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Move over social entrepreneurs–here come the intrapreneurs

   /   Mar 29th, 2010International, News, Tech

In Tribes, Seth Godin discusses the importance of leadership and the surprising places where leaders appear. A leader can be the CEO, but she can also be the intern. A leader can be President Obama, but he can also be the first person to start unloading the dishwasher. Leadership has less to do with a fancy title and more to do with an ability to re-imagine possibilities.

The field of social entrepreneurship does a great job of identifying, celebrating, and supporting the founders and directors of social ventures. But what about social intrapreneurs—the creative problem solvers who lead change inside organizations? These below-the-radar leaders catalyze innovation from within–oftentimes leading not only their companies but also entire social movements from a cubicle rather than the corner office.

Case in point:  Nick Hughes and Susie Lonie, employees of the British mobile network Vodafone, who masterminded the company’s M-PESA program. M-PESA is a mobile phone-based money transfer service in Kenya, Tanzania and Afghanistan (“Pesa” is the Swahili word for money; “M” is for mobile). In an effort to provide banking services in developing countries–where mobile phone subscribers vastly outnumber Internet subscribers–Hughes and Lonie re-imagined what cell phones could do and how their company could positively impact others.

Although they knew there was a need for M-PESA (it had 20,000 customers within the first month), Hughes and Lonie faced a cascade of challenges. One of the biggest was uniting two very different industries–banking and telecommunications–while remaining accountable to Vodafone’s shareholders. Hughes writes, “We had no roadmap, but created solutions as we went and persevered when a pilot slated to take several months took almost two years.”

Hughes and Lonie’s perseverance paid off—M-PESA now provides “branchless banking services” (clients don’t have to visit branches) to over six million users, most of whom don’t have access to banks. Read about Hughes and Lonie’s story and 19 other social intrapreneurs in this report by the Skoll Foundation, Allianz, IDEO and SustainAbility.

Photo: yukonsusan

2 Responses

  1. [...] Here come the intrapreneurs: Check out our coverage of Vodaphone intrapreneurs Nick Hughes and Susie Lonie, who started the company's M-PESA program. [...]

  2. [...] engaging ways of looking at and solving pressing problems. Additionally, social intrapreneurship-where people lead social change initiatives within an organization–allow people to move around resources to address critical needs. Consider encouraging [...]