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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Experience has shown it is difficult to expect big business to give time towards forging these relationships through the usual means. This platform could assist by providing some way of meeting up two like minded institutions perhaps this would break the many barriers that exist prima facie.  

Great discussion.  Time for the third and final question...

What are the lessons for making such partnerships work for both partners?

No one institution can solve the world's problems on its own. As Willie Foote says, we need 'pathological collaboration.' My takeaway is that social intrapreneurs provide a bridge into the corporate world for social entrepreneurs - they are part of our tribe, but sitting on the inside. They can act as translators, champions and co-conspirators. The next step? Feels like for social entrepreneurs + intrapreneurs. 

It's powerful to have a cross-sector discussion! 

That's been my experience too: see with a common vision to a mutually appealing destination, document at significant stages, emotionally connect and year for success, encourage one another, learn and collaborate together to see if the pilot works and then to believe in the scale-up business.

Beth, right on!  We think that associations (both nonprofit and business chambers) can have a role as intermediaries in multi-sector partnerships.  Our incentive is increased membership and scaling our networks---growing audiences and speakers that in turn drive more membership growth.  The key is to create a space sufficiently broad, flexible and effective to appeal to this wider scope of participants.  Simultaneously, it must not be so broad as to operate as a generic online social network, of which we are already inundated.          

The scalable funding model for this already exists in the basic structure of membership organizations, but for them to serve in this role, they need to be oriented as mutli-sector groups rather than as traditional trade associations.

I would love to share our model and see where else similar ideas are being put in action. 

I was on the lookout for this topic because it is close to home.  As a relentless intrapreneur, I have found that there is a need to be filled with respect to partnerships that allow individual employees to “invest” in a multilaterally beneficial program that takes the bite out of poverty.  There is a “secret space” where an employee envisions himself taking the cudgels on his own to help solve societal problems.  There are these ‘heroes’ with secret identities.   Sometimes it may be a small group of employees who take the time during coffee breaks,  to discuss doing the right thing without necessarily involving management.  Other times it may be a singular employee who is so driven.  The thrill of taking your best shot against the world’s ills does exist, folks.  There are employees who have their families strongly united behind them in their dreams of leaving a legacy that matters behind, whether it be a hope that scholars become the nation’s leaders to contributing silently to impoverished communities that show promise of evolving into development clusters.  I don’t think I am alone when I echo these sentiments.  Management is aligned towards a given set of strategies that may not include any of the actions that an intrapreneur or groups of intrapreneurs may be in the positions to activate and implement.  This constraint inhibits individual action. Yet,  these are the “recruitment” opportunities where social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurs can come together.  

Harsha - this is a great point and one that repeatedly surfaced at skoll this year. How to we ensure the sustainability of the partnership beyond individuals? 

I think the enabling agent, which is a third party entity that may be an NGO or business groups/societies  that includes and allow interactionwith individual members, e.g. Red Cross.  Here it is possible to continue one's intrapreneurship beyond corporate employment. One such endeavor is the newly launched Philippine Red Cross Academy where core courses are offered.  If I support a volunteer for this program through a scholarship, it may continue whether I transfer employment or not. 

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