Social Intrapreneurship: Social Enterprise from the inside out

In April, I represented AlphaSights at the 2019 Skoll World Forum, through an event co-hosted by our social impact partner Acumen, and Business Fights Poverty. During this packed day of interesting lectures, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities, I took away many key points that apply to the work we do here at AlphaSights.

A major theme throughout the day was partnerships and their importance for the future of both impact investing and social enterprises across public/private/NGO stakeholders. A particularly important point was raised by the Head of Food Security and Advocacy at Bayer, Ronald Guendel who evoked the importance of a win-win-win equation whereby all relevant stakeholders benefit from an economically and socially sustainable model through “teamwork and commitment along the entire food value chain” (see this article for more).

This concept was taken one step further when deep diving into social ‘intrapreneurship’ in the workshop led by Justin DeKoszmovsky. Social intrapreneurship was a completely new phrase to me and I must admit at first I thought might be a typo for entrepreneurship! This was essentially discussing how individuals can transform social initiatives within large corporations, exceeding traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

“Social intrapreneurs help their employers meet sustainability commitments and create value for customers and communities in ways that are built to last. Traditional business models are under pressure from disruptive technologies, low growth in established markets, and challenges in developing and emerging markets, and some companies see social intrapreneurs as one way to stay competitive.”

In a simpler framework, Justin’s workshop essentially debated four steps within social intrapreneurship development:

  1. Creation: A key individual creates a social initiative that may resemble a CSR effort, or as an ‘extra’ that’s separate from the companies key objectives.
  2. Momentum: The idea is spread and becomes an established pillar with greater involvement, but is still an ‘extra’ to the organization’s goals.
  3. Institutionalization: The initiative becomes institutionalized or a business unit with targets, KPIs, and a dedicated team.
  4. Transformation: The initiative becomes the organization. Social impact issues become entrenched within the company’s key objectives and the line between “social” efforts and the company’s goals are no longer separate.

Essentially, I could see the progression of AlphaSights’ social impact business unit Knowledge For Good following this path: from AlphaSights alumni Courtney Bell coming up with the idea late one night, to the creation of a grassroots initiative, to its current establishment as a formal business unit with a full-time social impact manager, and dedicated account managers. Finally, our senior leadership is firmly committed to its future potential to collaborate in the impact investing sector.

Beyond AlphaSights, I realized the saliency of this topic across debates in many growing organizations. Ensuring a company’s long-term sustainability and motivating passionate individuals within the organization are key focuses across all sectors. For a growing number of corporate employees (especially millennials like myself) there’s often a degree of reconciliation, or even sacrifice, that has to be drawn between high-flying, well-paid corporate jobs and the social objectives that they’re interested in. The concept of social intrapreneurship sheds new light on this conundrum. With the promising future of impact investing and ever-increasing interest in sustainable and social ventures, the development of social impact within an organization – such as what we’ve built here at AlphaSights – can be key in reconciling the two.

Ruby Budd joined AlphaSights in September 2017 and served as an associate on our Client Service team in London

Blog and Media Center

Recent Posts