Not entrepreneurs, we need ‘social intrapreneurship’ for the ‘inside job’ in the public sector


For 20 years, the Schwab Foundation has begun building one of the world’s leading communities of accomplished social change leaders. It supports their impact journeys and provides a platform to amplify their voices and influence world leaders.

In 2019, the Schwab Foundation Social Innovator of the Year Award expanded into four categories to recognize a new generation of social change leaders in the private, public, community and academic sectors. The development acknowledged the diversity of social innovation models and emphasized the global momentum of social innovation and the need to work across industries on complex and systemic issues. However, unlike social entrepreneurship, corporate intrapreneurship and thought leadership, the role of the public social intrapreneur is not well understood.

What is a “public social intrapreneur?”

Public social intrapreneurs are champions in governments and international organizations that use the power of social innovation to create public good through appropriate policy, regulatory tools and programs. They work to create a better political environment, public programs and investments that enable social innovators to thrive and citizens to benefit and become active agents of change in society.

As 2019 Schwab Prize winner Geoff Mulgan, former CEO of Nesta, stated: “Public sectors around the world need to strengthen their capacity for innovation – opening up not only to the creativity of their staff but also to the creativity of civil society and social innovators, as well as technology and business.”

These innovators catalyze governments and major institutions to create more inclusive cities and fairer growth. The Schwab Foundation is the first entity to reward public social intrapreneurs who are shaping a better world in several ways.

How social intrapreneurs make change

Designing policies that will enable social innovation

Public social intrapreneurs from the Schwab Foundation community have contributed to shaping six national policies and have a pan-national impact through their work in international organizations. For example, Ann Branch in the European Commission recently contributed to the adoption of the Social Economy Action Plan with concrete measures and a fund of 1 billion euros to help mobilize and support 27 European countries in the development of policies and programs to improve the social economy. Meanwhile, Kim In-Sun, president of the Korea Social Enterprise Promotion Agency, is changing South Korea’s financial landscape to support social enterprises through innovative financing models.

Participation and engagement of citizens

Public social intrapreneurs enable greater participation and engagement of citizens. For example, Cynthia McCaffrey, as Director of Global Innovation for UNICEF, has created new partnership models that leverage core business values ​​across the public, private and academic sectors to achieve rapid and lasting results for children. Led by Sanjay Pradhan, the Open Government Partnership has secured 2,500 transparency commitments that increase citizens’ access to decision-making and policy implementation globally.

“Our reform agenda is to solve the crisis of democracy. Using these mechanisms, you can tackle the other crises we have – the pandemic, climate, inequality. Enabling citizens to be informed and have their voices heard on adaptation and reform… Hope comes from brave reformers – and results,” said Pradhan, the 2022 laureate.

Rebalancing of resources

Public social intrapreneurs work to rebalance the flow of financial and informational resources towards social innovators. For example, in health, Pradeep Kakkatil, Director of Innovation at UNAIDS, facilitated the mobilization of over $200 million in investments to scale up identified innovations. As mayor of Barcelona, ​​Ada Colau decisively changed the balance of support for the social economy and social enterprises by allocating 16 million euros from the city budget to support the social and solidarity economy.

Public sectors around the world are opening up not only to the creativity of their staff, but also to the creativity of civil society and social innovators, as well as technology and business.

— Geoff Mulgan, former CEO, Nesta and recipient of the 2019 Schwab Award.

A new field of collective intelligence has emerged in recent years, fueled by a wave of digital technologies that enable organizations and societies to think at scale. Geoff Mulgan, former chief executive of NESTA (UK Innovation Agency for Social Good), uses the power of collective intelligence to guide corporations, governments, universities and societies to make the most of the human brain and digital technologies.

Investing in social

Public social intrapreneurs advance social investments. As Special Adviser to the President on the National Social Welfare Programme, Maryam Uwais adopted a market-based approach to maximize the impact of GEEP microloans by building highly structured relationships with intermediaries, which include commercial and microfinance banks, microfinance institutions, mobile phone operators, and market aggregators in 15 Nigerian states .

Enabling Ecosystems

Critical to the ecosystem, public social intrapreneurs are social innovators themselves, acting as agents of change in the public sector. For example, the efforts of Jonathan Wong of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific have resulted in a significant increase in support for policy makers in the region regarding social enterprises and social investment.

This article originally appeared on the World Economic Forum.


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