With the last few remaining seats for the 32nd Dáil decided this morning, we thought we’d take this time to reflect on the 2016 General Election, what it meant for social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in Ireland, and where we go from here. While it’s been all doom and gloom from political parties and pundits, is the situation really that bad for those of us trying to do our bit to further social innovation?
The obvious thing to point out is that we have yet to determine the shape and make-up of any potential government in the 32nd Dáil. While Fine Gael remains the largest party in the state, their coalition options are in short supply, with many senior members within the Fianna Fáil party making it perfectly clear that they have no interest in entering into a formal coalition with their historic rivals. Although many smaller parties and groupings have stated their interest in forming ‘constructive’ partnerships, their numbers simply won’t be enough to form any sort of stable government going forward.
So formal coalition options are hard to come by, but perhaps there is a way forward that allows for some governing to be done in 2016 at least. In the days following the vote, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have indicated a willingness to work with each other, although in the case of the latter it would be an agreement to work with Fine Gael from the opposition benches. This type of agreement – opposition support for a minority government on certain issues – presents both challenges and opportunities. While not the most stable form of government, it does allow us to avoid an immediate repeat of an election campaign, while making legislative and policy progress on a number of common areas of agreement.
Social Enterprise Reforms:
For the first time ever, all four major political parties outlined a number of social enterprise and entrepreneurship reforms they would introduce as part of their manifestos in 2016. While this in itself is not success, it is indicative of the progress being made in highlighting the economic and social value of these sectors at a political level. It’s also important because in an increasingly unpredictable and divisive political environment, it’s one of the few areas all political parties seem to agree on. This presents the sector with a big opportunity to implement some important reforms over the next 12-18 months. Let’s not waste it.
Looking closely at the commitments made by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil (the only two parties with enough seats to win a majority in the 32nd Dáil), both parties seem to agree that progress can be made on developing social enterprise in three key areas; political leadership, business supports, and an improved financial environment.
Broadly speaking Fine Gael have committed to ensuring the “continued growth of the social enterprise sector”. They propose doing this through a combination of accessible finance, educational initiatives, and increasing awareness of supports currently available. More specifically, they promise to ensure that any SME, commercial or social, receives high quality mentoring, and support from Ireland’s Local Enterprise Office (LEO) network.
Fianna Fáil for their part agree, stating that they will extend the role of LEOs even further, establishing social enterprise-specific training courses and broadening out financial guarantees to assist in the attraction of investment. They also committed to measuring social enterprise activity in Ireland as part of future CSO business surveys, helping to improve access to data in relation to the size and influence of the sector. Finally, Fianna Fáil also made a clear commitment to move social enterprise under the remit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation – the Department with oversight over existing and future enterprise support delivery.
The overlap in commitments here is clear, and requires us all to insist that social enterprise and entrepreneurship form a core part of any SME/enterprise strategy agreed by these two parties over the coming weeks and months. This will mean SEI working with our sector colleagues to drive this message home, but it also requires individual entrepreneurs and organisations making their views clear to their newly elected representatives also. For anyone interested in getting in touch with their local TDs, please click here to find more details on those elected in 2016.
In the meantime, we at least have the launch of the 2016 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards to enjoy. Regardless of political circumstances, we’ve got €600,000 worth of funding and support to give out to 9 social entrepreneurs this year. More details on our Awards can be found by clicking here, and please do spread the word to let others know if we might be of use to them.
As 2015 comes to a close, here in Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we are reflecting on a great 2015 and are getting ready for an even better year ahead! We have been blown away by the social entrepreneurs we have met throughout our Selection Process this year, and are already looking forward to renewing the search for Ireland’s best social entrepreneurs who are bringing about incredible positive change throughout Ireland.
Our ambition is to continuously improve how we work. Our call for applications will therefore take place slightly earlier in the coming year. We will be asking Ireland’s social entrepreneurs to ‘Take the Leap’ with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland by submitting their applications to us from the 29th of February, closing on the 7th of April.
More detail on the 2016 Awards will follow in the coming weeks and months, so please do keep an eye out for updates on our website and social media channels.
Our Policy and Innovation Manager, Eamonn Fitzgerald, looks at the new lobbying regulations coming into force in Ireland, and what it might mean for the non-profit sector and state funding.
Lobbying – it’s not usually a word that’s met with much positivity, and there’s a pretty good reason for that. Lobbying is associated with back-room deals, shady trade-offs, and special interests corrupting our political process. While this image of lobbying is fairly inaccurate, it’s also pretty understandable. Its image problems boil down to one simple fact – a complete and utter lack of transparency. Thankfully, Ireland has taken its first step in addressing this. On September 1st the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 came into force. This is our nation’s first attempt at solving the transparency problem, and hopefully our chance to provide a better understanding of what lobbying really means in the Irish context.
The first thing to point out is that this isn’t just relevant to big business. Lobbying is an essential part of every democracy. It’s the process by which organisations and individuals engage with public officials to make their views known, and hopefully to better inform discussions and policy creation at a local and national level. However, let’s be clear. People lobby to influence. Organisations lobby to influence. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they’re open and honest about what they’re trying to do and why they’re trying to do it.
Just because organisations have a social mission attached to their work doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be subjected to the same level of scrutiny. Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is one of these organisations. We have an interest in the development of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in Ireland, and have lobbied officials in the past to encourage additional support and drive increased investment into these sectors. We will of course continue our lobbying efforts into the future, and we welcome the introduction of these regulations because we’re comfortable in standing behind the arguments being made.
We believe social entrepreneurship remains a relatively untapped resource in Ireland, and we have an evidence base to indicate that additional support for social enterprises doesn’t just drive better social outcomes for communities, but better economic ones as well. We stand behind the value of our work to the social entrepreneurs we engage with, and while we believe we can always get better, we’re confident in our ability to advise on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to social enterprise support.
The non-profit sector doesn’t just lobby on individual social issues though, it also devotes a sizeable amount of time to lobbying on funding opportunities. This is where our sector really needs an additional level of transparency. SEI has long been an advocate for investing in impact. Put money into things that work and solutions that deliver actual results. It’s a pretty simple philosophy, but a surprisingly alien concept when it comes to grant funding. When you don’t demand an evidence base, you create a massive problem for yourself – how do you know which organisations to fund?
It’s this problem that drives the less attractive side of non-profit lobbying in Ireland. It’s resulted in a number of very poor criteria being used to determine successful funding applications to state bodies:
- The more desperate you are for money the better – State funds put far too much of an emphasis on financial need, demonising non-profits who have sensibly built up financial reserves in the event of a rainy day. How can we expect long-term impact on serious issues if we incentivise short-term financial planning?
- All overheads are a waste of money – The exclusion of core costs from so many grant rounds erodes organisational effectiveness, and reduces the likelihood of efficient spending of the money invested. Excessive spending is bad, but we should be smart enough to know the difference.
- Previous public funding experience is rewarded – Government funds almost always insist that those applying have previous experience in managing state monies. This attitude encourages a system of renewals, rather than reviews. It’s hardly public funding if it’s reserved for those already in the club. It’s like advertising a graduate position and insisting on applicants having two to three years’ experience.
The biggest issue it’s created though? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not any of the three above. It’s the simple fact that personal relationships with public officials too often dictate successful funding applications. This cannot and should not be accepted by Irish society. With so many social and environmental challenges still to address, we need to spend our money smarter and better than ever before. Shining a light on how these funding decisions are made can only encourage this, and it is my belief that these regulations are a good first step.
SEI itself will need to be more open about its own lobbying activities, and we hope to make that the case in the next couple of months. Ireland has a long way to go to make all of this a reality, and enforcement of these regulations will be key to securing this transparency. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the regulator gets on over the next few months, and I hope you will too. For anyone looking for additional information on what the regulations mean and if they apply to you or your organisation, please visit www.lobbying.ie
Our Policy and Innovation Manager, Eamonn Fitzgerald, looks at the importance of site visits to the SEI selection process, and why all funders should look beyond application forms and pitches to inform their investment decisions.
People have a tendency to assume that all funding decisions these days are made as per the Dragon’s Den formula. High pressure, time constrained, all-or-nothing pitching sessions. After all, you learn a lot about people in situations like that right? Wrong. There’s a reason less than half of the successful entrepreneurs on the show actually receive a penny!
Pitches are great, but they only tell you a part of the story. For the past couple of years, as part of the SEI selection process, we’ve decided to conduct site visits with the finalists competing for a place on our Impact Programme. We do this for the same reason we do anything in our selection process, and that’s the fact that it improves our decision making capabilities. It allows us to make more informed and effective investments.
The team at SEI is currently in the middle of our 2015 site visits, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to look at the information that these visits provide us with, and to build a case for why all funders, whether they be commercial or social, need to be doing this as part of their decision making process.
1. Due Diligence
Application forms are a useful way to enforce eligibility criteria, and to obtain key pieces of information about a project, but they’re not fool proof. There’s only so much you can articulate on paper. Site visits provide funders with a chance to literally see a programme in action, to observe the development of products or the delivery of services, and to fact check some of the information already provided. It can also inform whether or not the level of investment being requested is realistic, often proving a good indicator as to a project’s readiness for the level of funding involved. This increased level of understanding is crucial to funders – who are often unfamiliar with the nuances of particular social/environmental challenges.
2. Entrepreneur Engagement
Investments are about more than just the money. For it to be successful there needs to be a good working relationship between the entrepreneur and the funder. While pitching sessions are useful for meeting entrepreneurs face to face, site visits allow you to interact with an entrepreneur in a more traditional and real world environment. It allows you to discuss aspects of their project in a location they feel comfortable, and to see how they interact with other members of their team. All of this is far more representative of what a working relationship with them might look like, rather than the interrogation like pitches that we’re so used to seeing on TV.
3. Support Network
When we’re talking about growing and scaling an organisation, you need more than just the right entrepreneur behind the project. That entrepreneur needs a support network, and those individuals need to be valued as part of any selection process. Site visits give funding bodies a chance to meet and talk with staff members in charge of various aspects of the project, and to meet with board members overseeing the organisation to get their sense on the future direction of the project. It’s one thing to hear about the plans for an organisation from the entrepreneur themselves, but it’s another thing entirely to hear from the people tasked with delivering those plans.
4. Social Impact
We all love quantitative data when we talk about social impact, and application forms are a great place to articulate and display all those numbers and graphs, but in most cases the qualitative data is where the real game-changing impact is best demonstrated. Site visits are often a great chance to meet and interact with the beneficiaries of the projects in question. Hearing first hand their experience of an organisation, what’s worked well for them and what hasn’t, and the difference they’ve seen in their lives due to a particular intervention, can be the most powerful way to understand the impact potential of any early-stage project.
While site visits alone are not the answer, they do massively complement traditional selection process elements like application forms and pitches. So if you’re looking to improve your funding decisions I’d recommend getting out from behind that desk and hitting the road. You, and your fund, will be better for it!
Last week was a big week for social enterprise in Ireland, although you might not have noticed. Minister Ann Phelan has been appointed as the Minister with responsibility for social enterprise, and that’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because social enterprise has lacked a political home for more than a year, with the post vacated by Minister Sean Sherlock during the 2014 government reshuffle. Without effective political leadership, the social enterprise sector has no voice, and that’s why Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) and our colleagues on the Social Enterprise Task Force (SETF) made the reappointment of a Minister our top priority in recent months.
So as I write this I’ve been wondering how best to emphasise the importance of political leadership for this sector, and it reminded me of a recent question I was asked – how many social enterprises are there in Ireland, and is that number growing? Pretty simple question right? Well…not so much.
The short answer is that we do not know. The most concrete figure is 1,400, a figure that is pulled from the 2013 Forfás report on social enterprise in Ireland, but that number is actually from 2009. Why the uncertainty? Ireland currently doesn’t measure social enterprise activity as part of its Central Statistics Office (CSO) surveys, and so the data available is sporadic at best.
Here at SEI, we have a few indicators that I would point to that would at least suggest that number is on the rise. The first is our own selection process – between 2007 and 2009 we were averaging around 140 applications to our support programme – in the three year period preceding this year’s process, we were averaging more than 200 applications a year. While some of this might be put down to our own improved brand, it seems clear to us that there is more activity at the start-up level, not to mention an increase in the quality of early-stage projects emerging.
The second indicator I would look at is the number of registered charities applying for support from SEI – this has dropped significantly in the last 5 years, with CHY status organisations now accounting for only 28% of our total applicants. Similarly, we’ve seen big increases in the number of registered companies applying to us, which would indicate that more organisations are identifying revenue generating opportunities at the start, rather than being entirely reliant on CHY dependent grant funding.
Lastly, I’d look at international examples. We know that Ireland lags well behind the rest of the world in terms of activity. In the UK for example, the British Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has shown through their annual 2014 Small Business Survey that social enterprises account for around 5% of all British SMEs. With 1,400 social enterprises, Ireland would clock in at around 0.74%. While I’m not suggesting that we’re at the same level as the UK, I am suggesting that coming from such a low base, it’s likely that we have grown that number a bit in the last 5 years, or at least can certainly expect to in the next 5 with the right supports and reforms in place.
All of this points to a stark problem for the sector though – lack of useable data – and policy decisions without information is a dangerous space to be in. That’s why social enterprise needs a political leader to drive through simple improvements like this, and that’s why SEI and the SETF is pushing for the inclusion of social enterprise measurements in CSO business surveys – helping us to answer those simple questions before we try and tackle the big stuff!
So we look forward to working with the Minister and helping her to identify the opportunities that lie ahead. We want to build a better environment for Irish social enterprises, and that’s going to take the efforts of governmental and non-governmental organisations alike. It’s also going to need social entrepreneurs to engage with our political representatives, and in particular with our Minister. So, if you’re still with me, I have one favour to ask. Why not wish our new Minister good luck, and that you’re looking forward to seeing what she can do for you, your organisation, and the sector in 2015 – let’s take action, make a difference, and start a conversation – it’s what this sector does best.
Wish our new Minister good luck at email@example.com
In this blog post Chief Executive, Darren Ryan, takes a look at some of the lessons learned after a decade of operation for Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.
Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is now ten years old and last year we celebrated the progress we’ve made in Ireland over that time and the incredible impact that the social entrepreneurs have had throughout the country.
Looking back over the ten years, it is really striking how the core purpose of SEI as an organisation has stayed broadly similar. From day one, the big question we asked ourselves was “How can we help the best social entrepreneurs to succeed?”
That’s still our core driver, but over time the structure of our programmes has changed quite substantially. This isn’t a surprise. Back in 2004 we were breaking new ground; most people in Ireland had never heard of a social entrepreneur, so figuring out how best to support them took some trial and error.
And so the early years served as a great learning experience for us, and every year we continue to make additional improvements in order to further increase the impact of the social entrepreneurs that we support. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
1. The social entrepreneur is critical in early stage organisation
This is hardly a surprising insight from an organisation called Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, but over the years our initial hunch that great impact could be achieved by backing exceptional individuals has been proven time and time again.
This is a pretty standard approach in the commercial sector, with investors taking as much interest in the individual as the idea. However, it is relatively rare in the charity sector. In most funding applications, little time is spent reviewing the skills of the person leading the organisation and their capacity to deliver. This is something that needs to change in Ireland if we are going to get serious about solving our biggest social problems.
2. The social entrepreneur isn’t enough
While we were right to back the entrepreneurs behind an idea, we learned over the years that our support needed to have a broader focus than just working with one individual.
The scale of the problems they are trying to tackle means that they won’t be able to do it alone, and so we now work with them to build and develop a strong team who can support them. In some cases we help them to develop succession plans to ensure the long term future of the organisation. We’ve learned the truth in the old saying that ‘Lone wolves only succeed in the movies’.
3. From day one, we need to be thinking about our exit
Our model provides social entrepreneurs with an injection of funding and support at critical stages of their organisations to help them to increase their capacity, grow their impact and bring their organisations to the next level. And while we were always explicit about the fact that our support has a very clear end date (either one year or two years), we didn’t always prepare our Awardees enough for life without SEI.
We now start talking to our Awardees about our exit on day one of the support programme, supporting them to build the right connections, increase their focus on revenue generation and bringing on additional support. The last thing we want is for them to be propped up by us for two years and then fall off a cliff.
The evidence is that this approach is working. In 2014, for every €1 that we invested in a social entrepreneur, they raised an additional €4.64. This is hugely encouraging for us.
4. It’s not (just) about the money
When we started as an organisation we were fixing one part of the problem that social entrepreneurs face: lack of risk capital in the philanthropic world. We began by taking chances on early stage ideas that had huge potential but needed somebody to take a chance on them.
While this is still a critical part of our model, we quickly realised that the non-financial support we were providing to the Awardees was being valued more than the financial support itself. The Awardees were coming for the money of course, but they quickly realised that the key value of the SEI programme was the additional supports that we provided. These included everything from business planning, goal setting, governance support, coaching, mentoring and linking them in with an incredible network of other social entrepreneurs and our network of supporters.
Over the years we have invested further in this element of our programme to help the social entrepreneurs to build really well run organisations and increase their capacity to deliver in a sustainable and effective manner.
5. Failure is really hard
As an organisation that supports early stage organisations and takes a risk on projects before other funders will, failure is a key part of our business model. From day one we explicitly stated that we expected a certain percentage of our Awardees to fail. And in fact if we aren’t seeing a high enough failure rate, it means we aren’t taking enough risk.
Despite this openness to failure, when organisations fail it is still really, really hard. It still feels like failure, and you still question yourself and your decisions. All we can do is learn from these challenges and support the social entrepreneur through a very difficult time. And we work hard to ensure that it doesn’t affect our openness to taking that next big risk.
6. The best ideas have no guarantee of success
We are not solving our social problems quickly enough. And the sad fact is that there are many great potential solutions to some of our biggest problems that just haven’t scaled sufficiently. At SEI we’ve seen literally thousands of ideas presented to us, and have supported 179 of them over the last 10 years. Some of these have been absolutely fantastic ideas that are proven to be better approaches to what is currently provided.
Change is really hard. Even with a great social entrepreneur, with all of the support from SEI and our network, some of the best ideas can still struggle to gain traction. This is deeply frustrating for us as an organisation.
But it points to the fact that we must do more to increase the likelihood of the best ideas succeeding. While working with the social entrepreneurs was a critical first step, we need to take the learnings from the past 10 years to change the system in which they are operating, to make the system more open to new ideas, to increase funding to early stage projects and to increase the focus on impact as the key driver of what programmes are implemented.
7. When social entrepreneurs succeed, they succeed big
We’ve learned that failure is hard, and that not all great ideas are guaranteed to succeed. But what keeps us going is seeing the incredible success stories that have come through the SEI Awards Programme. Some of the organisations that we supported are now nationally successful, driving
From the Irish Men’s Sheds, which now has over 6,000 men attending Sheds every week throughout the entire country, Pieta House which has become a leading national organisation, Grow It Yourself Ireland (GIY) which has become
Coder Dojo which is now active in 50 countries around the world,
Soar, Irish Community Rapid Response, Camara.
So when we receive applications from early stage social entrepreneurs. We know that they are just at the start of a journey that could impact lives all over Ireland. And that’s an incredible thing to be a part of.
We say this a lot but…this is our favourite time of year! It’s true. Application season is an exciting time for the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland team. It provides all of us with the opportunity to see for ourselves what’s happening at the grassroots level in communities around Ireland. As our 2015 applicants wait to hear if they have made it onto the shortlist for this year’s Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp, we wanted to take the opportunity to analyse some of the interesting trends from this year’s application process.
1. Social entrepreneurship leads on equality
The social entrepreneurship sector continues to outperform its more traditional commercial sibling when it comes to gender balance in start-ups. 55% of applicants to this year’s Awards were female entrepreneurs – that’s around 20% higher than the numbers associated with Ireland’s for-profit start-up space.
2. This social entrepreneurship thing is catching on!
With 27 out of the 32 counties submitting applications in 2015, social entrepreneurship is no longer confined to urban areas like Dublin, Belfast and Cork. While the capital still accounts for a large chunk of applications, it’s now significantly outnumbered by the rest of the island. Places like Galway, Limerick and Northern Ireland continue to account for more and more submissions every year.
3. The social enterprise identity crisis.
This year we asked applicants to tell us if they considered their project to be a social enterprise, a charity, or if they even knew yet! The results were surprisingly one sided. 75% of all applicants to this year’s programme identified their project as a social enterprise, compared with just 15% for charities. While 3 out of every 4 might consider themselves a social enterprise, only 55% of applicants state that revenue generation is their main source of income, meaning that a lot of those social enterprises are still heavily reliant on fundraising.
4. Never do today what you can put off till the very last minute.
Despite having a 4 week window for submitting applications, the vast majority of the applications we received in 2015 were submitted in the last 48 hours. 82% of all applications were submitted in the last two days, with 74% coming in during the last 24 hours! If you’re struggling to understand what that looks like…
5. No wonder these start-ups are hard to manage!
With the average age of the projects applying to our Awards Programme standing at just 2.8 years old – it’s no surprise they’re a lot of work! Have you tried reasoning with a 3 year old lately?
6. What’s good for communities is good for the economy.
Aside from the social impact generated by the projects in the communities they operate in, the start-ups that apply to our Awards Programme are also playing a crucial economic role themselves. The average turnover of an organisation applying to our 2015 Awards Programme was €135,385, and for that they typically employed 8 people in either full-time or part-time roles. However, they do still rely heavily on the generosity of others, with a typical project utilising around 35 volunteers on average as well.
While all of these numbers provide an interesting insight into the world of social entrepreneurship in Ireland, they don’t go nearly far enough in describing the true nature of the impact social entrepreneurs have on our society. We look forward to meeting some of these incredible individuals as our selection process progresses, and we can’t wait to introduce you to the ones that will become Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awardees this October!
Until then, watch this space…
Taking a look back on our first ten years our Chief Executive, Darren Ryan offers his insights on why we’re so optimistic about the next decade of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.
Ten years ago Social Entrepreneurs Ireland took a shot in the dark. We knew there were big challenges in Ireland that weren’t being solved, and we saw an untapped resource within Irish society. We were optimistic that, given the opportunity, Irish communities could provide the solutions to some of our biggest challenges.
Back then we went on instinct to seek out and support individuals that were developing big, new ideas to tackle Irish social problems. We knew that these ideas might not succeed, but we knew that if they did, the social impact would be transformative.
This optimism is critical to bringing about any major change. When you look coldly on the challenges that we are facing in Ireland, it would be easy to give up in despair. The problems we are facing can sometimes seem too great, too entrenched.
But optimism changes the way you see the world. It forces you to focus on potential, to seek out opportunities as they arise and take full advantage of them. Optimism empowers us to find our own role in improving the society that we live in. And social entrepreneurs are eternal optimists.
The 179 social entrepreneurs that we have supported over the last 10 years are tackling some of the biggest challenges in Irish society, challenges that to many would have seemed insurmountable. They aren’t blind to the obstacles that stand in their way but they choose to believe that they can overcome them.
But optimism in isolation is just a pipe-dream. It requires action to turn vision into reality. And this is where social entrepreneurs set themselves apart. They show the courage of their convictions not just to believe that things can be better, but they take action to actually make it happen, to turn their ideas into impact.
Back in 2004 our optimism was founded on hope, today it is based on 10 years of experience, evidence and impact. We are even more optimistic now because we know that social entrepreneurship works.
So as we mark the journey so far and look forward to the next 10 years, we are optimistic about the future for Ireland. We know that social entrepreneurs will play a crucial role in creating the society that we all want to live in. At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we have now laid the foundations and created a movement that has already had a massive impact across the island of Ireland. Now we want to further increase that impact in the years ahead and do whatever it takes to ensure that the best social entrepreneurs get the support they need to succeed.
As we begin the next phase in our journey, I invite you to join us.
We’re just getting started.
Chief Executive, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland
In this blog on Social Intrapreneurship, John Evoy of Irish Men’s Sheds, poses some interesting questions. His intention here is to start a conversation rather than provide the answers. Join the conversation email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the early stages of for-profit start-ups, a core way of building a team of motivated individuals, who have a vested interest in the success of your organisation, is to offer some equity. A tech start-up for example, could have three to five early stage team members who all share the equity and potential riches if their venture is a success. During the early stages of such company’s development, none of the team would be receiving an income but the equity sharing mechanism allows the team to grow, thus increasing the skill set, the capacity and the chances of success exponentially. This is often a very exciting, high energy phase of a company’s development when the lack of income is overcome by the expectations that great things lie ahead.
Now we know that a main difference between the traditional entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship is that the former is often motivated by financial gain or profit and the latter by a drive to solve a societal problem.
So is there a way to enthuse a potential partner to join us on the journey as we develop our socially motivated organisation? On a small number of occasions I have come across someone who really “gets it”; a person who can see the potential of our organisation and perhaps has a different skill set to mine and whose work could transform our young organisation. The problem is that I don’t yet have the funds to pay an additional staff member, no matter how much I would like to. In these circumstances it is unlikely that anyone would commit to working on our project without pay or equity.
Similar to sharing equity in the start-up phase many bigger firms are now promoting the concept of intrapreneurship. This is a way of getting high levels of innovation, hard work and forward thinking from their team and where there is little risk to the individual or the company. Intrapreneurship is defined as:
“Acting like an entrepreneur within a larger organisation. The term is derived from a combination of “intra” or internal, and “entrepreneurship.” Intraprenuers are usually highly self-motivated, proactive and action-oriented people who are comfortable with taking the initiative, even within the boundaries of an organization, in pursuit of an innovative product or service.” 
Again the traditional partnerships or for-profit companies with share capital have the upper hand when it comes to taking advantage of this concept on intrapreneurship. They can offer bonuses or larger shares of future profits based on the innovation or ideas generated by their intrapreneurs.
This leaves us with a dilemma; we can’t offer equity or promise large future salaries but we need these talented and motivated individuals to come and work with us. How can we create the conditions or circumstances which would solve this problem? Unfortunately this post asks more questions than it answers, but just to start the conversation may be a good thing.
There are some examples of projects being led by more than one Social Entrepreneur, such as the excellent Soar led jointly by Tony Griffin and Karl Swan but they have been together from the start. I am starting this conversation to see if we can identify a way to bring someone on board who we meet along the way, and to appropriately reward them, but within the limits of the organisations current financial position.
If we were to find someone who we would love to have working with us and who is willing to get involved, one of the first things we have to do is to let go of control. Social entrepreneurs can often have a very solid sense of ownership with sometimes fixed ideas of how things should be. To work successfully with another entrepreneur we would need to flexible and open to new ideas.
Another possibility would be to hand a segment of the organisation, its functions and its potential earning capacity, over to our new partner or ‘Intraprenuer’. For example, if we need an improved online presence, we could hand over our website to a web developer / designer on the premise that he/she can keep some incoming advertising revenue that the site earns as their pay. This person would, of course, be someone you know and trust, who you have developed a strong relationship with and who shares a vision with you of how the organisation can grow into the future.
As I mentioned above this is only the start of the conversation. I would love to hear from you so please email me at email@example.com if you have any thoughts on this topic.
Irish Men’s Sheds Association,
We are delighted to announce that following a very competitive process we have selected Lucy Masterson as the new Head of Development here in Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.
Lucy is a previous Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awardee. In 2012, she won an Elevator Award for her organisation Hireland. Hireland, which started as a kitchen conversation with friends discussing the economic crisis that had hit Ireland grew into a national movement calling on the nation’s small and medium enterprises to kick-start Ireland’s economic recovery by pledging to hire 1 more person. Over 5,400 jobs were created since Hirelands inception in 2012 demonstrating the central role the Irish SME community plays in our economic recovery.
Aside from her work with Hireland, Lucy has a huge wealth of experience marketing national and international brands. She lectures on social and not-for-profit marketing and has worked closely with the UCD Innovation Academy as an in-house entrepreneur and mentor. She has also been supported by Enterprise Ireland as a female founder of a high potential start up business.
She has an amazing track record of engaging communities around a big idea, building support and getting people on board. We’re looking forward to her bringing those skills to take Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to the next level.
Lucy has an infectious sense of optimism and an incredible passion for social entrepreneurship; the whole team here are extremely excited to start working with her.
Welcome on board Lucy!
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