The Business Case for Social Intrapreneurship

This article originally appeared on Linkedin.

*This contains extracts from a forthcoming report we (The Circle of Young Intrapreneurs) will be publishing with One Young World later this year on Social Intrapreneurship: What it is, why it is important and what it means for you.

When David Spears and I launched the Circle of Young Intrapreneurs in January, 2016 we thought that it would develop into a useful network for, perhaps, a few dozen people to get together and discuss social intrapreneurship and, by virtue of doing this, assist with the delivery of their own projects which aimed to profitably-do-good. In no way did we think that we would be here, 14 months on, approaching 1500 members in over 50 countries around the world and really helping people find more purpose and meaning in their careers worldwide. It is clear from this growth rate that Social Intrapreneurship has really struck a chord with, in particular (but not exclusive to!), young professionals the world over by really providing the space between doing well and doing good! The social benefits of each individual project are clear and, indeed, potentially hugely impactful - leveraging the power of big corporations global to solve social problems could be the transformative social action of our time.

Taking the individual and social impacts aside, when all the above is said and done, why should companies actually invest in social intrapreneurship programmes? What is the business return? Do the numbers stack up? Upon studying the answer to this results were somewhat surprising and, in fact, I've now moved along the dogoodowell spectrum from the 'good' to the 'well'. Let me explain.

There are a number of key benefits for businesses derived from implementing successful (social) intrapreneurial programmes ranging from talent management through to market growth however, what really strikes me, is the simple fact that embracing social intrapreneurship is a better, more sustainable and more effective way of doing business. From researching various sources on the topic of why companies should invest in social intrapreneurs there are a several key ‘themes’ to corporate benefits Grayson and Spitzeck (2010) use the acronym STIR to summarise as follows:

  • Sustainability
  • Talent (we split this into Talent Management and Leadership Development)
  • Innovation
  • Reputation

From the research I have conducted I believe that we can add a “G” to this for growth and that, with this added, Social Intrapreneurship becomes an immensely powerful paradigm in which to conduct, and run, business. As Grayson and Spitzeck say these factors combined create a “very compelling logic” for business to invest in social intrapreneurship and businesses themselves are quickly waking up to this fact. It is this which is triggering the 'boom' period in social innovation we are seeing.


Intrapreneurship vastly increases the rate at which companies can diversify, enter new markets, create new markets and create new products. Social Intrapreneurship increases the growth potential ahead of what we will refer to as Vanilla Intrapreneurship. This can be explained by the simple fact that ‘doing good’ itself sells. In fact the WEF has recently quantified this "profitably-do- good" market at $12 trillion. This gives a fixed financial value to ‘doing good sustainably’ and it is this market which only your social intrapreneurs can effectively open up to your company.

Talent Management

A famous Daniel Pink talk called 'drive' discusses the three 'real' motivators of humans at work: mastery (getting better at something), autonomy (doing something your own way) and purpose (something with wider value). All three of these are provided by a fully functioning social intrapreneurship programme. What's more these drivers/ motivators are becoming more important with the entry of the millenial generation into the workforce (P44) and its proven that there is a clear correlation between increased social consciousness and increased performance. Your top performers are most likely to be your social intrapreneurs; engage and harness them.

Leadership Development

It is proven that the most successful leaders inside big corporations share a mindset with successful entrepreneurs. How do you create entrepreneurs inside an organisation? Well that's an easy one - you create intrapreneurs who are defined as entrepreneurs inside organisations. Empowering more junior individuals to make decisions and work autonomously is more agile in nature investing in social intrapreneurship programmes creates leaders who 'future proof' your organisation in an increasingly fast paced, socially conscious market place.


Over 80% of executives believe innovation is a key factor in organizational success and yet it is still immensely difficult to build effective, sustainable, efficient innovation programmes. Given that the failure rates of innovation are high why not improve your innovation set up by moving away from the traditional approach of having an ‘Innovation team’ of 20 people and make the entire company your innovation team through intrapreneurship?


There is a real commercial opportunity by implementing successful social intrapreneurship programmes over vanilla intrapreneurship programmes because the potential to drive market growth, given the market trends in consumer behavior towards sustainable spend, is vastly increased. Indeed - Products with a clear social purpose are proven grow faster than those without purpose; Unilever’s sustainable brands grew 30% faster than the rest of its business in 2015. What's more - the halo effect by delivering these products can drive up the sales of your other product lines.

It is clear from an analysis of existing literature that, if companies build out effective social intrapreneurship programmes, it is possible to attract, develop and retain top performers in a way which most effectively prepares them to be future leaders of the business and also delivers to the bottom line, innovation capacity, engagement levels, reputational image and brand. As the ‘millennial’ generation form an ever increasing part of the workforce, and wider trends in the market move towards socially-conscious spending, these benefits are only becoming more established and the need, therefore, to build effective social intrapreneur programmes is becoming more pertinent to business. Viewing all of the benefits of a successful social intrapreneurship programme holistically can, in light of all this, not just be viewed as the ‘holy grail’ for Talent Management but the ‘holy grail’ for how to run a business in general. The more I have researched this report the more I have seen Social Intrapreneurship as a commercial opportunity. The fact that the products effective social intrapreneurship programmes can produce have the ability to solve social problems and make people’s lives better is of vital importance but, if you wished to take a purely numbers based view of costs vs benefits, then the benefits of building an effective social intrapreneurship programmes vastly outweigh the costs involved.

The fundamental point my research shows it that social intrapreneurship is not a philanthropy play, it's a business play; quite simply it is a better, more agile, more future-proofed (and yes more impactful) way of running a company. This is the secret sauce for social intrapreneurs globally.... asking the company to invest in you is not a philanthropic is just good business. Doing well and doing good.

Tim Heard is the Head of Cultural Transformation at Barclays and the co-founder and Director of the Circle of Young Intrapreneurs. He is a One Young World Ambassador from the UK.

Published on 17/04/2017