can happen-- something so needed in todays economic climate. To follow this line, you must think like a social entrepreneur.. that your cause is not just financially motivated but socially motivated as well.. so more PEOPLE benefit not just the bottom line for the organization.

All very true!

As said earlier, social entrepreneurs can use help accessing new markets and getting to scale. Working with global companies with established distribution chains is one example of a good partnership. So the idea of the "intrapreneur as liaison" is a good one!

Very interesting discussion. I think intrapreneurs have a lot to learn from entrepreneurs and viceversa, as they are both agents of change dealing with an environment and ecosystem they want to transform to achieve better results. If entrepreneurs are leading the market shift towards new business models that are inclusive and aim at generating impact with economic/social and environmental results; intrapreneurs are the essential leaders that will help shift current corporations towards more sustainable and inclusive markets. Both of them share the challenge of transforming their environment, both of them have to innovate daily to achieve results, and thus, as Marzena and Victoria suggest, both aim at making a difference in society and scaling social impact. So.. maybe more joint dialog spaces between intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs for knowledge sharing?

Very true! Social innovation has to come from the heart if we want to get away from "business as usual."

So why call them intrapreneurs at all then? If their activities are good for their businesses, why not just say they are good managers and thinkers following best practices?

Totally agree Daphne--I think the true value in this entrepreneur/intrapreneur discussion is really about shifting corporate culture. The more we can get people in all types of organizations--big and small--to think more about the benefit to their broader communities (which can be global) the better.

people within an organisation know how it works as an organisation as well as any products and services that could be developed and/or serve different customers.

The intrapreneur could be looking at ways their own organisation could strengthen how it works & also what it works on. This could be a good link for social entrepreneurs running social businesses and trying to make links into organisations (of any size). Potentially more receptive to the social entrepreneur & recognition of the issues the social entrepreneur is aiming to address.

The could also be pushing the boundaries of their own organisation - with their idea and looking for like minded people to see that idea take off/grow. Where social entrepreneurs could collaborate

In either case the focus on societal return should be common driver/focus

big and small - absolutely

That's a great idea Fernando--the more dialogue the better. I think through this increased dialogue people will realize that the differences between entre and intrapreneurs are less than we think--which will break down a lot of barriers in all aspects of how we do our work and lead to more change.