‘Global warming is not done by some supernatural power, it’s coming from our business world’: Yunus on the potential of social intrapreneurs

Nobel laureate condemns those who ‘mindlessly’ continue the old ways of doing business and urges swift action, speaking at celebration event for those who are transforming corporates from within.

The pandemic has done a lot of damage to the world and caused colossal financial losses on top of the loss of life. Despite all of that, said Professor Muhammad Yunus last week, it has given us “tremendous opportunities to reflect”. He referred in part to the fact that he was speaking through a computer screen, a method of communication used much more  frequently since the pandemic first spread across the globe.

Yunus was speaking at the closing ceremony for the Unusual Pioneers 2021 programme. The programme is a global platform for corporate social intrapreneurs – entrepreneurial employees in corporate organisations who develop a profitable new product, service or business model that creates value for society or planet. It is managed by Yunus Social Business in partnership with Porticus and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship (a sister organisation of the World Economic Forum).

He added: “It has also created an opportunity to think back on what we have done, and what needs to be done. So if we’re still waiting for the pandemic to be over… going back to work as usual as we did before, I say no. We shouldn’t be doing that – we should be preparing to do something differently than we did before.”

He argued that the pandemic had given the world a “tabula rasa”, giving the opportunity  to begin anew.

Global warming is not done by some supernatural power – it’s coming from our business world

When asked whether he was satisfied with the actions taken by corporate leaders, he claimed that while there was some hope, the reality still stood that business remained as “the old way of doing business” and that we had not seen any truly substantial change.

“I take the positive stand that all the bad things that [are] happening in the world originate from business itself,” he said. “Global warming is not done by some supernatural power, it’s coming from our business world.”

He added: “We don’t have much time. And that’s a dangerous position that we are in right now. Because the way we mindlessly continue business – that has not changed.”

According to Yunus, it is because of this limited time frame that social intrapreneurs are so important – it’s the “first step” that people are rethinking how business is done, and beginning to design the transitional process.


Defining your own resilience as a social intrapreneur

Speaking alongside Yunus at the Unusual Pioneers closing ceremony were social intrapreneurs Garance Wattez-Richard, the CEO of AXA Emerging Customers, and Ruchika Singhal, the vice president of Medtronic Labs.

One of the secrets of being a social intrapreneur is to take it as a given that ‘no’ is never the end of the conversation

Headshot of Garance Wattez-RichardAccording to Wattez-Richard (pictured left), the transformative potential of any social intrapreneur is not in their method of action, but by virtue of them being there.

“I really am convinced it’s about resilience,” she added. “Resilience, continuity, patience and a lot of humility.”

She continued: “One of the secrets of being a social intrapreneur is to take it as a given that ‘no’ is never the end of the conversation. If you accept that from the beginning you will never accept ‘no’ as the end of the conversation, you will never ask for permission, but only for forgiveness.

“I think from that moment onwards you define your own resilience.”Headshot of Ruchika Singhal

Singhal (pictured right) echoed Wattez-Richard’s thoughts on resilience, and emphasised the importance of storytelling and getting people to imagine the possibility of a different world.

“When you’re trying to do something that is disruptive to existing systems, there is a lot of resistance to that,” she said. “Oftentimes the hardest part is getting people to see something different being possible.”

According to Singhal, it is important for your team to be motivated, inspired and resilient because “nobody can do this stuff alone”.


Finding the solution

Yunus acknowledged that many social intrapreneurs may have the feeling of “I’m too small” to make a difference in the world or within a corporation, and the frustration that comes with that. He claimed that what social intrapreneurs who feel this way needed to do was understand the problem and then see if they could find any solutions.

You look at the bigger picture, and start with a small step

“One way I find is a very important way to start is to make a very small area of action,” he said. “You can’t change the whole company. You create a project within the company – a very small one.”

He explained how he wanted to create a “world of three zeroes” – these “three zeroes” being zero high carbon emissions, zero wealth concentration and zero unemployment. While this isn’t something that he could do overnight, he said, he can always find a way to start with reducing carbon emissions.

“You look at the bigger picture, and start with a small step,” he continued, “your action could change the entire world. But that action could just be a little step.”

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