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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Walk on the Wild In-side:
How Social Intrapreneurs are Disrupting the System from Within

Lou Reed was a rock-n-roll pioneer. While he may not have achieved many solo hits, he accomplished what all sustainability professionals seek: He shifted the system. Brian Eno famously said, ‘The Velvet Underground may have sold only 10,000 records but everyone who bought one formed a band. In David Bowie, Reed had his biggest fan.’

With his passing last month, stories about his contributions to music abound. The world of music loves to celebrate its pioneers. The disruptors. The misfits who took music to a new level.

In the world of brand, we have our own pioneers. Our heroes. Like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Anita Roddick. These individuals pushed so hard against the status quo that they broke it right open. They were all examples of what economist Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction.’

In sustainability circles, there are many who subscribe to the Schumpeter method of change. We encourage evolution to take its course. Corporations are impermanent and we look to smaller, more nimble brands — social entrepreneurs, even — as signals of the future.

Yet, there is a growing community who believe that disruptive change from within the system is possible. These are your corporate mavericks. The misfits who believe our greatest hope for change lies in shifting the biggest brands on the planet. These individuals aren’t giving up on the incumbents that exist. They believe that today’s largest organizations can pivot into a more future-friendly tomorrow.

These are your social intrapreneurs. People like:

  • Nick Hughes and Susie Lonie — social intrapreneurs who took on the status quo at Vodafone to launch m-PESA, a pioneering platform for mobile money whose ripple effects are still being felt across mobile, finance and other industries.
  • Lisa MacCallum Carter — a social intrapreneur at Nike who spearheaded the Girl Effect — a campaign to empower teenage girls, globally, and now is behind the company’s most recent effort: Designed to Move — a collaborative project to end childhood obesity.
  • Miriam Turner — the social intrapreneur behind Net-Works — an inclusive business model at Interface, a global carpet manufacturer, designed to remove marine debris from our seas, improve livelihoods for poor fishing communities and differentiate the Interface brand.

Unlike our public heroes, however, social intrapreneurs often operate under the radar. They shy away from the spotlight, quietly battling the greatest challenge of our time: corporate inertia.

Well, we thought it was time to tell their stories.

That’s why we launched the League of Intrapreneurs — a movement kickstarted by Accenture, IDB, IFC, GSK, Standard Chartered and The Human Agency — to raise awareness about this important group of internal change agents.

In April, we hosted our inaugural League of Intrapreneurs Awards in London — where Ashoka founder Bill Drayton celebrated 15 change agents from around the world. Even Richard Branson chimed in with his support: ‘Social Intrapreneurs are demonstrating how business can be a force for good.’

Now, this isn’t just an excuse to roll out another red carpet. Rather, celebrating social intrapreneurs helps to validate their work in the eyes of important decision makers and connects them to a larger community of like-minded actors and potential collaborators.

The League of Intrapreneurs is also working to build a knowledge base to help social intrapreneurs and other corporate change agents amplify their impact.

The newly released Cubicle Warriors Toolkit is a curated set of tips and tricks from experienced social intrapreneurs and other subject matter experts. It covers five critical skills that intrapreneurs rely on to drive change from within:

  1. Making the Business Case: How to combine the rational with the emotional to win over your decision makers.
  2. Negotiating the System: How to navigate the intense politics and personalities of the corporate ecosystem.
  3. Building Community: How to rally support for your idea near and far.
  4. Unlocking Resources: How to bring your idea to life on a shoestring budget.
  5. Fostering Personal Resilience: How to ensure you not only endure, but enjoy the journey.

So, next time you think you need to jump ship to make change, remember the stories of these unsung heroes and try making change from within.


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