Gib Bulloch: “The biggest challenges we face in the world … are actually business opportunities in disguise”

This week’s Spotlight is on Gib Bulloch, an award winning social intrapreneur, speaker and writer. Gib writes on a range of topics concerning the role of business in society and is a firm believer in the power of the individual and of big business to change the world.

After leaving Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP) in 2016 – a multi-award winning corporate social enterprise that he founded under the umbrella of Accenture – Gib captured his unique take on business in his first book: The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a Corporate Insurgent.

By highlighting the distinction between entrepreneurs – what Forbes defines as “those who identify a need – any need – and fill it” – and intrapreneurs, those who behave like a entrepreneurs whist working within a large organisation – Gib gives as a detailed explanation of how business can act as a force for good.

As Scotland CAN B are firm advocates of the capacity for business to be a driver of social, cultural and environmental change, we thought of no one better to ask about what the future landscape of business looks like and why the way business is currently being done is in desperate need of change:

1. What does it mean for a business to be impactful? 

I don’t think anyone would disagree that business is already highly impactful. In the last two decades alone, multinational businesses have grown massively in terms of size and scale. Apple and Amazon are the first two multinational corporations to pass the $1 trillion mark in terms of market capitalisation.  The challenge is that the impacts of big business are not always perceived as being positive and trust in business and the economic system is at an all-time low. Business must have a purpose beyond just making profit. If it is to regain trust from the society that grants it the license to operate, it must find ways of impacting people’s lives better.

2. What is the difference between an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur and what role do both play in driving social change? 

The word ‘social’ is increasingly becoming implicit when we look at the world of start-ups.  For many years, individuals, often branded ‘social entrepreneurs’ have brought the power of capital, innovation and business acumen to create new organisations that address a particular social or environmental challenge.  But it would be wrong to assume that such socially minded entrepreneurial talent is confined to the world of business start-ups. Also talented and socially aware, the “intrapreneur” is emerging, from deep within some of the world’s largest corporations. In my experience, these mavericks are two-parts changemaker, one-part troublemaker. They don’t do status quo. They believe that the best way to achieve social impact at scale, is to start with scale (something too many entrepreneurial start-ups lack) —they seek to influence the course of the parent organisation, from the bottom up and inside out.  After all, just a small shift in the direction of a large super-tanker can have massive impact downstream.  

3. What does a ‘conscious’ form of capitalism look like to you?

Capitalism has become something of a sacred cow.  Yet I firmly believe we can all challenge the traditional narratives and our belief systems when it comes to successful business within the capitalist system.   These beliefs are programmed into us through business education such as the MBA or even in TV shows such as Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice. A robust business case might not just be about what the headline profit is.  Long-term value creation matters just as much as short-term profit maximisation.  I believe the younger generation of business professionals have the opportunity to reimagine business as it could and should be – more ‘conscious’ of who it serves and how it operates.  Quite different from how it is today.

4. In terms of charities, social enterprises, public organisations and private business, what does an ideal values-led ecosystem look like and what relationship between these organisations is necessary to instigate socio-environmental change?

Leading companies view tackling societal problems as opportunities for growth, and they are investing in technology, innovation and metrics to support this. Further, they are enabling their talented employees, or intrapreneurs, to help shape this vision of the future, recognising it requires a different way of thinking and of doing.  Charities and social enterprises also have a key role to play in using their core competencies and deep understanding of the socio-economic context to help co-create new business models.  There are encouraging signs that the CEOs of the largest NGOs in the world are more open than ever to a new way of working with the private sector.  Their deep expertise in the growth markets of tomorrow and their knowledge of the needs of local communities, could unlock significant value for business while positively impacting key development indictors.

“Confrontation must be replaced by co-creation and collaboration as the hallmarks of a redefined relationship between business and Civil Society in the years ahead”

I’ve described this phenomenon as cross-sector convergence and have written extensively about it over the past 5-10 years.  Ultimately I envision a new ‘4th sector” emerging – a market place for social and environmental outcomes, where new technology and innovative financing mechanisms enable problems to be solved in innovative new ways by a new breed of hybrid organization.  

5. You’ve worked closely with huge multinational corporations. What is the business case for these corporations to be impactful and how does it differ from that of SMEs? 

I strongly believe that the biggest challenges we face in the world – how we feed and nourish the next billion on the planet, provide them with access to education, healthcare, clean energy and so on, are actually business opportunities in disguise.  New technologies are fundamentally redefining where business can play a role and where we can make money while at the same time benefiting society.  SMEs can play a key role as catalysts within the extended business ecosystem of these large corporates.  They are arguably more agile and able to pick up on these opportunities more quickly than their larger corporate cousins.

6. Do you see change as a ‘top down’ (i.e. governmental)  or ‘bottom up’ process?

I’m very much in the ‘bottom up’ and somewhat revolutionary camp.   But the true answer is no doubt ‘and/both’.  A Smart CEO would do well to empower the internal mavericks, misfits, changemakers and troublemakers inside – then get out of their way.  There are bound to be numerous dormant Elon Musk-type social intrapreneurs inside many businesses awaiting enlightened leaders to come along. The rise of the intrapreneurship movement, through the likes of The League of Intrapreneurs, Circle of Young Intrapreneurs and Aspen’s First Mover’s programme, fills me with hope for the future.  

There’s also employee activism emerging from Silicon Valley in companies like Google and Microsoft. Just wait until these millennials discover they have both agency and voice when it comes to demanding change – without requiring a “c” in their job title. The signs are that power is shifting downwards and outwards in such corporate hierarchies. 

7. Having worked in development, what obstacles have you seen in Less Developed Countries (LDCS) for organisations that are trying to move away from traditional business models?

I see far more opportunity than challenge frankly.  I was in Rwanda in May 2018 as part of my duties as a Board Member of The END Fund.  I visited Zipline Wireless, which uses drone technology to delivery blood and other vital medical supplies in a fraction of the time it would take for road transportation, given Rwanda is a particularly hilly country.  Out of the box thinking in the least developed countries will come up with new solutions to the likes of access to clean energy, nutrition, education and health services.  It’s not about them playing catch-up with the north – they will likely leap frog our development in spectacular ways.

If you are interested in learning more about Gib’s work, you can purchase his book here. To take the first step in turning your business into a driver for change, take our 30-minute Quick Impact Assessment today.

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  1. Pingback: The Bullog – January 2019 | Gib Bulloch

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