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Our Insights 11 Aug 2011

Social Entrepreneur or Intrapreneur – We Need Both

By Tania Ellis

Although the concept of social entrepreneurship to many is much more appealing and sexy than mainstream commercial business, we need the power of both to push the field of socially responsible and socially innovative companies forward.

The new business revolution is, in fact, being driven both top-down from some of the world’s largest companies, and bottom-up from entrepreneurial activists and social changemakers. This is because hard-core business people are realizing that they can increase their profits by incorporating social responsibility as a part of their business strategy, and heart-core idealists are recognizing that the use of market methods gives them the opportunity to create even more social value.

To them there is no doubt: the blended value proposition of social, environmental and financial value all being parts of one essential value is the future way of thinking about value creation, as already promoted in CSR, social investing (SRI), venture philanthropy and indeed social entrepreneurship.

As a result, both are navigating in the cross-fields between business and humanism, although they have different aims and motivation for doing so, ranging from altruism to enlightened self-interest or pure profit-seeking. Together they are contributing to an increasingly powerful ‘business force for good’ that is not only changing the world – it is also changing the face of capitalism to a renewed version where profit is reconciled with our inner values.

With an accelerating convergence between what first-mover corporations are already doing, what mainstream companies are striving to do and what social entrepreneurs are showcasing in their field, there is a growing potential for fruitful ‘cross-fertilization’ through partnerships and upscaling of solutions.

Corporate Changemakers

When I did the research for my international book “The New Pioneers – Sustainable business success through social innovation and social entrepreneurship”:, __I came across SustainAbility’s groundbreaking 2008 report, __“The Social Intrapreneur: A Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers”:, which__ __made a lot of things click into place. The report offered the perfect term for the new breed of business managers who have emerged out of the bustling cross-field between mainstream corporations and social entrepreneur: the social intrapreneur.

Social intrapreneurs are corporate changemakers – leaders or employees who build their actions on inner values and apply the principles of social entrepreneurship by developing socially innovative solutions that have both ethical fibre and business potential for mainstream companies. Maybe even with a stronger effect because they – contrary to the social entrepreneurs – have access to more resources to put their ideas into practice.

Social intrapreneurs are in fact already promoting corporate social entrepreneurship in large corporate settings, as SustainAbility’s report showcases. At Nike, for example, Sam McCracken has launched the company’s Native American Business, which leverages the power of the Nike brand to drive athletic participation among Native American communities. At CEMEX, Luis Sota works with the company’s executives to develop its low-income housing solutions for Mexican consumers. And at Unilever, Vijay Sharma heads up the Shakti programme, which cultivates women entrepreneurs in Indian rural villages.

In short, the point at which future conversions take place may well be when it is in business’s self-interest to embed the values and principles of social entrepreneurship – and when individuals make a meaningful difference both for themselves and others in a social as well as a business context.

Tania Ellis is a Danish-British prize-winning writer, speaker and consultant specialized in social business trends. Her international book, The New Pioneers, has already been praised as a “handbook for the global revolution”, and has recently been listed on Cambridge’s international 2010 “Top 40 Sustainability Books”.

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