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Article: From CSR to CSE (Corporate Social Entrepreneurship)

We all know famous entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Bill Gates, who are admired for building successful and scalable businesses. Social entrepreneurs like Mohammed Yunus, who is fighting poverty in an entrepreneurial way, also inspire us. We would like to put the spotligh on a “new” type of entrepreneur. Earlier, we talked about “intrapreneurs”: the internal entrepreneurs in corporate organizations that take innovations forward. But we see a new breed standing up, entrepreneurs who are bringing societal impact and innovation together: the corporate social entrepreneur. In this article we will share our insights on this topic and share our Corporate Social Entrepreneurship programs with you!

Difference between CSR and CSE (Corporate Social Entrepreneurship)

We believe that Corporate Social Entrepreneurship (CSE) is a necessary and logical step to take after realizing your CSR strategy, and to take joint economic and social value creation to the next level. While CSR is about minimizing negative impact (a moral obligation, or meeting legal obligations), we believe in proactively pursuing social progress, hereby maximizing positive impact, by using societal challenges (for example climate change) as a driver for innovation in your company.

More and more companies are facing innovation challenges, as a fast changing world poses questions about the durability of our business models, our relevancy and impact on society and an ever growing pressure to stay ahead of the competition.

Using societal challenges as a starting point provides new perspectives and allows for more transformational innovation, which is relevant to society, but creates new business opportunities and markets at the same time. Besides that, we also see that it is exactly these challenges that motivate and inspire your workforce to come up with new solutions that matter. It is your workforce that is best equipped to bring world changing innovations forward, as they know your company as no other and we have learnt that often, the best ideas come from unexpected angles of your organization.

Next to focusing on behavior (CSR), CSE challenges employees to be entrepreneurial and forward-thinking, by creating a bridge between todays core business and new meaningful products and services, which enables new sustainable growth. That way, sustainability is directly linked to the business challenges of today. Connecting these forces with the potential of startups outside your organization, by working on related business concepts, can make new business thrive.

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Who is the corporate social entrepreneur?

At first glance, corporate social entrepreneurs seem to be just like other “intrapreneurs” in your organization.  They are not only the “crazy ones” with the great ideas, but most importantly, they are the risk-takers who take ownership of ideas and bring them forward. They know their organization inside out and know their way, to maneuver around the business, and finding ways to make sure “ideas” are adopted within the organization. Entrepreneurship in large organizations is not an easy task. Ideas are often regarded as not feasible, too complicated, and too risky, meaning that “intrapreneurs”  need a long breath and a fighters mentality to bring their ideas into reality.

When we look specifically at “social intrapreneurs”, what sets them apart from regular intrapreneurs, is that besides their drive to bring new ideas forward, is that they want to make an impact in not just the organizations perspective. They want to positively impact the world and are driven by bringing business, social, and sustainability goals together, making the world a better place, while creating business opportunities for their company at the same time. They see how these two goals are not different, but can be aligned. They do not hesitate to get started with this today and aim for creating real breakthroughs. An example of “social intrapreneur”, is a team from Vodafone, who launched Mpesa, a money transfer system, that deliveres banking opportunities to Africa, while creating new markets and business models for their company simultaneously.

How to launch CSE successfully in your organization?

If your want to scout and mobilize the social intrapreneurs in your organization that holds the key to bringing new innovations forward, then different factors need to be put in place. CSE can only work when you create the right breeding ground, the right means, goals and process to bring things together.

We are currently working on the development of a CSE toolkit together with Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. Our goal is to develop an easy to use toolkit to support a well-designed CSE program aligned to a company’s objectives and strategy, which leads to high quality output. A first step in the right direction, is the Corporate Social Entrepreneurship Canvas, which we shared during the international Intrapreneurship Conference in December 2014 as a ‘Minimum Viable Tool’, to test one of the tools in the toolkit.  Although a lot of research has been done and programs have been developed to support intrapreneurship, the topic of Corporate Social Entrepreneurship is still relatively new.

We believe that using a company’s purpose and “big why” to engage employees, is different from the more “regular” intrapreneurship programs, because the starting point and final goal is different. Putting the company’s purpose as a goal to innovate, attracts a specific type of intrapreneur, and also asks for a well-aligned strategy with the business.

In order to reach real transformational innovation, the right conditions need to be put into place; basic understanding of the ‘new economy’, an enabling entrepreneurial and socially engaged culture, visible commitment and leadership from the top, an open and collaborative stance towards the outside world, a well designed and structured program, resource availability and most of all, an inspiring ambition and vision for the future.

We are currently interviewing leaders, pioneers and corporate mavericks and aim to bring current experiences and challenges together in a toolkit, to share next practices and learnings. We will  be sharing our insights in an article and report with the rest of the world. If you are interested to participate or contribute, please contact Marieke den Nijs. Or if you would like to learn more about how we execute our programs: check out Our Oceans Challenge during which we brought intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs together, to create innovations for clean and healthy oceans.

Photo Credits: Rudolf Vlček Traffic Photography