Breaking Silos: How can social entrepreneurs and corporate intrapreneurs build great partnerships?


Social entrepreneurs are innovating to create opportunities for low-income people. Meanwhile, corporate employees – social intrapreneurs – are pioneering business innovations with social impact. This discussion will deep-dive into exciting ways in which both are working together to drive greater innovation and impact.


To coincide with a session that Business Fights Poverty is hosting at the Skoll World Forum, with The League of Intrapreneurs, Ashoka and the Intrapreneur Lab, we would like to get your thoughts and ideas on building partnerships between social entrepreneurs and corporate Intrapreneurs.


  • What are the potential benefits of building partnerships between social entrepreneurs and corporate intrapreneurs?  Can you share any specific examples?
  • What are some of the key challenges, and how can these be overcome?
  • What are the lessons for making such partnerships work for both partners?


Please share your thoughts below!


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Interesting point made by Gib Bulloch of Accenture Development Partnerships on this - that it may not help the cause of intrapreneurs to have too much profile - particularly in the early days, staying under the radar is sometimes essential to prevent 'the corporate immune system' kicking in. 

Jean-Christophe Laugée, Social Innovation and Ecosystem Director, Danone was recently talking about the legal and institutional barriers of such partnerships and the need to build the field something that we need to work on. Showcasing best practice? Launching more pilots?

Entrepeneurs have different funding options from investors and intrapeneurs, but what about Social Entrepreneurs? For Entrepenuers it is already difficult to secure funding, specially in LATAM countries, where funding is scarce and their is a different entrepeneurial culture. How do we go about funding Social Entrepenuers in countries like Colombia?

Yes, I agree Maggie.  Empathy is essential.  But we think the first step is engagement, and following that, a reward for engagement that reinforces the incentive for the next engagement.  People are driven to see and make connections with one another once they are engaged profitably.  Before that, there is always the question of whether the investment will have a good return, and that often keeps potential partnerships from forming. 

Gib, I like the approach of leveraging that you refer to. It's not new, but is still easily overlooked. We prefer to get change with our own 'strength'. There's a book based on the principles of aikido (related to judo) that illustrates this well - "Giving in to get your way" by Terry Dobson.

Hi Julian - we are just starting the early stages to help develop a network of more visible intrapreneurs through  We ran a competition last year where you can see entries for a number of intrapreneurs globally 

We are trying to build it with the various partners involved in this conversation. We want to create 2 strong communities, but not ones that would supported separately. It's important to bring together as working to achieve similar social impact.

1st step would be to build best practice and showcase successful examples that exist out there. Which are the strong alliances that exist out there - key challenges and opportunities? 

2nd step: build a strong community of peers that work across sectors. 

Although a partnership may appear 'impossible' due to the institutional differences, it is possible. Tip: appeal to the emotions of a senior executive. I did this with PZ Cussons and now they are marketing one of their soaps in Nigeria specifically as a hand-wash soap to counter diarrhoea in children. A big company moved to action by a persuasive conversation with a powerful senior executive.

Don't you think that if they get a community they can relate too, this won't be a problem any more as they could be represented as lead examples for positive change and raise the company's profile at the same time?  

I absolutely agree Matt. This is especially true as nonprofit start to become more corporate savvy and visionary in their work. Particularly, in becoming financial healthy and strategic in discovering revenue streams through social enterprise opportunities. Nonprofits are businesses. My hope is that one day the two are looked at as one in the same. But there is still work to be done - every socially responsible corporation has a public service or community awareness agenda and it should include a nonprofit. This is the clear mutual benefit but it must be communicated consistently as leadership changes at these corporations and the focus on giving back fades overtime.

Ponciano - that's a great point.  We need to give more thought to how we can leverage this platform to help. Do you have any suggestions?

Zahid I certainly agree that the right personal connections lead to further engagement.  Sponsoring open-ended (and multi-sector) networking opportunities is something we do to encourage and deepen these connections.  We also encourage and try to reward the participation in our network of multiple staff members of each organization, agency or business.  Often it is the marketing and PR people of each org---and not the CEOs---who make the first and best connections.       

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