By Joseph Agoada, Ashoka Changemakers
In 2014, I argued that the social intrapreneur was a company’s most valuable employee. Social intrapreneurs embodied the spirit of “doing good, doing well” and demonstrated a unique ability to serve corporate bottom lines in a way that simultaneously produced positive impact for society. So how has the “most valuable employee” fared in 2015? It has not been easy. An intrapreneur’s success still depends heavily on a corporate ecosystem that nurtures new ideas, enables connections with external networks of co-creators, and allows for all employees to understand, recognize and engage in social innovation.
The organizational social innovator is struggling to realize significant impact because of institutional obstacles like rigid rules and legacy processes. Ideas are knocked down not because of their potential value, but because of political or policy reasons.
“They say it’s about seeds and soil. So many companies think that innovation is simply all about the seeds, all about having good ideas,” says Manoj Fenelon, a Director at PepsiCo in an interview with Innovation Excellence. “But if you don’t have good soil for those ideas to grow in, nothing ever gets beyond the seedling.” Companies that are inclusive, adaptive and agile create an enabling environment for social intrapreneurship; one that will thrive against start-ups and global competitors. The “good soil” that a social intrapreneur needs to thrive, in this regard, is the changemaker company: 2015’s most valuable organization.
What does the changemaker company look like? First, the company has both a strong mandate and executive alignment towards creating social value. Many corporate executives are already talking about using corporate innovation to tackle the world’s greatest problems. The CEOs of Virgin, Huffington Post, Tata and Unilever came together to form the B Team, which believes that “the purpose of business is to become a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.” However, rhetoric is just a starting point to enable institutional social innovation. If the processes, incentives and accountabilities of the organization do not change, then the mandate cannot trickle down to other layers of the organization. Without mechanisms to ensure follow-up, human resource departments will not prioritize the training and talent needed for social innovation, middle managers will hesitate to back new ideas outside their current work scope, and company culture will stifle the growth of social intrapreneurship.
Second, the changemaker company integrates social impact objectives directly into corporate strategy. Companies have set up corporate social responsibility (CSR) wings and corporate foundations units, but according to the Harvard Business Review, these are often disconnected from the bottom line of the business. They are perceived as strictly charitable, and are often “initiated and run in an uncoordinated way by a variety of internal managers, frequently without the active engagement of the CEO.” Integration addresses the stigma associated with social good initiatives that generate revenue, treating them as normal business products. For example,Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap is a corporate product whose sales help improve access to health and hygiene in the developing world.
Third, the changemaker company structures itself in a way that allows for changemaking to happen throughout the organization. Professional development and social impact engagement opportunities are offered to employees at different levels of the organization. Training sessions are provided towards building skill sets in problem solving, empathy, innovation, resilience and creativity. This allows employees to engage in social impact and establishes an ecosystem with the time and resources needed for social innovation.
By embracing these three key qualities, the changemaker company attracts, engages and retains its top talent. Based on a 40-hour work week, a professional will spend 80,000 waking hours at his or her workplace during a career. Good pay, benefits, and job security are fundamental, but meaning and mission-oriented goals are moving to the top of the list for employees. The 2015 Deloitte survey of digitally connected millennial employees found that 77% said that the reason they chose their work was “because of the company’s sense of purpose”.
Examples of how to capture and harness employee engagement for social innovation are popping up within large multinational companies. For instance, Barclays has created the Social Innovation Facility, with a £25 million commitment “to accelerate the development of commercial solutions that directly address social challenges.” Anyone working at Barclays can now submit a concept to raise seed capital through the facility. The German pharmaceutical, Boehringer-Ingelheim, forms meaningful relationships between employees and social entrepreneurs through its Making More Health initiative, allowing for the co-creation of new social business ideas with Ashoka Fellows and other leading social entrepreneurs. General Electric’s Healthymagination program has partnered internally with the human resource division to build a culture of health and innovation throughout the company.
Within corporate walls, the emphasis on profit will always remain. However, social progress does not need to rest on the shoulders of social entrepreneurs, nonprofits and humanitarians alone. Social impact does not need to be siloed. Incredible partners for co-creation and social innovation sit within the well-known companies that employ thousands. The changemaker company allows the CEO to drive innovation agendas, enables human resource divisions to retain, develop and engage top talent, and creates a structure where an innovative idea can come from any level of the organization.
About the author: Joseph Agoada is a global communication specialist advising Silicon Valley based nonprofit, InSTEDD, and facilitating social intrapreneurship with Ashoka Changemakers. Learn more about Boehringer Ingelheim and Ashoka’s latest global competition ‘Co-Creating a Healthier World’ or register for their 6 week course on social intrapreneurship.
This article was first posted on Ashoka's Forbes blog and is reproduced with permission.
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