Alcatel-Lucent Foundation Blog: Try my Shoes

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Alcatel-Lucent Foundation Blog: Try my Shoes

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"Try my shoes" Blog post by @eeude on #diversity, #intrapreneur and @PasseportAvenir program
Friday, May 9, 2014 - 7:00am

It was the end of my work day on March 27, when I met with a group of 20 students in the headquarters of Alcatel-Lucent in Paris. All these students are part of Passeport Avenir, a program partly sponsored by the Alcatel-Lucent Foundation, and had responded to an invitation to join and discuss about intrapreneurship and diversity.

An intrapreneur is someone who tasks himself or herself to create something new that will bring value or solve a problem for the company, without being asked to do so. It is really about taking the initiative and responsibility for something that, in principle, is not in your job attributes. I wanted them to experience being an intrapreneur, so I asked them to try my shoes, and think about what they would do, were they in my place. That certainly was a bit more difficult for the men in the audience, but they all played the game. When you’re in a situation where you have identified a problem to solve or an opportunity (usually both come together), you have several ways to handle the situation. You can elude it and continue as usual. Or you can do something. This is what I did, together with the 5 other colleagues who founded StrongHer with me.

The discussion that followed was very lively on the best practices that me and the other co-founders of StrongHer had learned and developed, about how to scale the initiative and have a global impact, about the opportunities it opens as you demonstrate your entrepreneurial skills. We also discussed on gender diversity, and what men and women could do to benefit from a better gender-balanced workplace. I also was very pleased that other colleagues from Alcatel-Lucent had joined the event, being mentors for Passeport Avenir or intrapreneurs themselves. For example, Pascale Thorre, Global Diversity director at Alcatel-Lucent, brought her experience of participating to the “Défi Entreprendre” as intrapreneur and then as member of the jury. That gave the example of a company-based intrapreneurial program, compared to the employee-initiated intrapreneurship of StrongHer.

I know that these students have intra-/entrepreneurial resources in them. I’ve been in their shoes too. They face several challenges that would discourage many from pursuing high-level education. In particular, one of them explained to me how he had to work in different types of jobs, from construction to training a football team, to be able to finance his studies. They demonstrate the skills to take ownership for their own future, and don’t wait for others to solve it for them. They do it by participating to programs like Passeport Avenir, by being candidates to “We Made It” (our program offering English mentoring and business visits).

However, to do this, students need to envision a way forward, to look beyond the problem and see the opportunity. This is where the work of the employee volunteers becomes important. Volunteers can expand the field of possibilities for these students, by helping them to visualize what their future could be and build their confidence, by understanding their needs and motivations, by showing they believe in the student’s ability to succeed. Employees who volunteer also have this capacity to be in someone else’s shoes. They have the generosity and the empathy to do it. And this can make a great difference.

Passeport Avenir is a French association, composed of 17 major companies, aiming at supporting students from underserved communities via sponsorship and mentoring, to help them integrate in French high-ranking business and engineering schools or universities.

The Alcatel-Lucent Foundation and Alcatel-Lucent employees have been sponsoring this program for the past 8 years. In 2013, 172 Alcatel-Lucent employees have volunteered as part of the program, benefiting 240 students. The program was complemented by “We made it” in June 2013.


Keywords: Education | Alcatel-Lucent Foundation | Education | France | Philanthropy | Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship | Volunteerism & Community Engagement | diversity | intrapreneurship | passeport avenir