Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz

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Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz

How Business Innovators are Helping to Build a More Sustainable World

In response to the world’s rapidly growing social, economic and environmental challenges, a growing wave of "social intrapreneurs" are harnessing the power of large companies to create new business solutions to address societal problems.
Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz reveals how these highly creative social innovators are improvizing alliances across, as well as beyond, their companies to create micro-insurance products for low-income people; offer delivery services to millions of small businesses in slums around the world; develop alternative-energy solutions inside a major gas and oil corporation; partner with a Brazilian community to produce new natural care products; establish a green advertising network within a major media company; apply engineering expertise to help alleviate poverty and much more  all while generating commercial value for their companies.

Distilling insights from interviews with social intrapreneurs, their colleagues and experts around the world, the authors bring to life how business can be about more than just maximizing profit. They identify the mind-sets, behaviours and skills that have helped successful social intrapreneurs journey from initial idea to roll-out by their company  and some of the pitfalls.

Although their journeys may be lonely at times and require considerable hard work while working "against the grain" of large conventional businesses, successful social intrapreneurs are, above all, great communicators who inspire others to join them in achieving a higher purpose beyond the realms of conventional business.

Drawing on the metaphors of ensemble jazz music-making, the authors describe how "woodshedding", "jamming", "paying your dues", being a "sideman", joining and building a "band" but, above all, "listening" to what is happening in business and the wider world – are all part of the life of a successful social intrapreneurism project.

Whether you’re an aspiring social intrapreneur who wants to change the world while keeping your day job, or want to renew the entrepreneurial spirit of your own company, this book is for you.

Can business save the world? The question might distract business leaders from more immediate concerns, such as making a profit. Starting a conversation about sustainability, for instance, could even mark you down as an obstacle to success in some people’s eyes.

This is the dilemma facing so-called “social intrapreneurs”, desc­rib­ed in this insightful new book as the people in a corporation who put themselves forward to come up with innovations that address social or environmental challenges while generating revenue.

The authors have done well to uncover dozens of social intrapreneurs at big businesses around the world, and to get them to tell their stories. The businesses involved include Vodafone, GSK, Accenture, Danone and DHL, among many others, and the individuals have been responsible for significant business activities, which are described at some length in the book.

It turns out that techniques required by social intrapreneurs to advance do have some parallels in jazz that are not so far-fetched. Like a jazz musician, the intrapreneur must go in for “woodshedding” (solitary practice to improve technical skills), “soloing” (putting your ideas forward), “being a sideman” (contri­buting to a group in which you are a supporting team member), and “paying your dues” (contributing to your im­mediate team/community, and earning trust). In other words, social in­tra­pren­eurs must find and construct ensembles to prosper.

The authors are guardedly optimistic. Their successful witnesses have mastered balancing the roles of risk-taking entrepreneurs and rule-following employees within a large organisation. They are “tempered radicals”.

“Don’t change companies, change the company you’re in,” advises one social intrapreneur. But this radicalism, too, is tempered by the book, which reminds any aspiring social entrepreneurs of a question they should ask themselves: “Am I prepared to lose my job if this doesn’t work out?”


STEFAN STERN, Visiting Professor in Management Practice, Cass Business School, London

Anyone interested in social entrepreneurship should not miss this publication on social intrapreneurship, which shows that change and social impact can also come from within larger structures. 

Markus Hipp, Executive Director, BMW Foundation

This is a vitally important book. This book will be foremost on management bookshelves for years, and I look forward to the second edition.

Tobias Webb, Founder, Ethical Corporation and Innovation Forum

Making an impact doesn't have to be extracurricular: Social Intrapreneurship and All That Jazz is an inspiring take on what's possible in the working world.

Liz Maw, CEO, Net Impact

We know that businesses can have a major positive impact in the world. Until now though, not enough attention has been paid to the people within companies driving change. This book is an important contribution to our collective understanding of the growing intrapreneurism movement. For people on the inside, it's a practical how-to guide for enhancing your impact. For people on the outside, it's an inspiring tale of human progress.

Lindsay Levin, Founder and Managing Partner, Leaders' Quest

Unipart wants all our 10,000 employees to be change-agents. Social Intrapreneurs and all that Jazz gives plenty of how to tips for companies like ours that want to harness the energies and creativity of our people.

John Neill CBE, Executive Chairman, Unipart Group of Companies

At last a book that highlights how we can be "entrepreneuring" wherever our career paths take us. For the last 15 years we have celebrated social entrepreneurs as the rock stars of the development world. This book expands and enriches the practice of entrepreneurship by including a heretofore unrecognised actor – the "intrapreneur", who, working from within established institutions, combines innovation, opportunity and resourcefulness to drive critical and large-scale changes in corporate practice aimed at improving social and environmental conditions, ­while meeting financial goals. The book is realistic about the challenges these entrepreneurs face, and provides guidance on how to turn those challenges into advantages. Bravo!

Dr Pamela Hartigan, Director, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Said Business School - University of Oxford

Creating a culture of responsibility and sustainability is a critical task for businesses today.  Encouraging our people to champion "Shared Value" projects that benefit the company and society, can help to build a culture of responsibility and sustainability.

Anthony Jenkins, CEO, Barclays and Cranfield School of Management International Advisory Board

Successful businesses understand that they need to engage their employees, bottom-up, with ways to tackle social problems as well as building long-term economic value. Social intrapreneurism is a helpful and valuable way to capture the essence of that engagement.

Harvey McGrath, Chairman, Heart of the City; former Chairman of Prudential plc, Man Group plc, and the London Development Agency

Social intrapreneurs are living the common purpose values and I hope this book encourages many more people to emulate the examples told here.

Julia Middleton, Founder, CEO Common Purpose

Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz offers an exciting insight into the world of individuals striving to create social and commercial value in larger structures such as companies. It also teaches us what companies could do in order to create an enabling environment for these innovation drivers to emerge. Anyone interested in social entrepreneurship should not miss this publication on social intrapreneurship, which shows that change and social impact can also come from within larger structures.

Markus Hipp, Executive Director, BMW Foundation

Impact Hubs make up a global network of people, places and programs that inspire, connect and catalyze impact. Traditionally, we focused on entrepreneurs with social innovation projects and business plans. In the messy process of social innovation we discovered, however, that there are change agents inside corporations who want to live their values at work. Their innovations leverage corporate structures to create social impact. This book not only provides inspiring examples of social intrapreneurs but also tools and strategies that help to turn social innovation projects into practice.

Henrique Bussacos, Chairman of Impact Hub Global Association & Pablo Handl; Co-founder of Impact Hub São Paulo

Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz offers a distinctive perspective on social entrepreneurialism within commercial enterprises (with the added twist of some themes and insights from the world of jazz music). It also suggests a fascinating range of ways in which international NGOs can partner effectively with businesses to move them towards a stewardship model for future success.

David Nussbaum, Chief Executive, WWF UK

This is a vitally important book. As corporate sustainability rightfully shifts beyond policy into everyday business activity, we are now seeing the creation of better products and services as a result. There's a real and pressing need to show how innovation within large companies can be supported and turned into genuine sustainable advantage. In Social Intrapreneurism And All That Jazz, David Grayson, Melody McLaren and Heiko Spitzeck have done just that. Nothing helps make the business case better than genuine stories of success. This book will be foremost on management bookshelves for years, and I look forward to the second edition.

Tobias Webb, Founder, Ethical Corporation and Innovation Forum



1. How social intrapreneurs are rising to global business and social challenges

2. Understanding individual social intrapreneurs

3. How companies react

4. Enabling environment inside companies5 External enabling environment

5. External enabling environment

6. Impacts of social intrapreneurism

7. Recommendations and practical tips

8. The way ahead

Conclusion: Towards a new way of doing business

Appendix: Our research



About the authors

DAVID GRAYSON CBE is Director of The Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management, UK, where MELODY MCLAREN is an Associate. HEIKO SPITZECK is Professor at Fundação Dom Cabral, Brazil.

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