Please view our conversation in our popular Aspen at Roosevelt House discussion series below, as we welcomed three of Aspen’s First Mover Fellows – “social intrapreneurs” in the forefront of imagining and implementing innovative ways in which for-profit businesses are integrating awareness of social and environmental impacts into their core strategic priorities, and into new products, services and management practices. The conversation explores the challenges and triumphs in corporate leadership that seeks to be a platform for tackling some of our most challenging social and environmental problems – and a powerful force for positive change.


Dawn Baker, Director, Corporate Strategy Development, Dow Chemical

Manoj Fenelon, Director of Foresight, Global Beverage Group, PepsiCo Inc.

John Renehan, Power and Water Strategic Initiatives Manager, GE

Moderated by Heidi Moore, U.S. Finance and Economic Editor, The Guardian

About Aspen at Roosevelt House

“Aspen at Roosevelt House,” a discussion series about timely public policy issues, is a partnership between the Aspen Institute and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It reflects the shared missions of both institutions to provide a forum for public dialogue about the most important issues of the day.



EVENT SUMMARY – Social Intraprenuership: Keeping Your Day Job and Finding Meaning in Your Work (recap)

Speakers: Dawn Baker, Director of Corporate Strategy Development at Dow Chemical; Manoj Fenelon, Director of Foresight at Global Beverage Group – PepsiCo Inc; John Renehan, Strategic Initiatives Manager at GE Power and Water; The panel was moderated by Heidi Moore, US Finance and Economics Editor at The Guardian. Introductory remarks by Owen Gutfreund, Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, and Judith Samuelson, Executive Director of the Business and Society Program at The Aspen Institute. 

“Social Intraprenuership: Keeping Your Day Job and Finding Meaning in Your Work,” was presented as part of the ongoing Aspen at Roosevelt House discussion series, presented by The Aspen Institute and The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.  The Aspen at Roosevelt House series touches upon timely public policy issues and reflects the shared mission of both institutions to provide a forum for public dialogue.

Tonight’s event was the first in a series of collaborations with the Aspen Business and Society program focusing on the innovation economy –in particular on what it will take for young people to succeed in the new economy.

Associate Professor Owen Gutfreund gave an initial welcome to the night’s attendees and panelists and reflected on his past working for an investment firm where he first became interested in corporate social responsibility.  Currently, as a professor of Urban Planning, Gutfreund’s work is focused on trying to train people to “become socially conscious problems-solvers.” (04:14)

Judy Samuelson introduced the Aspen Business and Society Program’s First Movers Fellowship, of which the night’s panelists are all recipients.  The Business and Society program is focused on trying to align business with the long-term health of society. The First Movers program brings together individuals who are working within companies to unite business growth with a sustainable society in the products and services they are developing.

The panel introduced issues of corporate social responsibility and the goal of working toward the social good from within a corporate framework. The panelists provided a variety of thought-provoking answers to the question: How can one find meaning and ethical value in their job, and also work to create a climate of innovation, responsibility, and progress for other workers within the company?

Panel moderator Heidi Moore asked each of the panelists to define what “social intraprenuership” meant to them along with common misconceptions (11:01). Dawn Baker proposed “social intraprenuership is taking advantage of what the company is successful at.” Her role within the company is to change the conversation to “enhance the quality of decision making.” The public has a misconception of corporations, believing that a corporation is “too big to drive change.” For Baker, it is just this size and complexity of a corporate entity that can be leveraged toward change.  It is the role of the social intrapreneur to take these challenges – size, brand, how a company is known – and combine it in a “surprising way” to come up with something new.

Manoj Fenelon’s definition of social intreprenuership suggested corporate employees are “internal activists” within their given corporation’s structure.  (11:46)  Fenelon’s job within PepsiCo, Inc., is to give people in the company a picture of the changes affecting society, and to help them think of massive global changes not as a crisis but as an opportunity. Working for change within a corporation can present many opportunities, for example, leveraging a corporation’s resources – which tend to be more plentiful than in either the public or nonprofit sectors. (11:09)

For John Renehan, social intrapreneurship means being a great coach.  A social intrapreneur is a coach to their co-workers, as well as executives and associates outside the company on how to lead change. (12:13)

The panel discussed turning a corporate workforce into something that can encourage employees on a personal level, helping them find meaning rather than simply feeling like cogs in a machine. Manoj Fenelon recounted how intrapreneurship could eventually save the company money, and secondly, contain a promise of self-realization (15:02). Fenelon mentioned how if employees are given freedom to innovate, there is a tremendous payoff for the company. Fenelon cites the example of the creation of Pepsi Corps, an internal company fellowship that allows employees to go to other countries, such as Ghana, India and even domestic locations (such as a Native American reservation in Albuquerque) to work on such social issues as health, nutrition, and the water supply. (19:58) According to Fenelon, the Pepsi Corps program gives employees a new outlook on their jobs. The other panelists spoke about a number of programs within their company that allow employees take on a humanitarian role. (20:50)

Baker recounted her experience establishing a similar program at Dow to combine corporate social responsibility (“corporate volunteerism”) with leadership development.  Last year, Dow sent a group of 36 individuals to Ghana to work on 7 projects with NGOs in the company – including agriculture and public health projects.  At the completion of the program, the participants were given a better line of sight on the direction the company was headed and where they could effectively make contributions.  (21:01)

Often times, getting corporations to adopt social intrapreneurship programs is easier said than done. The panel touched on issues of effectiveness and possible roadblocks that one could face along the way.  How can social intrapreneurship be justified to shareholders, and how does an employee convince a corporation that these intreprenurial ideas are good for the company? (23:31) According to Baker it is important to start with the vision of the company, and how such an innovative project will fulfill that vision. Baker explained that for Dow’s pilot in Ghana, it was crucial to detail the short term and long term gains of such a project.  As the project would provide leaders with an intimate knowledge of the country and people and provide Dow with an edge in doing business there, while the short term costs were the same as with any leadership training program, the long term benefits would be potentially far greater than a standard leadership development program.

Fenelon added that in some ways, since many of classic corporate “foundations are coming apart,” and so it is a lot easier to make a case for change. In a classic business model, a corporation would seek out emerging markets, but for Fenelon, emerging markets pose a challenge to our global sustainability – if the world’s emerging middle classes demand the same standard of living as the middle classes in the developed world, we would need “four and a half planets of worth of resources.” Fenelon concluded, “We have to find something different,” if our current models are unsustainable. (24:25)

For Fenelon, one tactic to getting companies to adopt new ways of thinking is to push how these innovations are good for shareholders, and good for executives and employees of the company.  Renehan proposes that as an intrapreneur, you also have to work hard in order to “get a seat at the table,” so you can push for change. (26:05) At GE, Renehan worked to establish credibility, rotating through a number of positions and demonstrating his work ethic. In doing so he found that there were brilliant people with brilliant ideas working in every sector of the operation, but they didn’t have a culture of share these ideas with each other. There were no models for sharing ideas across departments much less between businesses or across the world.

The panel transitioned into discussing corporate behaviors that need to change. (28:13) Baker believes there needs to be more inter-departmental collaboration, but the way corporate structures develop into individual silos makes that a challenge. “The real opportunity lies in the strength of the whole.” (28:36) The other panelists echoed this sentiment. Fenelon proposed that in fact, “people want to talk to each other,” but roles and hierarchies get in their way. Fenelon also pointed out that rather than trying to change strategies, the culture itself needs to change.

Renehan points to the corporate fear of failure as a big road bump on the path to collaboration: “Nobody says, ‘It’s ok to fail, it’s ok to be wrong, and it’s ok not to know.’” According to Renehan, there needs to more authenticity and transparency in the work place. The end result is that this will eventually improve problem solving. (32:52)

The panel was asked why it was important to work within the company, rather than making entrepreneurial waves on the outside. For Baker, working for a corporation allowed her to “play for a winning team,” and one that had access to resources which would allow her to tackle bigger problems than she could otherwise. (47:00)

During the Q&A session, one audience member made the point that a “culture of layoffs” could undermined efforts being made by those that would become social intrapreneurs within their companies. (53:12) The panelists agreed that constant layoffs were a detriment to the efforts made in corporate social responsibility. (53:51)

Another audience member inquired how small business owners can approach social responsibility. Renehan suggested that getting more people involved in the project would be very helpful, be it the small business’s partners or even its summer interns. Renehan also stressed that reaching out to partners from different backgrounds can help a company gain a different perspective on an issue. (58:40)

This panel addressed issues of social intraprenuership and corporate responsibility, including finding meaning at work, employee freedom, creating an atmosphere supportive of innovation, and raising workplace morale. The panel also examined the potential roadblocks to social intraprenuership, including corporate structure, fear of failure, and how to beset overcome them.

Prepared by: Anthony Limongi


Aspen at Roosevelt House – Social Intrapreneurship: Keeping Your Day Job and Finding Meaning in Your Work | Posted on February 18th, 2014 | Aspen @ Roosevelt House, Public Programs