An Introduction to Social Intrapreneurship

December 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm Leave a comment

We typically assume an entrepreneur is someone who founded a new organization, but some of the leading researchers on the topic argue that “starting a business is not the essence of entrepreneurship.” Instead, it is a focus on identifying and leveraging opportunities, creating positive change in the economy, and moving beyond the constraints imposed by a specific role or a lack of resources. [1] This means that entrepreneurs can be found in corporations, nonprofits, universities, and the government. To avoid confusion with those starting a new venture, entrepreneurs working inside an existing organization are known as “intrapreneurs” a term coined by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot. If intrapreneurial efforts are focused on creating social or environmental value, rather than just private value, they are social intrapreneurs

Photo by Grameen Intel

Photo by Grameen Intel

Grameen Intel, a social business formed in partnership between Intel Corporation and the Grameen Foundation, is an outstanding example of social intrapreneurship in a corporate setting. Founder and CEO Kazi Huque worked within Intel to develop a new organization that combines Intel’s technology expertise with Grameen’s social impact to create healthcare and agriculture software serving the rural poor in Bangladesh. Huque had to act as a true entrepreneur to develop the model, establish the partnership and secure internal funding for the new venture.

Central City Concern (CCC), a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon that works to end homelessness through housing, healthcare, and employment, has created an entire portfolio of internal social enterprises. From janitorial and street cleaning services to a bedbug-resistant bed frame and their own coffee brand, these businesses each serve a unique role in training and employing CCC clients, raising awareness for their mission, or generating income for the organization. CCC has even created, in essence, a specific role to manage social intrapreneurship: Director of Social Enterprises, a position currently held by experienced social entrepreneur Clay Cooper.

Photo by Central City Coffee

Photo by Central City Coffee

Portland State University recently launched an intrapreneurship challenge, reTHINK PSU, calling for innovative internal proposals to reimagine university education. One of the award winners was The Business of Social Innovation, an online program in social entrepreneurship developed by our Impact Entrepreneurs team. The program takes the innovative approach of welcoming professionals, undergraduate students, and graduate students into the same courses, which can be taken for academic credit or in pursuit of a professional certificate. The program therefore both teaches social intrapreneurship and is itself an example of social intrapreneurship in an academic setting.

As social intrapreneurship becomes increasingly recognized across sectors, a number of practitioner resources have been developed. The League of Intrapreneurs provides resources, connections, and stories of corporate social intrapreneurship. The Echoing Green foundation has developed a “Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers.” Net Impact, a global organization of sustainable business professionals, provides an intrapreneurship toolkit and sponsors yearly Impact at Work Awards.

Social entrepreneurship is not solely the domain of those launching a new company. No matter what type of organization you work in — corporation, nonprofit, government agency or academic institution — you can embody the principles of entrepreneurship to start something new and make a positive impact on the world as a social intrapreneur.

[1] Professor J. Gregory Dees, “The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship.”

By Jacen Greene, Program Manager, Social Enterprise Initiatives at Portland State University’s Impact Entrepreneurs

Entry filed under: Social Entrepreneurship, Social Entrepreneurship Certificate. Tags: , , , , .

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