Are we ready to talk about social transformation?

Are we ready to talk about social transformation?

November 24, 2020

As we embark on our next round of research into social intrapreneurship at Yunus Social Business, we are looking at the business case for social transformation. In a year where we've seen short-term priorities rise to the top of the agenda, can empirical proof help turn the tide?

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

The state of play

Like many others, at Yunus Social Business, we thought we had this year planned out.

After the ‘digital transformation’ age, which forced companies to either bow to the needs of a digitalised customer or die, would follow the age of ‘societal transformation’. The term ‘societal’, covering both social and environmental issues, were the long-term issues that companies and their leaders were beginning to be concerned about. Until COVID-19 struck.

2020 is undoubtedly a year that will change us forever. And as a company, being ‘pandemic-safe’ is a new requirement that didn’t previously exist. But precautions that protect customers and employees from COVID-19 and its effects do not future-proof the business with environmental and social considerations. Recovering from the pandemic is a short-term concern, but it does not resolve the even greater issues we face when we look to a post-COVID future as a planet.

In the long-term, corporate executives will have no other choice than to look at their core business model and decide: what is harming our planet and the humans living on it? They will have no choice but to eliminate the harmful parts. They must look at what remains and the elements that the company does well and bring them to the core of the business model. As we emerge from the crisis, the age of societal transformation will only become more relevant and companies who won’t adapt will not survive.

Of course, this transformation must be realistic and a business won’t survive without a business case. But the good news is we already have a business case for societal transformation. Research has shown, it pays to be green. Companies like Veja and Patagonia have capitalised on their commitment to environmental goals and have reaped the benefits. It’s these benefits we sought to understand.

The Business As Unusual Research

At Yunus Social Business, we have been researching the topic of social intrapreneurship as a trigger of societal transformation. We define a social intrapreneur as an entrepreneurial employee who develops a profitable new product, service, or business model that creates value for society and the company. Social intrapreneurs help their employers meet sustainability commitments and create value for customers and communities in ways that are built to last.


We interviewed more than 50 social intrapreneurs and completed 4 empirical experiments with companies. We identified more than 120 social intrapreneurship initiatives - all of this work resulted in our report series ‘Business As Unusual’.

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The interviews showed that the social intrapreneurship initiatives did not only impact their target beneficiaries, but also greatly benefitted the companies running them! Employees are more engaged and motivated and feel more aligned with their company when they participate in a social intrapreneurship initiative. Social intrapreneurship not only spurs innovation, but attracts more diverse talent but also improves the perception of the brand.

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Let’s talk experiments. How can you get involved?

We had the qualitative, anecdotal evidence from the social intrapreneurs we spoke to but for us it’s important to go one step further to find out:  If, and to what extent can social intrapreneurship positively impact core business metrics?

This is where Yunus Social Business continues its research this year: we have already designed several experiments to measure business metrics across HR (employee engagement and talent attraction), Marketing (brand perception) and Sales (revenues). Validating those hypotheses means quantifying the business case for societal transformation with empirical data. We are trying to see if the argument can get even stronger for board rooms and leadership teams to get on board with societal transformation.

To make this more tangible, let us take a look at the following example: a plastic manufacturer decides to start a more circular approach for their supply chain by integrating recycled plastics into their production processes in order to meet sustainability goals. The company does so by building a self-sustaining social business model. The employee who founded the venture is who we call the social intrapreneur. Our quantitative experiments aim to measure the effects which the social intrapreneurship initiative has on the plastic manufacturer. Let us assume that the company is trying to hire more diversely and therefore wants to measure the effects specifically on talent attraction as a target metric.

The hypothesis: the social intrapreneurship initiative increases the number, quality and diversity of applications to the company.

The experiment setup: advertise a real future job opening with two (almost) identical job descriptions on a designated recruiting platform like LinkedIn. In order to create an A/B test, the two job descriptions only differ in one aspect: one includes a paragraph describing the social intrapreneurship initiative, the other does not. We measure quantity, quality and diversity of the applications to both job descriptions.

In the upcoming year, Yunus Social Business aims to enlarge the data pool on a range of different core business metrics, including talent attraction, employee engagement, brand perception and revenues. We are calling on all companies who are currently actively running social intrapreneurship initiatives to participate in our experiments to create their own business case, helping to scale corporate social transformation. Don’t hesitate to get in touch via our contact page.

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