Originally published at Africa Outlook magazine. Available here.

March 14th, 2022

Philippa White, Founder and CEO of The International Exchange, talks through the rise of the intrapreneur, and the importance of leaving your comfort zone to create positive change.

Written by: Philippa White, Founder and CEO of The International Exchange

Most of us are uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. But, pushing yourself in new ways unlocks new thinking. You end up seeing the world from a different perspective, and as a result, your true potential and purpose start to shine through.

As one of our clients, Lauren is an Account Director at a large advertising agency in New York. Through her agency, she was chosen to engage in a professional development programme with The International Exchange (TIE) whose focus is to disrupt the comfort zones of seasoned professionals, with a view to impact them, their companies, and the world.

She found herself working with a marine conservation organization called the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) in Tofo, Mozambique for 30 days, while still fully employed by her company. Her objective was to work with the organization to create cut-through communication materials that would help position them to potential donors. Everyone at MMF was completely dedicated and passionate about the cause – cleaning the plastic from the beaches and working to preserve the ocean life. The impact of their work is extraordinary.

At the end of Lauren’s experience, she wondered how on earth she could go back to the corporate world. But after working closely with the coaches on the TIE program and reflecting on the experience further, she was reminded that if everyone left the private sector, how will it ever change? She realized that she could use what she’d learned about herself and the real world from her program in Mozambique to make a positive impact on the planet – using what she knew and leveraging the financial and human resources she had at her fingertips. She realized she needed to look at impacting the private sector from a systemic point of view – which could be a bigger change than simply cleaning up the plastic from one beach.

She returned to New York inspired, saying that she could start to be the driver of change by being the one to come up with the solutions for her clients, rather than sitting back and waiting for that “perfect brief.” Changing perspectives can impact you and your work. But to be able to see the world differently, you need to find innovative ways to really shake things up. This experience got her thinking differently.

Lauren commented, “This program was more of a mindset shift than anything else. It was the catalyst that pushed me to think differently and changed the way I tackle problems. My experience fundamentally changed how I interact with the world.”

The TIE program that Lauren embarked on has been shaking up people’s perspectives about themselves and the world so they can be and do more. Lauren didn’t know how to articulate it then, but what she unearthed from her program was the desire to be an intrapreneur.

She had that niggle that was ignited from changing perspectives, and she discovered that she wanted to be a changemaker. She wanted to create a future that she knew was possible but hadn’t arrived yet. By staying where she was and rewiring how things work at her company, and her client’s company from within, she became an intrapreneur.

So, what makes intrapreneurs so effective in driving significant change? Intrapreneurs look at the status quo, and it makes them feel uneasy. They can bridge borders, network with different people, and transcend adversity. They are self-aware, flexible, and lead from the heart. They are empathetic, embrace diversity, take calculated risks, and are comfortable in uncomfortable situations. They can collaborate and gain the trust of people different from themselves, see connections between different products, solutions, and think innovatively.

Everyone has the potential to be an intrapreneur. But the key is unlocking it and all the competencies necessary to make being an intrapreneur a success. This self-awareness and potential to drive change are unlocked by going out into the world and by being pushed in new ways. It doesn’t happen inside our comfort zones, our areas of expertise, or our professional bubbles. And this is where these types of experiential learning opportunities are vital.

By taking professionals from their comfortable lives in London, New York, or any other big city and having them immersed in issues in Malawi looking to find cleaner cooking solutions, or Ghana to help get African literature out to the world, or in Zambia with Street Children, we help people gain the essential competencies, knowledge, experiences, and confidence that they need to thrive in today’s world. Through these immersive experiential learning opportunities, professionals discover how to both think and feel and become comfortable in ambiguous situations while remaining flexible and empathetic. They become professionals who want to challenge the status quo and fight for more human and responsible business practices.

If you want better people, better companies, and a better world, you need to combine the three. You can’t work with any of them in isolation. Companies and individuals need to step out of their comfort zones to be the best that they can be. As a result, companies not only need to invest in this type of growth and discovery but also need to be open to doing things differently, to adapt to this changing landscape, and to link their work with their employees’ personal purpose. They need to not only empower employees to be a part of this new beginning but also be willing to embrace the change that will be created.

For a better world, it’s all about being comfort zone disruptors to create these changemakers and intrapreneurs.


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