Edited by Dr KK Tse
As you could imagine, all social enterprises can benefit from leveraging the time and expertise of volunteers. This is most obvious. But to my surprise, there are also a large number of social enterprises that are not benefiting from the service of volunteers at all. What is more, there are plenty of highly qualified, motivated would-be volunteers who want to help but do not know how and where to make a contribution.
What makes for this unusual and pitiful state of affairs?
Ever since I came into contact with social entrepreneurs in HK, I was intrigued by the above phenomenon. I felt that it must be changed dramatically and quickly in order to harness the almost unlimited resources and enthusiasm of volunteers for the worthy causes of social entrepreneurs. The question is HOW?
One of the answers is what I am proposing below – finding the Intrapreneur-Volunteer. (Let me emphasize that this is only one of the possible answers; readers are encouraged to come up with more answers. And if you have a suggestion, please share it with me and I might help you spread your idea in these pages.)
What is an Intrapreneur-Volunteer?
Volunteers for a social enterprise can take many roles, such as board member, advisor, project team member, administrative support, physical work helper, etc, etc. And most social enterprises need a variety of these at different stages and for different purposes. But organizing and developing volunteers can be very time consuming, and since all social enterprises are usually short of staff, it is a very challenging task for the social entrepreneur to find the time to identify, screen, communicate with and organize work for the various volunteers.
Just put yourself into the shoes of a social entrepreneur: when you are struggling on many fronts to run and grow the business, how do you find the time to look for and look after the volunteers, however valuable they might be?
Enter the Intrapreneur-Volunteer. This person is a volunteer, in the sense that he or she is not a paid staff, with no fixed working hours or written contract of engagement. But this person is also an Intrapreneur, in the sense that he/she acts like an entrepreneur except that he/she is not running his/her own business but works within a social enterprise whose cause he/she totally identifies with.
The Intrapreneur-Volunteer needs to invest time and effort in understanding in-depth the vision, mission, values, mode of operation and key stakeholders of the social enterprise concerned. He or she would be treated like a member of the leadership team running the business, sharing the team’s aspirations, concerns, challenges, and ownership of the outcomes of the business.
As an intrapreneur, this person will have no job description (as no entrepreneur would have one), but he or she would have to come up with ideas and initiatives to help the enterprise to realize its vision and goals. This is where entrepreneurship comes in. This person would have to be very innovative and resourceful in adding value to the organization. Of course, he or she would have to discuss and obtain agreement with the leadership team before implementing any bold ideas, but it is the entrepreneurship spirit that is of the greatest value here.
What it takes to be an Intrapreneur-Volunteer
In short, what an Intrapreneur-Volunteer would do would look something like this:
- Screen the range of social enterprises in existence and identify the one whose vision and mission comes closet to your heart.
- Find out more about it by studying all available materials (printed sources, websites, documentaries, etc) and talk to people who are knowledgeable about the enterprise’s business,
- Contact the social entrepreneur concerned, send in a brief cv, and offer your service as an Intrapreneur-Volunteer. Alternatively, you might want to approach the social entrepreneur through someone who knows the former in person.
- Once you are given the chance to try out on the role, spend time to know the business in great depth. Take your time. You need a good feel of who the enterprise is serving, how well they are doing it, what challenges they are facing, etc. etc.
- Organize your observations and feedback to the leadership team. Discuss with them the most critical challenges facing the organization and how you might possibly help.
- Develop your own ideas on how to contribute to the enterprise. Be really entrepreneurial. Approach it as if it is your own business. Test your ideas with your friends, potential volunteers, and the leadership team. Crystallize your ideas into actionable programs and make plans for implementation.
- Identify the resources (money, manpower, equipment, space, etc) required for implementing your ideas. Be really resourceful. Try to see if you could come up with all the resources required. This might or might not be possible. But as an intrapreneur, you should exhaust your imagination before asking for help. The more resourceful you are, the greater your contribution to the enterprise.
- Then comes one of the most significant and challenging tasks: identify and organize volunteers to implement your ideas. The Intrapreneur-Volunteer is the linkage point between the enterprise and the pool of volunteers available outside. He or she would have to set up a simple mechanism to recruit, train, and organize various groups of volunteers to contribute to the enterprise’s work.
- The rest: you figure it out yourself.
A Challenging but Rewarding Role
You could now appreciate the challenges facing an Intrapreneur-Volunteer. It is by no means an easy job, and certainly a far cry from what we usually associate with a volunteer’s work. But this is exactly what we need to a give strategic assistance to social enterprises of all sorts. If you think that this work is complex and time-consuming, just ask yourself: who else could do it? Possibly the social entrepreneur, or one of the key assistants. But that would mean distracting them from their other work. And if an outside Intrapreneur-Volunteer could do the job, how invaluable this contribution could be? This is by far the most challenging but rewarding role one could play to support a social enterprise that you are passionate about.
Could you think of any other ways volunteers could make a significant impact for a social enterprise?