Social Intrapreneurship: Your Best Responsible Career Choice?

Business as usual is unsustainable, and you are surely reading this blog because you want to learn more about career choices that will enable you to build a career that will allow you to do well while doing good.  There are of course many ways to 'do well while doing good'.  The vast majority of people in industrialized countries choose to do so by generating their income from business as usual positions, and use part of their income to make donations to causes they believe in.  Others choose to donate their time and volunteer to contribute to a cause they believe in.

But that might not feel like it is enough to most of you.  Indeed, many of you are driven by what Cheryl Dorsey and Lara Galinsky elegantly termed your 'Moment of Obligation'.  While conducting research by interviewing 12 social entrepreneurs that won the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship,  they observed that many socio-eco innovators (SEIs) got started on their path to socio-eco innovation after facing their own 'Moment of Obligation'.  That 'Moment of Obligation' generally comes from wanting to help a friend, patient or someone the SEI knows is experiencing something that the SEI feels is not 'right'.  From that feeling, the SEI takes action to help that person.  From then on, many SEIs feel drawn to pursue that path to help other people that are facing similar challenges, and focus more and more of their time in the type of work that enable them to 'be the change they want to see'.

Of course, there are many ways for you to 'become the change you want to see'.  Some of you will make the drastic career choice to become a social entrepreneur and build your own social enterprise.  This is of course a very risky career choice, as you will have to generate your own income, as well as the capital you need to build and grow your social venture.

Most of you though will make a different career choice, and become a socio-eco innovator for an existing firm, or a social intrapreneur.    There is indeed a growing proportion of professionals that are choosing to bring their values to work in traditional businesses.  Social intrapreneurship offers a number of advantages as a career choice.  First, social intrapreneurs retain the prestige and the big paycheck that generally come with working for a big company.  For instance, examples such as socio-eco innovation driven through marketing, operations, or other traditional business roles at big companies such as eBay, Sun Microsystems, Best Buy, and Google have led to considerable changes on how these companies look at their impact on the environment.  In many of these cases though, the positive changes have been implemented not so much because it was the right thing to do, but really because in many cases, these initiatives saved the business money, which in turn increaseed margins (and maximized shareholder value).

Therefore, social intrapreneurship is not a panacea.  As it is the case for careers in corporate social responsibility, there are many tradeoffs in social intrapreneurship.  One of the main tradeoffs is that the majority of your tasks and efforts will continue revolving around 'maximizing shareholder value'.  Many times your supervisor and your colleagues will consider your socio-eco innovation project as a 'pet project' they will tolerate if you exceed expectations on all your regular projects.  Many times, you will only be able to focus on your first few socio-eco innovation projects if you put time towards them outside of your regular work hours.  These are some of the initial roadblocks that many social intrapreneurs face.

Overall, sizable differences remain between a social intrapreneurship career within a traditional firm and socio-eco innovation in a social enterprise or a nonprofit.  Most times, it boils down to the difference between 'doing well while doing less harm' and 'doing well while doing good'.  As you move forward with exploring your responsible career choices, it is key for you to go from concepts to concrete and really ask yourself what career path is a better fit for your skills, your life circumstances, and your values.

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