My mother has been telling me my entire life that it is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. These wise words were usually given because she was trying to convince me to just believe what she said and not try to prove it to myself. Like when she told me that touching the blades of a running fan would probably hurt my fingers. True to my inquisitive form, I touched the fan blades anyway and bruised my finger before the blades came to a stop. When she realized what I had done she offered those infamous words- why do you always have to try to reinvent the wheel? When considering social enterprises, the same theme can be applied.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, 1.5 million nonprofit organizations have been established. Those 1.5 million organizations are applying for the same grants, and competing for the same donors. With that many organizations, there is no getting around the fact that just within the United States, there are probably several organizations providing the same services to the same populations. Social Entrepreneurship is a fairly newer field with not as much competition, but the interest is growing and so will the number of existing companies. This begs the question: Is it necessary to always reinvent the wheel, so to speak?
To address this question, the Ashoka foundation has coined the term, "Intrapreneur." This term is being applied to change making individuals who are fostering ideas from within existing organizations. Individuals are finding ways to use current resources from an already established organization and put them to use in a socially motivated manner. Many corporations are trying to find ways to inspire and motivate their employees to focus on internal practices that will be new and innovative, as opposed to discouraging such ideas and forcing their employees to have to leave and start-up a new company.
Many of the 1.5 million organizations mentioned above will struggle to provide their services. Many will fight for a membership that is strong enough to accomplish any real goals, and as mentioned before they will definitely struggle to secure enough financial support to carry out their missions. With so many organizations in existence the talent pool just gets stretched too thin.
It is similar to the current political party structure. Primarily there are the Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The Independent party has become such a strong force to be reckoned with that it often splits the votes of the other camps. When voters were feeling removed from both the Democratic and Republican parties in the 1992 election, Ross Perot gained popularity with the independent voters. While he did not gain majority support, he did set the stage for Bill Clinton to squeak out a win by drawing would be Republican voters to vote for him. Had he not been a contender, those Republican voters could have turned out for George H.W. Bush and history may have been different. Applying the same philosophy, if workers within existing organizations would ban together to make operations better, instead of starting something new, the organization's history may be changed. It is just not always feasible to split the workforce and expect to get productive social returns.
Some may believe that they cannot effect the same change from within an existing organization. I have heard that the battle for internal resources to support your idea can be exhausting. Having to fight against established norms and traditional dogmas can be discouraging. And finding enough people from within the organization to support you can be frustrating as well. But, the reassuring thing is, intrapreneurs are a lot like entrepreneurs. They are innovative risk takers who possess conviction, persistence and insight. An intrapreneur thinks like an entrepreneur, looking out for opportunities, which profit the organization. Intrapreneurship is a novel way of making organizations more profitable where imaginative employees exercise entrepreneurial thoughts. And utilizing the resources of existing company personnel does not require any different set of skills or mindset than that of the entrepreneur. The mind only has to shift from creating ideas that will help get a company off the ground towards creating ideas that will help their current company perform better. It is in the best interest of an organization to encourage intrapreneurs as they will be the ones to benefit from the ability to reinvent themselves as a socially responsible corporation and improve performance.
Entrepreneurs will always have their place, without them we would be without numerous innovations that have changed our lives. But, entrepreneurship is not always going to be the best answer- and as my mom always said: it just not necessary to always try and reinvent the wheel.
As always, let me know what you think!