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Irene Agustin on what it takes to be a successful social intrapreneur

   /   Sep 9th, 2010News

When I put out a tweet last week looking for a social intrapreneur to interview, I got a mixed response. Some people had no idea what a social intrapreneur was.  Others were excited to discover that there was a name for what they’d been doing for years.  One thing was obvious:  there are plenty of people taking initiative and advancing new programs within organizations to bring about social change.

One of them is Irene Agustin, who’s been a serial intrapreneur for years. As communications and marketing manager at Crisis Nursery, Agustin launched a campaign that raised over $400,000, allowing the organization to serve over 120 children.  Earlier, she pioneered a new initiative to screen for STDs and HIV at the Missouri Chapter of the American Liver Foundation.  Now, as director of fund development for Central Arizona Shelter Services, she’s exploring new opportunities to extend shelter and support services for homeless people. Here Agustin shares her insights on advancing change from within. First, creating a new program or changing the way an organization goes about its work doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in isolation.  In each case, Agustin listened, did plenty of research, and consulted with others before she moved on her ideas.  She also recognized when others had good ideas that needed to be moved forward. “[W]ith their permission, I took the lead and ran with [them],” she said.

One advantage of social intrapreneurship is having immediate access to a support network and an organized community. “The benefit of starting a program within an organization versus launching an entirely new organization is that your infrastructure is already established.  You already have staff, donor support, volunteers, systems and processes in place.  If you start a new organization, it will take time to build your infrastructure and then garner the support you need to make it successful,” Agustin explained.

Having an established infrastructure can accelerate change — or inhibit it. Every social intrapreneur has to enlist key stakeholders in an organization — and they often have different interests and priorities.  Indeed, the more people you hope to engage, the more approval you’ll probably need to succeed. That’s why Agustin says it’s essential to have a deep and detailed understanding of your organization’s programs and services — so that you will be able to show others convincingly how new ideas will help them in their work.

Many people are resistant to change.  Agustin spends much of her time speaking with colleagues and volunteers — encouraging them and getting them excited about the impact they could have.  She knows it’s far more effective to elicit change, than to try to impose it.  “Once they have this basic understanding and see how others rally around our organization,” she says, “they begin to trust and have an open mind towards new programs and initiatives.”

Photo: Irene Agustin

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