I was recently giving a speech on Innovation and Youth Entrepreneurship at the Pan African University for Water and Energy Sciences in Tlemcen, Algeria when I was asked a question that shook my world. I was so focused on sharing my experiences with young students of water and energy policy and engineering, excited to have the opportunity to motivate them to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial. Present were also faculty of the University and partner representatives. The event was part of the International Water and Energy Fair organised by PAUWES. PAUWES is one of the five hubs of the Pan African University (PAU) hosted at the University of Tlemcen in Algeria. The Pan African University (PAU) was initiated by the African Union Commission (AUC) in 2008 with the objective to promote higher education, science and technology on the African continent at a high academic level. The focus is on the development of post-graduates, PhD-candidates and applied research. The PAU is guided by the vision of an Africa managed by its own citizens and acting as a dynamic force in the international arena.
During Q&A I was asked by a lady in the audience:
“You seem to have so much passion for innovation and change. May I ask what you are doing in such a big organisation such as the African Development Bank.”
I was naturally taken aback by the question. I had not expected the questions to be so much about me. Suddenly it struck me that indeed I have also been part of innovation and entrepreneurship inside a big organisation. That there is a role that innovation and intrapreneurship can play in transforming organisational processes and operations. I recounted the story of Pitching Innovation (InnoPitch) of which I am privileged to be part of the team driving for change at the African Development Bank.
I must admit that at the start of the The InnoPitch initiative at the African Development Bank, my colleagues and I in the Team had our doubts too, being a new and untested initiative of getting staff to pitch ideas on how to improve the Bank’s processes and operations. Being was a good case of a big international organisation it was natural to have such doubts. Nonetheless we recognised the immense potential staff involvement would have as the Bank pursues its new Development and Business Delivery Model.
The result has been amazing. The process which received over 100 ideas from over 250 staff, which culminated in an Award giving ceremony on 24th June 2016 which saw 5 five ideas selected as winners and awarded by the President of the Bank. Over 4,200 staff votes and 1,250 comments were shared through the platform, enhancing a spirit of staff engagement and collaboration.
And we saw that quality and commitment again on Friday. I commend the INNOPitch initiative – the living proof of the old Gandhian adage that we ourselves must be the change we want to see.
Corporate Intrapreneurs – your best Asset
Big organisations need entrepreneurs too. Entrepreneurs in this case. Staff who help generate new ideas, new business and help improve processes and operations. Not only that. Intrapreneurs also help create a culture of innovation and facilitate culture change. Moving discussions from corridors and cafeterias to an open transparent environment where other staff can vote and comment on ideas. The InnoPitch experience witnessed not just the ideas that were posted, but also the enthusiasm of staff members to be involved in the discussions and decision-making on the ideas submitted.
Senior Management Buy-in
It takes an open and transparent support of senior management and for intrapreneurship to thrive and grow. Staff need to trust the openness of management to new ideas but also its commitment to implement at least some of the ideas that are deemed feasible and align with the organisations’ strategic direction. Throughout the InnoPitch process management at all levels of decision-making were open to the initiative and in some cases directly supported their staff.
Organisational change requires change agents or in this case initiators of change. Change agents important to how change will not only be perceived but also gain acceptances. Behind the InnopItch Initiative was a team that not only initiate and champion the process but also served as the technical and social interface between staff and senior management. In a way the change brokers brought in technical expertise but also combined this with social and interpersonal skills to manage the interface.
I am proud to be have been part of a team of innovation champions: encouraging colleagues to pitch their ideas but most importantly to believe in helping create the Africa we want. Yes it is possible to be passionate, creative and innovative inside big international organisations too.
Read more about InnoPicth online: