Co-create with your future leaders
Employees can be a vital source of socially innovative ideas. Companies can engage employees in idea generation through development programmes, competitions, awards or intrapreneurship workshops.
In 2011, the Chief Executive Officer of Centrica was acutely aware of the external pressures on energy companies and the macro trends affecting their business in the long term. Subsequently, he issued a challenge to the high-potential professionals selected for an internal talent development programme: how can Centrica take its efforts beyond traditional corporate social responsibility initiatives to open up new sources of innovation and creativity and take the brand to the next level?
“Ignite helps us to make a contribution to society, keeping us abreast of ideas and developments, encouraging innovation and giving our people an insight into how to manage a real business from the beginning.”
Iain Conn, Chief Executive Officer, Centrica
Through a year-long development programme, four teams worked on this question. They were immersed in different business models for social innovation, spoke at length with charities and social entrepreneurs, and visited several sites and initiatives that successfully wove social and financial value together. Out of that immersive experience, the teams generated several proposals to present to the chief executive officer and leadership team. The winning proposal was to set up Ignite, an impact investment fund, which was the United Kingdom’s first corporate impact fund investing in energy enterprises pursuing financial value and social change.
In 2012, Centrica launched Ignite and set up an investment panel including two Executive Committee members. To manage the fund’s operations, an internal team with corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions experience was recruited. By 2015, the £10 million fund had made 11 investments and was providing pre-investment support to nine additional enterprises. The team collaborates with Centrica business units, and high-potential managers are often seconded to the fund or the investee companies, or serve on their executive boards.
Perhaps most significantly, the fund has become a source of strategic foresight and market intelligence for Centrica. “Traditionally we looked at macro trends and sought external consulting advice to think through our strategy,” said Julia Rebholz, Head of Ignite. “The fund complements this macro advice by helping us to understand these trends better from an entrepreneurial, bottom-up perspective. How can the right investments address those macro scenarios? Where should we be taking small steps on things that could be scaled for the future? It gives us a different lens as well as relationships with venture capital, private equity and impact investment funds, which we didn’t have previously.
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