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Mark has been in Barclays for eight years and before that he worked in finance for five years. His journey into social entrepreneurship is not a usual one. Coming from accounting, finance, and banking into entrepreneurship perhaps seems a bit random. Now Mark is in charge of social innovation in Barclays.

The Social Innovation Facility in Barclays is looking to find commercial products and services that can help address social or environmental challenges, and provide a way to accelerate innovation which is required to deliver new products and services. The Facility tries to find the sweet spot between social needs, business opportunity, and the corporate assets & expertise.

Barclays is doing social innovation for two main reasons. Firstly, from a commercial perspective, opportunities that address social challenges can actually represent some of the greatest business opportunities that Barclays has today. Some of the fastest growing markets are involved; an impact investing market where there’s potentially a trillion-dollar opportunity for a bank.

Barclays has been around for 325 years as an organization. The bank is older than the USA, and older than the UK. Yet 80% of customers in Africa don’t have access to basic financial services. They need to find ways of serving these markets, ways of innovating commercially to do that.

The second reason is for social impact purposes. The greatest opportunity any business has for impacting the world is through its core business, or its commercial products and services. There is only so much that can be achieved through charitable means. If the bank can find ways of wrapping its business models around social needs, then it can actually solve problems and bring these projects to scale.

In 2012 they set up the Social Innovation Facility with 25 million pounds set to drive new social solutions. They set up an independent board to judge the products and services propositions that came up; basically an internal VC fund within Barclays.

They have four investment criteria:

  1. The business impact
  2. The social impact
  3. Scalability
  4. Strategic alignment

The 25 million pounds set aside has been invested in 25 product propositions across the business. The nature of these projects are quite long-term, but they are starting to see some real returned on both the commercial and the social perspective.

The most interesting point of success for Mark is the social entrepreneurs.

Mark’s team and the bank can do all kinds things to help, such as: ring-fencing funding, put up programs to support innovation, but the single most important asset they have to drive innovation is people.

Finding a way of servicing these entrepreneurs and their ideas is what helps to drive innovation, and then really exciting things start to happen. You can have the most amazing facilities but without people to drive, innovation is not going to happen.

What is exciting for Mark is the passion that comes together with combining a social mission with business. Social entrepreneurs are driven by a far deeper passion and purpose. This drive leads to the most important quality that any entrepreneur or intrapreneur will need in business – resilience. But trying the drive social impact through your business is hard. This is why most businesses revert to charitable donations.

Since the launch of the Social Innovation Facility, Barclays has supported a community of around 200 social entrepreneurs. Mark talks about sevens lessons that they have learnt along the way, on how to help and support these entrepreneurs.

1. Create a community. If you can create a community for these social intrapreneurs you create a sort of a self-help group, where they will energize each other and help reinforce each other’s resilience. In Barclays they see self-forming groups of social intrapreneurs who get together to discuss topics such as impact investing, and they use their topics of interest as drivers to break down silos. Community helps build better ideas, but also helps to energize the intrapreneurs.

They implemented a community in Barclays in two ways: one virtual (My Site), which is a collaboration platform, and the other is a space for the intrapreneurs to come together (hangouts). You cannot undermine the importance of having physical locations where individuals can meet and break away from the traditional ways of working. This allows for ideas to flow horizontally across the business but also up and down into different channels.

2. Provide incubation. Incubation is particularly important in the early stage. If you send people right out into the open, before they had a chance to perfect their pitch and to build their ideas, then they’re going to get shut down by people in the business. You need to provide space for the entrepreneurs to sound the radar for a few months so that they can build their business case (and confidence). In fact, some of the funding given by Barclays was used to support early stage business cases, with only a single one-page application form.

3. Everyone needs to be in sales. After having resilience, the second most important skill for an entrepreneur or intrapreneur to have in order to be successful is the ability to tell a story, to sell your idea. Usually bankers are not the greatest salespeople, therefore they have incorporated storytelling and pitching from the beginning of the intrapreneurs’ training.

Intrapreneurs need to realize that not everyone is going to be sharing the same passion as they have, in a particular when it comes to social impact. Therefore, they need to be able to adapt their storytelling and pull out the particular aspects that are important to individual stakeholders.

A final tip that Mark gives with regard to this topic is to separate those stakeholders who will make things happen and those who will just nod and smile – because when it comes to social causes no one wants to be the one to shut down an idea. But you still need to figure out who is there to nod and who is there to do.

4. Create legitimacy. Being able to say that you are part of the Social Innovation Facility in Barclays is powerful. Therefore, they name each project and give it a ‘stamp’ that proves they are formally part of the program.

5. Open-up ideation. You should give employees the confidence to go somewhere with their ideas, regardless of your position in the organization. People in product development teams and business development teams don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. A job title is irrelevant when it comes to an intrapreneur.

6. Provide encouragement, competition, and incentives. It is essential to create a community for the intrapreneurs where they can get together and support each other, share stories, and provide encouragement. Encouragement can be very energizing, especially in a time when an intrapreneur reaches the end of his or her resilience, and they may be feeling down by facing so many no’s and obstacles. Encouragement can be provided in many forms: from simply having a conversation, to providing financial support and networks.

7. Business case if always king. When you’re looking at a social idea, the passion of the individual entrepreneur can be their greatest asset, but also their greatest downfall. They go into meetings and quickly get bucketed as a CSR project. The problem is that becoming a CSR project is the quickest way to kill your idea. Therefore, Mark makes sure that intrapreneurs at Barclays always focus on the business fundamentals, which comes down to having a revenue stream, profit and loss statement in place, etc. Brand and employee engagement are not going to take you far, you need to prove that money can be made.

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