Definition of internal activist

People who work from inside their organisations to take on current challenges such as environmental sustainability, social justice and corporate responsibility.

Internal activists are 'inside outsiders', in that they have dual allegiances.  They want their organisations to do well, but they also want them to respond to the needs of the times.  Internal activists seek to contribute to systemic change.

As well as initiate change themselves, they also, importantly, help mobilise other people’s energies.  Often people work through achieving small wins, finding ways to align change with their organisation’s espoused goals.  They do not typically want to claim credit for ensuing action.  But some recognition of their role helps their future credibility.

Being an internal activist presents choices.  Whether to be overt or to operate below the parapet?  When to be outspoken and when more moderated?  How to be persistent and not wear out people’s patience?  When to desist, because now is not the right time?  There are important crafts of doing this work that people deliberately develop.  

Internal activist have to live with the ambivalence of identifying both with their organisations and external stakeholders. Others may find them to be ambivalent figures, and so treat them with caution or suspicion.  Being an internal activist requires a thoughtful blending of courage, care for self and craft.[1]


Typical activities for internal activists: connecting up people with interests in corporate responsibility across their organisation to prompt more action; lobbying board members to place environmental sustainability at the heart of strategy; encouraging their organisation to join networks or adopt monitoring practices (such as the Global Reporting Initiative) that help it improve its performance and accountability on environmental sustainability and social justice; bringing information on social trends into the organisation to help people discuss its licence to operate.


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