Social Intrapreneurs: a missing component that can make the difference

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In times of social and economic transitions like the ones currently under way in emerging countries like Nepal but also in parts of the world where consolidated democracies are facing waves of mass’s discontent and increasingly high rate of citizens’ disenchantment, it is more and more critical to recall ourselves what drives and inspires humanity to forge ahead and shape a better tomorrow. We call it justice.

Sally Osberg, the President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, one of the biggest engines of social innovation in the world, in an article called A Framework for Justice, magnificently makes the case for more efforts to ensure justice for all: “Justice is our north star. It provides the bearings to guide us through territory fraught with tests of character and will. It steers us to ever more powerful solutions to the pressing problems of our time. It summons in us the courage and fortitude to tackle issues vital to a better future for humanity from peace and human rights to education, health, economic opportunity, and environmental sustainability.”

Osberg strongly believes in the power of social entrepreneurs, exceptional individuals who are able to come up with innovative ideas, test them on the ground and progressively develop new products and services that, while are sustainable economically, do help solving intrinsic problems faced by local communities around the world.

The focus in the last decade has been on these determined individuals, the so called “changemakers” while little has been said about those individuals who can define themselves as “insiders” because they work in private corporations, not for profits or government agencies.

Recently the shift has changed and while social entrepreneurs are here to stay and play a more and more active role within the different social economic ecosystems at local, regional and global level, a new trend has emerged and it is called social intrapreneurs”.

According to a report published by an hybrid consortium of think tanks, social innovation outfits and corporate like SustainAbility, Ideo, Allianz, entitled “Social Intrapreneurs”, we are talking about persons who can be defined within the following definitions 1 Someone who works inside major corporations or organizations to develop and promote practical solutions to social or environmental challenges where progress is currently stalled by market failures. 2 Someone who applies the principles of social entrepreneurship inside a major organization. 3 One characterized by an ‘insider-outsider’ mindset and approach”.

Surfing the web, you will realize that a new ecosystem is emerging to support those unnoticed changemakers, including the existence of a League of Intrapreneurs, a global platform supported by a big number of institutions including BMW Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the luxurious German cars.

In short the League of Intrapreneurs is encouraging dynamic persons working within organizations, either public or private, to come up with new ideas and approaches that can have a tremendous multiplier effect because they will be incorporated and mainstreamed by their employers with a great potential of high impact and scale.


What often happens, unless you work in Silicon Valley, is that the bigger your employer is, the more you are stifled, losing autonomy and spirit of initiative as the internal system is too big and too busy with internal procedures and paperwork.

You can think of the United Nation System but also you can think of any public sector ministries or agencies.

You can start as the most motivated, passionate and dynamic employer but you end up being overwhelmed by the system.

This can be particularly true for the civil service not only in Nepal but also in many other countries, including nations with a certain degree of industrialization and development.

If you think about the specific case of Nepal, there are many public servants who are highly competent, many of them are even Phd holders from respected universities but are at the end “sucked up” by the system.

Very recently there were news about the low spending capacities of many ministries and public bodies at local level.

You could read stories about the frustrations experienced by certain top civil servants on how things are not moving as fast as they should, especially when we talk about national priority projects.

I am wondering if this sad scenario happens just because of the way the system is, with its endless procedures and different, often overlapping and competing powers of authority and lack of communication and cooperation among agencies.

Certainly the fact that the country is still too dependent on aid from multiple donors and hundreds of implementing agencies at local level does not help.

At the same time I am wondering about the human resource factor at interplay within the public service.

I personally met many outstanding civil servants who are brilliant and technically sound to do the job.

Is there any way to discover and better support those civil servants who have the qualities and determinations to really become social intrapreneurs?

Certainly Nepal is boosting since the last years, very strong Chief Secretaries, first with the now Ambassador of Nepal to China, Leela Mani Paudyal and now with Dr. Som Lal Subedi, an expert in fiscal decentralization with decades of experience within the government.

Can we envision a fast track program or fellowship encouraging and boosting the upcoming middle level public officers, those, with the highest levels of potential and acting as social intrapreneurs, can kick off transformative changes in the public administration?

Daayitwa, a high social impact organization in Nepal has been giving opportunities to nepali students to undertake an apprenticeship within the national ministries.

More can be done nationally here in Nepal to find out persons who have not played their part yet.

Everybody can be a social intrapreneur, not only the highly talented. Everybody has a role and potentially a mission to be accomplished. We need to get people more motivated and excited about their job and we need to help them rediscovering their passions.

Promoting social intrapreneruship is a call for action not only for citizens, students, and volunteers already active in the society but also for those who have decided to stay behind and remain inactive.

Let’s start from the civil service. If we want a prosperous, developed country where justice prevails for all, we need a stronger public administration and we need more social intrapreneurs.

Let’s build on the skills and expertise already available and let’s help motivated and passionate civil servants to unleash their potential to change the country.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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