How to Create a Culture of Social Intrapreneurship from Within

Why social intrapreneurship matters and how business leaders can develop a company culture that helps social intrapreneurship flourish.

by Jemima Jordan, April 12, 2018
Social Intrapreneurship


It’s a word that keeps on creeping into articles about the workplace, especially when it’s about Millennials, the generation that were born between 1981 and 1997. They will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, and one of the key drivers that determines how satisfied they are in the workplace is the extent to which it allows them to make a positive impact on society. Cone Communications’ 2016 study found that a whopping 88% of Millennials said their job is more fulfilling when they were provided with opportunities to make a positive impact on society and 64% won’t even take a job from a company that doesn’t have strong CSR practices.

However, it is worth adding that it is NOT the case that Millennials are not necessarily anti-capitalism and anti-corporation. It is simply that they believe that business should have a ‘double bottom-line’; both an ambition to make money AND a higher-purpose mission. American Express’s report; Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way, found that 81% of the US Millennial cohort surveyed believed that a successful business needs to have a genuine purpose and 78% the values of their employer should match their own. However, 62% understood the importance of maximising shareholder profit, showing how these two ambitions can coexist in the mind of a Millennial.

Maybe it is because this double-minded, driven group is becoming the dominant segment of the workforce that we are seeing the growth of the concept of social intrapreneurship in both larger and smaller organisations. Social intrapreneurship, as the name implies, means working within the boundaries of the company you are employed by in order to make a difference to the world around you.

There are some great examples all over the web, from Rebecca Moore, who is working at Google to use Google Maps for good, to James Ingelby at Unilever who set up ‘Clean Team Ghana’, who just show the power that social intrapreneurship can have. And whereas some companies are worried that allowing staff to invest time in something other than business-oriented goals, I would argue that not only does it diversify your business, it also increases employee loyalty (83% of Millennials would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues) and it will help you attract talent (76% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work). It certainly requires a special person to be a social intrapreneur, but at the beginning of every social intrapreneur’s road, there is a company with a culture of encouraging and nurturing this from within. So how can you, as a business leader find and develop these individuals to help them shine and your company grow?

Social Intrapreneurship
So many companies are missing out on the benefit of cultivating the social intrapreneurism mindset in their business. With just a few little changes and minimal investment, morale can be increased, talent is drawn to you, business is diversified, and all from within the four walls in which you already work.
  1. Define your company’s mission and values
  2. Tell your employees
  3. Personal development plans
  4. Line management or mentorship

1. Define your company’s mission and values

It sounds simple, but it’s startlingly absent in a lot of organisations. Normally, the business objective is clear – sell a lot of X/ensure x number of downloads/repeat visitors etc., but it is the bigger mission and the values behind it that will inspire and drive social intrapreneurs to act.

Check out Warby Parker, who are selling glasses while also leading the way for socially impactful businesses through their business model. They have pioneered a ‘buy-a-pair, give-a-pair’ programme and have partnered with Universities, organisations and charities to assist in giving full vision to those in deprived areas. They are walking the walk from the inside out.

If your company does not have a bigger mission, you could either work with a consultancy such as The International Exchange to develop one, or you could focus on the values of the company, to at the very least give the guardrails within which a potential social intrapreneur could develop an idea. Who knows, in the end their initiative could, in itself, lead to the bigger mission.

2. Tell your employees.

You might hope that just by defining your mission and/or values that the groundwork is lain, but when your employees are bogged down with their day-to-day work, it can seem miles away from their headspace. Don’t underestimate the power of internal initiatives like all hands meetings, newsletters, inspirational speakers or even awards for those that embody the company’s values or who have contributed to the bigger mission. It may feel trite but it makes a difference.


3. Personal Development Plans

Work with your HR department to build a section into the standard personal development plan template that allows staff to define a personal initiative that is in line with the company’s mission and values invest in social good initiatives into the. A nice example of a simple but effective approach that I once experienced was the advertising agency BBH, who worked with the International Exchange to develop the ‘black sheep mile’, which gives 2 days a year to staff to volunteer in a social impact programme.

Once established, you can go even further by rewarding or awarding those that take those days and do something good, to reiterate the point that it is a behaviour you encourage.

4. Line Management or Mentorship

Again, it is so important to make sure that those who are managing and directing staff fully understand and can exemplify and encourage the values and mission, as well as the concept of social intrapreneuership. Make sure to train your line managers in understanding social intrapreneurship and how it could make a difference. Make sure they understand the importance of allowing their staff time out of their daily grind to do nurture an idea.

Another option either as alternative or in addition is to encourage a scheme of mentorship whereby you potentially partner a senior member of staff with a Junior who has a nice idea so they can sponsor the idea from above.


None of this is rocket science, but that makes it all the more unfortunate that so many companies are missing out on the benefit of cultivating the social intrapreneurism mindset in their business. With just a few little changes and minimal investment, morale can be increased, talent is drawn to you, business is diversified, and all from within the four walls in which you already work.