Traits of an Intrapreneur

The EWB National Conference is happening in only several days. One emphasis of National Conference 2014 will be intrapreneurship. What is intrapreneurship or an intrapreneur? you ask. Loosely defined, an intrapreneur is an employee who takes risks to innovate an idea and thus transforms the company or organization. They are employees who are comfortable with thinking outside the box or challenging the status quo.

Chances are as change agents, we probably will run into naysayers and inertia, especially in a large establishment. How does an intrapreneur move beyond resistance to new ideas to create change?

A blog in the Harvard Business Review offered a list of traits of a successful intrapreneur. Have a read of the blog here.

I resonated with not making money as the motivator. If I really care about transforming my workplace or profession enough, financial compensation would not be my object. Heck, I might be so eager to see this change that I would work extra hard to achieve it.

What about you? Which are some traits you identify with? What would make it easier for you to be a successful intrapreneur?


Farewell Madiba

The world lost a giant, a giant who fought systemic injustice and discrimination. U.S. President Barack Obama observed appropriately, “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, but let me say to the people of Africa, and young people around the world: You can make his life’s work your own.” The passing of the former South African President might mark the end of a chapter, an arguably dynamic, controversial, and heroic chapter, but it is the passing of the torch to today’s generation to carry on the struggle.

Some things Mandela left behind in his legacy are quotes:

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.

Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty exists, there is no true freedom.

Mandela recognized that poverty is a result of the unjust systems people have created. While people are impoverished, they do not experience true freedom. He tirelessly worked to break down Apartheid through challenging the norm, innovating the system, building unconventional liaisons. His enemies were won over as friends. Perhaps the fight against poverty in rural Africa could take a page from Mandela’s challenge against Apartheid. There was a smile that was rooted in an uncrushable spirit, an extended hand that was supported by unwavering belief, and feet willing to get wet and go where the need is the greatest.

Call for Food Sovereignty

Almost a month ago I, like thousands of Canadians, sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, replete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, family and friends. Thanksgiving was a good opportunity to pause and show our gratitude for the nutritional bounty we routinely enjoy. Thanks to globalization and logistical advances, more and more, we get to savour foods from all over the world and in all seasons of the year. Dessert usually follows a fabulous feast, and Thanksgiving dinner was no different. But have we stopped to ask where the sugar that sweetens our pies and cakes comes from, or how the cooking oil we use to prepare meals is sourced?

Last month, the Vancouver International Film Festival screened the documentary No Land No Food No Life by Amy Miller. The documentary highlighted the struggle in Cambodia between small-scale farmers and sugar agribusiness and the spread of oil palm plantations in Uganda taking over the family farms of diverse crops. In the two countries thousands of miles apart, the governments sided with the foreign corporations and turned on their own farmers.

In Cambodia, the government forced the small-scale farmers off their own land so that it could be sold for cheap to the foreign-owned sugar agribusiness. Needless to say, the original crops the farmers cultivated were razed to the ground to make way for swaths of sugar plantations. As an exchange, the farmers were offered jobs in the sugar plantation for meagre wages and exhausting hours. One of the farmers interviewed in the movie said she felt like she was working as a slave on her own land. When the farmers organized themselves to demonstrate against the actions of the agribusiness, the military descended on their village to physically quell the protest, sending the government message that the farmer’s request for justice would be met by physical force.

The oil palm burgeoning industry in Uganda exists at the expense of virgin jungles and small-scale farms growing mixed native crops. A Singaporean owned oil palm conglomerate managed to convince the Ugandan government that oil palm could be used in everything from heating fuel to cooking oil and thus be a miracle resource that could industrialize the country. Farmers were convinced to convert their hereditary farms into oil palm plantations. The oil palm conglomerate would pay them a certain amount for their black boulders of harvest. They did not know, however, that the middlemen transporters taking their crop to the processing facility would only come once a week, which is too infrequent for the shelf life of the oil palm. The oil palm had to be harvested at just the right time and transported promptly to the processing facility, otherwise the price of the crop would depreciate. And to add injury to insult, the oil palm plantations require regular spraying of pesticides manufactured by another agribusiness that is probably on the top of mind when people think GMO: Monsanto. Hired teenagers without any protective gear walk through the oil palm fields discharging the toxic chemicals via a back pack spray pump. The chemicals leach through the soil and run into the nearby rivers and lakes, thereby killing the aquaculture villagers rely on.

These are unfortunately not the only examples of injustices farmers in the developing world face. Thousands of farmers everyday are being evicted from their land so that consumers in the developed world could purchase food at cheap prices. However there are campaigns to promote the farmers’ rights. The Clean Sugar Campaign is trying to reverse the forced land grabs in Cambodia at the hands of the sugar industry. There are also dozens of other organizations and campaigns fighting against land grabs; you can find them here.

Next time we sit down at the dinner table, we should consider if farmers were evicted from their land and livelihoods for the food we eat. Perhaps we might think twice.

Snapshot on AfriLEAD

At a recent chapter meeting, a number of us talked about researching the overseas ventures as a Member Learning activity (to learn more about an actual venture) and from the research determine what the venture’s needs are so that our chapter could create a database of current requests for specific resources/skills for ventures that are actively on the ground. This database of asks (someone else can definitely coin a better name, please let us know) is designed to help EWBers in Canada get more engaged with what’s going on in Africa and doing useful for the PF’s or APS.

It turns out EWB has already prepared brochures of various ventures. AfriLEAD is the venture our Professional Fellow Colleen O’Toole is currently working in. You can find out a bit more about AfriLEAD by reading the brochure here: It’s pretty exciting that a social enterprise based in Ghana is actively trying to reach out to high schoolers so that locals are creating change impacting. This is similar to what EWB is doing here in Canada!

Stay tuned, because we’ll get to find out more about tangible things we could do in Vancouver to get more involved with AfriLEAD.

Off the Shelf of l’EWBibliothèque

The problem of poverty is one that is large-scale, multifaceted, global, and yes, complex. This post from the EWBibliothèque discusses how teaming up with other players, such as other NGO’s could create lasting large-scale impact.

Here are some notable quotations from the article:

The complex nature of most social problems belies the idea that any single program or organization, however well managed and funded, can singlehandedly create lasting large-scale change.

Collaborating with other players is probably the (smarter) way to solve large social problems. The various groups could play to their strengths and compliment each other to achieve solutions that systemically address the complex challenges. Gone are the days when one NGO could go at it alone and be the hero.

The most critical factor by far is an influential champion (or small group of champions) who commands the respect necessary to bring CEO-level cross-sector leaders together and keep their active engagement over time.

It’s so important to have the leadership from each group to buy into the collaboration effort. Sometimes initiatives fail when the leadership or decision makers do not agree with the idea because they might not have been consulted in the first place. Also, the leadership needs to commit to collaborating over a period of time.

A strong framework for change, based on strong research and input from local players, shapes the strategic thinking of the group, helps them make tough choices about where to spend their time and energy, and guides their efforts at monitoring and evaluating their work.

Having a common framework and evaluation for the collaborative impact helps keep the groups focused on solving the large-scale complex problem. Common expectations would help all the groups work off the same page.

How would you gauge EWB’s capacity creating collaborative impact? Where else would collaborative impact be needed?

Pausing to Get Ahead

For those of you who follow this blog, you might have noticed there hasn’t been a new post for almost six months. Yours truly was on an unintended hiatus. My mind needed an extended break and frankly, I just haven’t been overly inspired. But that is not to say there haven’t been much activity at EWB in Vancouver. There was a big push for Run to End Poverty and I got to take part in the half-marathon along with other EWBers, new and alumni, students and professionals, local and out-of-town. (I loved the training runs leading up to the half-marathon–thanks Will, Carolyn, and Jon!) At work, I was leading the charge to raise money for the EWB Draft. There was a lot of organizing and running around. On top of that were the regular EWB gatherings and send-offs for Colleen (to Ghana) and Jon (also to Ghana).

While there’s a lot of excitement around positive change initiatives, if the change agents behind these initiatives don’t have an internal reservoir of energy, then eventually the excitement wears out and the initiatives sputter and spiral to the ground. I didn’t experience burnout; in fact I responded by listening to my body and mind by respecting my limits and taking time off from doing Member Learning.

EWB is made up of extremely motivated, high capacity volunteers who are passionate about “Doing it for Dorothy.” There are always new ventures, new frameworks, new discussions. Invitations to Google hangouts, survey questionnaires, and yes, even request for comments on the latest blog post on Intelligent Development Musings pile in your email inbox. More can always be done but there always seems to be too few people (or bodies) to do the work. It’s almost like if nobody pilots these fresh ideas that are brimming with potential, then there’s a risk they’ll never see the light of day and die unceremoniously. We who are involved with system change and promoting a better future (remember the grad class of 2036?) are often susceptible to burnout. The myriad of activities to transform the world into a better place fight for our attention and we feel we need give more and more of our time for these causes. We fall into the cycle of working for the betterment of Dorothy without giving ourselves any compassion. And soon we might find ourselves burned out.

Psychologist Michael Bader in his article “Being Progressive Shouldn’t Be Hazardous to Your Health” says leaders in social change routinely take a toll on their lives to put the movement ahead of their needs.

Too many leaders and organizers are already inclined to view constant conflict and crisis as normal, to readily shoulder feelings of omnipotent responsibility, and to be self-sacrificing martyrs for the “cause.”

Bader argues that these leaders might have a hard time dealing with burnout because they have an subconscious struggle of achieving the mission of the cause while fearing the desire of taking care of oneself with good things. He says “Activists frequently relate stories of unbearably long work hours with an ironic sense of pride, inviting admiration for their abilities to work harder and longer than anyone else.”

Self-care, showing oneself compassion, has been neglected in our results driven society. Self-care is especially important for those of us who are volunteering for a social change NGO. Taking time to rest does much to renew one’s passion, curiosity, and imagination, attributes that are so important EWB. We need members who are excited to tackle new challenges, not just struggling to go through the motions of being at meetings.

I’d like to argue that creativity–yes, engineers are creative beings!–is absolutely fundamental to EWB and any other organization. Designer Stefan Sagmeister in this TED video lauds the benefits of taking regular sabbaticals.

How do you seek self-care? What do you get out of taking a sabbatical?

Off the Shelf of l’EWBibliothèque

Venture map2

This is a must read for all EWBers! As EWB has shifted its focus away from programs and more to ventures, the traditional structure of our organization has evolved.  Ventures would follow a trajectory, an incubated systemic innovation (or ISI in EWB-speak) path, which results in exiting the EWB incubator. For a visual of the incubator, click here. At National Conference 2013, a good number of ventures were pitched and their respective leaders/champions sought the EWB network for feedback. Since Conference, the Strategy & Investment team evaluated in which ventures EWB would invest money and staffing. This post goes through the selection process, criteria and rationale, and of course the chosen ventures!

The diagram above taken from the EWBibliothèque post shows the areas the ventures operate and where they overlap with each other. It’s a powerful reminder how systems do not operate in vacuums!