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Social Innovation, Social Entrepreneurship, and Social Intrapreneurship

Alice Huaut

May 26th, 2023

Cultural values are the fundamental values and ideals of a community. Institutions, families, and the media socialize individuals into adopting values and norms. Creating social change requires a shift in cultural values, hence its challenging aspect. Being vocal about an issue allows it to be addressed and acknowledged. However, this is only the first step. A process of change must happen. This article will argue that social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and social intrapreneurship can help leverage change.

Social Innovation

To define social innovation; innovation must be defined. It is a process and a product. As a result, there are two distinct streams in scholarly literature on innovation. One stream focuses on the organizational and social processes, including individual creativity, organizational structure, context-specific environmental elements, and social and economic factors that lead to innovation. The other stream views innovation as a process that results in new goods, features, and manufacturing techniques. This field of study investigates the causes and effects of innovation on the economy.

The distinction between innovation as a process and as a product is made by practitioners, policymakers, and funders. Practitioners must understand how to develop more and better innovations from a process standpoint. Similarly, funders and governments must understand how to create environments that encourage innovation. Furthermore, everyone is swayed toward being interested in learning how to forecast which innovations will be successful.

A process or product must satisfy two requirements for it to be an innovation. Initially, novelty: although they don't have to be original, innovations must be brand-new for the user, context, or application. The second is an improvement. A procedure or result must be either more successful or efficient than alternatives already in use to be deemed innovative.

The Advantageous Agnostic Perception

Likewise, insisting on the importance of social innovation rather than entrepreneurship allows an “agnostic [approach to] the sources of social value.” Greta Thunberg’s creation of the “Fridays for Future” movement, socially responsible investing, and the Works Progress Administration are all for the purpose of social innovation. Neglecting the similarities between the different sectors and their differing abilities to create social values hinders social change. Greta expresses the idea of “changing the rules” by reinforcing the possibilities for non-profits, governments, and enterprises that can possibly change the rules most needed.

The Amazon Conservation Team

For instance, the case study of the Amazon Conservation Team NGO shows that their dependence on donors and the lack of legal enforcement of local governments limits their effectiveness as an action-oriented team, driven by social change. Their work consists of  tackling the issue of deforestation and climate change while sustaining partnerships with indigenous Amazonian communities, as they are the ones who know how to best preserve forests and other natural resources.

The strength of the Amazon Conservation Team resides in their understanding the importance of listening to their partners and concerns, as well as building sustainable relationships to solve societal issues. As a result, while working with indigenous Amazonian communities, the NGO protects land rights, maps indigenous territories, and preserves cultural heritage. This focus on empowering individuals benefits the partnered communities and helps protect the Amazon forest.

It can be deemed idealistic for the Amazon Conservation Team to work hand in hand with big corporations, for they appear “locked inside their sectors’ walls”. However, this perception can be altered and has technically already occurred from when Google Earth partnered with the Surui tribe to better map their territories and “monitor those infringing on their land rights.”

Reinforcing the disposition of each sector apart from one another will hinder the creation of social values and social change as they continue to be perceived that way. On the other hand, “cross-sector fertilization” strengthens the mechanisms of social innovation.

Social Entrepreneurship

Innovative methods are being used by individuals and organizations all over the world to address societal issues that have not been adequately handled by the public or corporate sectors. This would be referred to as social innovation. Paired with this phenomenon, an increasing number of social entrepreneurs are creating innovative tactics to make a difference in the world, in quest of fresh answers.

According to Pearce & Kay, social entrepreneurship “is about a different way of doing things based on shared values. It is about a vision of the way people and organizations might work together for the common good, where the private gain is tempered always by consideration for the needs of people and the planet.

There are numerous cross-cutting similarities between the role of activists and social entrepreneurs. The core characteristics of social entrepreneurs include; mission leadership, persistence, emotionally charged, social value creation, change agent, high accountability, dedication, socially alert, vision, and commitment. Focusing on the similarities between social entrepreneurs and existing activists enables the shifting of roles and relationships between non-profit initiatives, states, and enterprises.

Social Intrapreneurship 

Besides learning to rethink the interactions between enterprises, states, and nonprofits, creating new sustainable businesses while non-sustainable businesses continue to exist limits positive social and environmental impact. Both social intrapreneurship and social enterprises may help resolve social and environmental problems. However, intrapreneurship is most needed since they contribute to changing companies from the inside rather than creating a new company while the problematic ones continue to exist.

From the point of view of social intrapreneurship, being an intrapreneur may be more attractive. Already, being a part of a company allows a sense of security. This reinforces the possibility of individuals to innovate and share ideas. Social intrapreneurs enable a mode of action assimilated to the Greek myth of the Trojan Horse. Change originates from the inside with the arrival of new ideas. Getting to know the company one works with allows for a possibility of change and action. This is guided by the experience and knowledge of the company that one obtains by working there.

People today, regardless of the studies they pursue, are more likely to be working for a company rather than creating their own company. As a result, the accessibility for people to understand how to become a social intrapreneur is valuable. Now that more people will be working within companies, learning how to initiate change may considerably help solve social and environmental issues.


This article is not idealizing social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and social intrapreneurship. Profound systemic factors influence interactions and the functioning mechanisms of our societies. However, rethinking how enterprises, governments, and nonprofits interact with one another can be seen as radical needed change. Likewise, influencing corporations from the inside-out may lead to radical transformations, which will be more widely accepted, ensuring a long-term sustainable impact.

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