Guest Articles

September 16

Bhavna Mathur / Sarah Jose / Shilpa Vellatputhan / Simone Jones

Unleashing the Social Intrapreneur: Why Organizations Should Look Inward to Boost Global Development and Economic Sustainability

The term “intrapreneurship” has been around for decades: It had been used for years before Steve Jobs helped popularize it in a 1985 Newsweek article. But the concept itself – which refers to practicing entrepreneurship within a larger enterprise or organization – is more important than ever. The entrepreneurial mindset is increasingly needed within corporations as much as it is needed externally. It can help these companies to set a new vision, disrupt ineffective processes and anticipate change. It can even help them solve social problems.

Employees who innovate from within existing organizations and companies are known as intrapreneurs. When these intrapreneurs combine skills in innovation and entrepreneurship to address global development problems – whether operating in a traditional company or a socially focused organization – they are referred to as social intrapreneurs. These social intrapreneurs help develop solutions that respond to the complexities and subtleties of the global marketplace, providing scalable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

The world has experienced a great rise in the number of social entrepreneurs who are converting their ideas into impact, while unleashing their passion and innovation to start new ventures. But parallel to this growth, social intrapreneurs are also becoming key players in the race towards a new kind of economy. Let’s explore how they are changing the employee management and retention landscape for their companies, while benefiting the broader world.


Why Organizations Should Encourage Social Intrapreneurship

A key goal of any organization is to continue to improve and remain relevant within the sector that it operates. However, with the growing pressure of embracing sustainability and contributing to social change, the role of the social intrapreneur is becoming increasingly important.

It is commonplace to hear tales of talented young professionals employed in local or global businesses whose job roles and opportunities are mismatched with their professional and personal ambitions. Over time, this discontent has helped birth a generation of entrepreneurs – particularly social entrepreneurs, who are taking it upon themselves to drive the impact they wish to create. Though this has benefited these entrepreneurs and the communities they serve, it has had a less positive impact on the companies they left behind, which found themselves facing a new crop of competing businesses – while also losing some of their most talented and driven employees.

Lest companies continue to lose out on their most valuable resources, it makes sense for business leaders across sectors to take the pulse of their evolving workforce and nurture a culture of innovation and ownership from within. This can boost their businesses and also their social missions. The skills of a social intrapreneur are vital for an organization’s effectiveness and growth, and their internal efforts can also lead to path-breaking success combating social issues in sectors like health, education, gender, livelihood, environment and impact investing.

As more people strive to align their passion and purpose with their work, social intrapreneurship can help them leverage established organizations to maximize social benefit, build and uphold sustainable relationships, and inspire others to make the world a better place.


How Companies Can Support Social Intrapreneurs

However, while they can make a transformational positive impact in both their company and society, it’s important to recognize that social intrapreneurs are operating within massively complex environments often filled with ambiguity, cynicism and a lack of resources. They may have doubts that their organization would be willing to deploy funds toward social goals, that their leadership can be convinced to pay equal attention to social impact, or that their work will actually create this impact. Therefore, businesses need to develop, recognize and celebrate these intrapreneurs and their abilities. And they must shift away from typical conservative organizational structures to structures where the incentive mechanisms, communication systems and resource allocations help them to tap into the creative energies of these intrapreneurs, unleashing their power to innovate and drive change.

Some companies have done this successfully by allowing employees to set aside a portion of their working hours towards innovation and new project development. For example, Google has a 20% time policy where they allow each employee to dedicate 20% of their working hours to passion projects that benefit the company. Similarly, 3M also allows employees to spend 15% of their time creating new projects and seeking breakthrough innovations. And companies like Facebook frequently conduct hackathons to give their coders and engineers a platform to create new projects. These efforts to encourage intrapreneurship have led to innovations ranging from the “Post-It” note, to Facebook “likes” and even the Sony Playstation.

But businesses and other organizations should not only provide an outlet for intrapreneurship innovations among current employees. They should also focus on attracting new employees who fit this innovative profile – rather than solely seeking certain education levels, past experiences and a lengthy resume when making hiring decisions. They should view innovation as a strategy for the future, since the world — in the social sector and beyond — is eager for solutions that can create a new and better economy.


How to Become a Social Intrapreneur

An avid passion to help change the world doesn’t simply have a beginning and an end. Rather, it begins with having the confidence and fortitude to start the socially conscious work you’ve always dreamed of, while providing scalable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

Irrespective of the sector or the type of organization you work in, if you hope to be an intrapreneur, you should go the extra mile to see how you can help your organization advance its mission, while also creating a positive impact on society. Many organizations in the social sector function with limited resources, lean teams and unstructured settings, which requires employees to multitask, collaborate and think critically about the problems they are trying to solve. This can open the door to experimentation among employees, and may make these organizations more receptive to employee-generated projects and innovations. Similarly, if you are working for a corporation, evaluate its existing and upcoming products and projects to see how you can introduce sustainable practices and improve the lives of the people who will be impacted.

If you’re serious about pursuing intrapreneurship in a future job, there are resources that can help you make your dream a reality. For instance, the IDEX Global Fellowship believes that social intrapreneurs can serve as the bridge to creating a sustainable world through the development of innovative ideas within organizations. Along with other socially-focused organizations, we strive to “create the next wave of social intrapreneurs who will support, lead and advance the work of socially-focused enterprises around the world.” Our six-month, full-time fellowship in Bangalore, India gives young professionals the opportunity to work in social enterprises and gain hands-on experience addressing these businesses’ growing needs, while also getting mentored by industry professionals and undertaking a learning curriculum alongside a diverse cohort.

If you are interested in pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, acquiring the skills for a successful career in social enterprise and thriving as an intrapreneur, check out our website or contact us at


Bhavna Mathur is Executive Director, Sarah Jose is Associate Program Manager, Shilpa Vellatputhan is Program Administrator and Simone Jones is Outreach/Project intern at IDEX Global Fellowship.


Photo courtesy of Pexels. Homepage photo via Unsplash.




Social Enterprise
employment, social enterprise