Learn How to Spot Social Intrapreneurs Within Organizations

Nov 10, 2022

Social entrepreneurship is one of nine elements in Points of Light’s Civic Circle, a framework to help people understand how doing good can come in many forms. (If you haven’t read the Civic Life Today issue on social entrepreneurship, we highly recommend it!) 

Social entrepreneurs get to the root causes of today’s issues and work to find innovative solutions. They identify a need that has not been met by traditional structures, research the existing landscape and then lead the charge to solve the issue in a new way.

While social entrepreneurs operate outside of organizations, did you know that they can exist within organizations too? Social “intrapreneurship” has a few definitions, but generally, it is the “Successful adaptation of entrepreneurial attitudes and strategies inside of a bureaucratic organization.”

Think about your own organization – do you know any intrapreneurs? They could be existing leaders at your organization or even highly-engaged volunteers that serve with you. Or maybe you are one yourself. There are many different qualities you might expect from an intrapreneur, but here are a few common ones.

Qualities of Social Intrapreneurs

Social intrapreneurs are passionate about the cause or issue they are supporting. Like any successful social entrepreneur, they take the time to understand the issue they are seeking to address. (By the way, listening and learning about issues before acting on them is another element of Points of Light’s Civic Circle!)

They’re also willing to take risks. They don’t see the status quo or any traditional approaches as limiting to their potential, and they’re comfortable with taking data and their broader lived experiences to try different ways of solving issues. 

Social intrapreneurs are resilient and driven, helping them to be more adaptable to adversity. Beyond resiliency though, there is a hopeful optimism they possess. They truly believe change is possible and that they have the passion to make it happen!

Intrapreneurs are also able to understand and work within existing organizational structures, while also seeing opportunities to adapt them in order to foster change. Intrapreneurial talent can be a significant benefit to your organization in moving your mission forward and serving your community. Instead of forcing these individuals into a box, it’s a good idea to cultivate their creative solutions and encourage idea sharing.

Supporting Your Social Intrapreneurs

If you read through that list of qualities and have one person or a few people in mind, read on for a few ways your organization can help support and cultivate their intrapreneurship (ideas adapted from The Innovators Handbook.)

First, create a culture of learning. This may come as no surprise, but an organizational culture that is unwilling or unable to adapt and learn will likely not be able to support new, entrepreneurial ideas. A culture that values creativity and future thinking will better fit intrapreneurs seeking to create change. 

Next, recognize biases. We all have them; no one is exempt. Fostering a culture or system that avoids biases isn’t possible unless you can recognize them in the first place. Three to be particularly aware of: 

  • Authority bias: Our tendency to attribute greater accuracy to anyone in a higher position. Also known as the HiPPO effect – or the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.
  • Bandwagon bias: Our predisposition to replicate and emulate what others are doing.
  • Law of the instrument: Our habit of becoming unquestioningly enamored with a methodology, process or tool. Hence the well-known idiom, “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Finally, try to see innovation as an opportunity, not a requirement. Great ideas can come from anywhere, but they shouldn’t just be more criteria on a job description. Ideas are opportunities and leaders should assume that there is already much untapped potential throughout their organizations. Organizational structures should invite everyone to the innovation table.

What other ways can your organization foster innovation and creativity to support social intrapreneurs? Do you have any particular intrapreneurs who have inspired you? Share with us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter!

Points of Light

We are champions of civic engagement with a mission to inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action that changes the world.