Corporate social intrapreneurship in global public health

1 Patrick Leenheers 2
April 14th, 2017
Article by: Rajiv Ball, Patrick Leenheers
Corporate social intrapreneurship in global public health

Over the past year, THNK has been working with Johnson&Johnson on their Social Intrapreneurship Program (SIP). This program has been specifically designed for senior J&J leaders. We help them to develop the mindsets, behaviours and skills of a Corporate Social Intrapreneur, defined by SustainAbility as “someone who works inside a major corporation or organization to develop and promote practical solutions to social or environmental challenges where progress is currently stalled by market failures.”


As part of the SIP, the participants explored a real public health challenge: how to reduce the incidence of HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women in South Africa.  The topic is particularly relevant since the disease burden of HIV in this region is high. And for multiple socio-economic reasons, the infection rate among adolescent females is twice that of adolescent males (and rising).


Guided by THNK Faculty, program participants spent two weeks in South Africa doing 'Sensing', a phase in THNK’s Innovation Flow, defined as: “an immersive exploration of a topic, combining rational analysis with intuitive and associative inquiry to gain deep user insights.”


As part of the Sensing process, we visited (youth) clinics and orphanages. We conducted interviews with over 20 experts in the field. We facilitated workshops with over 60 adolescents to better understand their worlds and, in particular, their attitudes toward (safe) sex and HIV. The human-centric, intrapreneurial Sensing-to-Scaling approach deployed by THNK led to breakthrough concepts that ultimately could play a role in reducing the incidence rate of HIV.


At the end of the program in February 2017, participants presented their concepts to senior executives of J&J. Adrian Thomas, VP Global Public Health and Market Access, the program sponsor, noted: “THNK has been a creative partner in bringing a structured methodology to an immersion-based program to tackle some of the largest problems in global public health.”

Corporate social intrapreneurship in global public health 1

A 2016 study conducted by UNAids showed that girls between 15 and 24 are over-indexed significantly when it comes to new HIV infections in South Africa

As facilitators of creative leadership programs, this program simultaneously challenged and inspired us. On the one hand, it was confronting to see at close quarters the human consequences of HIV and all its associated “cousins”. Stigma, shame and loneliness, poverty, sexual abuse and gang violence. On the other hand, we also saw a ‘story of hope’. Alongside Program participants, we met and listened to the stories of the young people who have flourished through extreme adversity. These stories energised us to think about the possibilities of making a real difference in this situation and others of similar complexity.

THNK is proud to be working with J&J. Our experience in working together closely is that it is an organization that is putting the interests of patients and communities first, as noted in its Credo. The leaders that we work with have big ideas and big heart. And as an organization, J&J has the corporate resources and commitment to make a difference in health outcomes across the world.

Are you an intrapreneur?

Are you an experienced intrapreneur looking to broaden your horizon? Learn how to be more effective and meet a diverse network in THNK’s Creative Leadership Program.