The virtuous journey of a social entrepreneur is often plagued with misfortune, mishaps and misunderstandings. What is my mission? What does success look like? How will I truly help the people who need it most? The SEI Impact programme gives direction, focus and mentoring to those who need it in their journey to try change Ireland for the better.
Karen Leigh, an Impact Awardee in 2014, has had a steep learning curve in her quest to provide therapy and professional services for children with Sensational Kids, a Kildare-based therapy centre for children.
This year, Karen celebrates the first anniversary of her relationship with SEI following her Impact Award in October 2014. The evening of the awards ceremony in Christchurch Cathedral was a surreal experience for the mother, social entrepreneur and businesswoman. Questions centering around “Am I going to be able to get through this?” or “Am I going to be able to give my speech on time?” consumed Karen, only to realise her efforts had been successful and she would make the transition from Impact finalist to Impact awardee. And Karen’s aspirations weren’t small: in her speech, she vowed not to rest until she could see Sensational Kids in every province in Ireland.
“The long-term plan is to grow and scale Sensational Kids. I won’t rest until I see at least a Sensational Kids in every province in Ireland”
Moving on from the awards ceremony, into the Impact Programme, Karen breathed a sigh of relief: “I’ve won the award now, happy days – I’m going to sail off into the sunset”. Unfortunately, the reality wasn’t as simple for Karen, as a robust programme of workshops, mentoring and goal-setting was in store. Karen quickly realised the effort and hard work needed to make her ultimate goal a reality would need significant time and energy investment.
The most obvious change for Karen in her work ethic, through the mentorship programme, was the change from thinking about operations to thinking about strategy.
“In the past, I might have got caught up in the day-to-day operational activities, which is important too, but through the SEI workshops I’ve really realised in the last year the importance of prioritising what is going to bring the most impact. It has really changed the way I work”. Speaking about the importance of resilience in social entrepreneurship, Karen cherished her time with her SEI confidant, Annalisa. Moving into the second year of the programme, Karen sees SEI helping them “build that bridge from where we are now to where we want to be in the future.”
“It’s life-changing in terms of work and how you do it. It’s the connections and relationships you build with other people that are really beneficial”. Hoping to transition from a mentee to a mentor, Karen highlights the experience of growing her own organisation, as an opportunity to help new social entrepreneurs entering the sphere “The challenges you face everyday as a start-up are nearly everyday things for me as we have been there, done that and do it nearly everyday. You can then help other people, give them advice and help them with those challenges – That support in the alumni network is really beneficial”.
The mentorship, funding and alumni network have been fantastic resources for Karen, however her newest SEI support service, Count Me In is proving truly beneficial to her business model. Count Me In is a synergistic initiative to bring together industry professionals with social entrepreneurs hoping to change Ireland. Karen was delighted to have the fantastic marketing support of a Count Me In partner, volunteering her time to help grow Sensational Kids especially with so many events and workshops throughout the busy summer period – “we have really valuable volunteers with really great skill sets to come into the organisation and help us, all through the SEI corporate superhero”.
“Growing and scaling our impact was going to be a huge step and is going to take a lot longer than previously thought”.
However for Karen the programme offered the right mixture of funding and mentorship to allow her to grow Sensational Kids over the last year. A combination of impatience and passion is met with strategic support to help Karen, one of Ireland’s best social entrepreneurs, succeed.
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.
This week was one of the most exciting weeks of the year here in SEI. After going through all 182 applications to our Awards Programme we selected the top 50 applicants who we will be bringing through to Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp.
There is something magical about this stage of the selection process. We only get to see a snapshot of the projects, but the energy jumps off the page. The passion is infectious and the potential of each of these social entrepreneurs to make a difference in Ireland is huge.
So we’re looking forward to meeting the top 50 at the end of the month.
Unfortunately, for every social entrepreneur that we are bringing to Bootcamp, we had to turn away nearly 3 others. And that’s really hard. It’s hard for us to have to turn away people who are doing genuinely amazing things around the country. And no matter how much we stress that what they are doing is incredible, it is hard for them not to take this decision as rejection.
And so for any of the unsuccessful applicants out there, I’d urge you not to take this as too much of a setback. While our support can be really helpful, there are other ways to build your project. This is a time to roll up your sleeves and hopefully prove us wrong. We don’t have the monopoly on good ideas, and you don’t need to be chosen by us to develop a great idea and have a big impact in Ireland.
And there will always be setbacks if you’re an entrepreneur. The key thing is how you overcome them. Many of our Award Winners in the past few years had applied to us a number of times before they were successful. They took the learnings from the application process (we strive to give every applicant feedback at each stage of the process) and they worked even harder to develop their projects, so the next year they were that bit stronger.
So to all of you who were unsuccessful this year…keep in touch with us, keep the passion alive and hopefully this time next year we’ll be seeing you again with an even better project, even greater impact and even more ambition.
In the meantime, good luck!
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…
Áine Rynne, Founder/Director Sober Sessions shares her experience of winning the Minnovation Fund in 2014. For your chance to apply for the Minnovation Fund, check out the details for the next Impact Series event on 28th April.
“In September 2014, when I was one of three people short-listed to pitch for the Minnovation Fund at the ‘Innovation in Health’ talk as part of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland’s Impact Series, it really was the start of a new chapter for me. When I received that vote of confidence from the audience, it gave me a huge boost to keep Sober Sessions moving and keep on building momentum with confidence and determination.
Since then, things have been incredibly positive and with the help of the fund I have made some very worthwhile and much needed investments including a brand new printer, business mentoring, logo design and renewing my membership with Fumbally Exchange (www.fumballyexchange.com/). Without this fund, these developments simply would not have been possible and as anyone starting out knows, funding is always the most challenging aspect so it has been very much appreciated.
In December, we hosted our second event for Sober Sessions with an album launch by Little John Nee and the Caledonia Highly Strung Orchestra at Bewley’s Cafe. This was a sell-out show and we had to turn people away – not bad for the height of 12 pubs of Christmas season and not a drop of beer to be had! There was such warmth and fun in the room that evening and I was very heartened to see how well people are responding to Sober Sessions. On foot of this, The Journal.ie did a piece about Sober Sessions and The Evening Herald featured us very prominently in an article about Dublin on the dry.
Sober Sessions is very much a labour of love for me. This time last year, I had this very simple idea – to offer people an alternative to the pub and club venue scene – I never expected a year later to have achieved so much in such little time. To see this idea flourish, get nurtured and take on a life of its own has been incredibly fulfilling. Live music is at the heart of this and no better place than Ireland to bring us amazingly gifted musicians to the fore and I will be making sure that Sober Sessions continues to grow.
Thanks to Social Entrepreneurs for giving me a platform to be able to do this.”
Áine Rynne, Sober Sessions
Sober Sessions offers a unique live music experience from contemporaries of Ireland’s thriving and diverse live music scene in cool unlicensed and intimate venues. For more information: https://www.facebook.com/SoberSessions
The Minnovation Fund
If you are an early stage social entrepreneur with a great idea to change Ireland, The Minnovation Fund could be the seed fund that will get your idea off the ground! So each night at The Impact Series events, The Minnovation Fund (which will comprise all ticket proceeds) will be up for grabs. The next event in The Impact Series will take place on 28th April in Smock Alley Theatre.
If you feel you have an idea that you would like to develop further, check out how to apply to pitch for the next Minnovation Fund here: http://theimpactseries6.eventbrite.ie
Slow Things Down
“Slow down. Take stock. Decelerate.”
Not the typical thing you’d expect to hear from an organisation like Social Entrepreneurs Ireland perhaps. We are set up to scale the best solutions for social problems around Ireland. We support projects that have the potential to take an idea and replicate it elsewhere. After all, if we have found a solution to a problem in Wicklow, shouldn’t we be implementing this in other counties around Ireland? If we have found a more effective or more efficient way of doing something, shouldn’t more people benefit from the positive impact?
And it is a core trait of all entrepreneurs that they want to grow and develop their idea, to reach as many people as possible, to impact upon the world. As Steve Jobs said, entrepreneurs want to ‘make a dent in the universe’.
At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we love that attitude. Our slogan is ‘Think Big. Act Now. Change Ireland’ and it is because of this passion and the potential to significantly impact Ireland that we work with social entrepreneurs.
But over the last 10 years we have learned that all of this should come with a small note of caution. The rush to scale projects, to work with more people and to increase your impact, while totally understandable, is potentially counter-productive. Our experience has taught us that often what some of the most exciting projects need is a period of deceleration before they can think seriously about acceleration.
Getting the Model Right
Before you can deliver a solution at scale, it is vital to delve deeply into the core service, product or solution that you are delivering. And once that is clear, the scaling model needs to be clearly developed and defined before starting to roll it out. We have seen it many times that early success is seized upon and attempts are made to replicate something before it is ready. And the danger is that a really powerful idea might fail and as a result be written off.
Is your model scalable? Is it sustainable? Can you replicate the core elements of it or is it dependent on the actions of a few key individuals? Do you have the capacity to deliver at a bigger scale?
At SEI we now take a lot of time at the beginning of the Awards Programme to work through all of these things with the entrepreneurs, and only move to scaling conversations once the fundamentals are in place.
Another challenge that we have seen in recent years is that big, exciting ideas often receive a huge amount of attention very quickly. In particular, projects led by young social entrepreneurs can receive a lot of interest from media, potential partners and supporters. While this support and coverage is potentially transformational for the entrepreneur, the risk is that they may become over-exposed, they may burn out, or they may just be distracted by all of the noise, events and attention, to the detriment of their projects. In these cases they may not fulfil the early potential that their projects have.
Learnings for SEI and for Social Entrepreneurs
Indeed, this is a challenging issue for us in SEI, as our Awards Programme celebrates these social entrepreneurs quite publicly. It is a constant challenge for us to find the right balance between protecting the social entrepreneurs and showcasing their work. I’m not sure we’ve always gotten it right but we are constantly working on it.
Over the years at SEI we have changed and adapted our approach and now have a much more nuanced approach to how we work with social entrepreneurs. We are very conscious that sometimes the best thing we can provide a project is to give them permission to decelerate for a while, to take a breath, to take stock, to slow down, so that when they do choose to scale, they are ready to give it absolutely everything.
Head of Development at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Lucy Masterson looks at the number of female entrepreneurs launching projects in the commercial and social enterprise sectors, and some of the potential factors influencing the gap.
In her article Women, Tech and Hell, Dublin’s Commissioner for Startup’s, Niamh Bushnell, talks about the growth of female entrepreneurship in Ireland. The good news for advocates of #changetheratio? Since Enterprise Ireland started offering female specific programmes in 2012, funding for female led businesses has jumped from 7% to 23% – an impressive figure and one that is ahead of both EU and US levels.
On the down side we are still more risk averse than our male counterparts and while female led technology companies achieve 35% higher return on investment, new research in the US and UK shows that men are still 40% more likely than women to get approved for a bank loan.
In contrast, when we look at activity in the social landscape the terrain is different – women are rocking it!
Almost 50% of the high potential social impact (HPSI) start-ups coming to us for support each year are female led organisations and these numbers show no sign of flat lining. That rate is significantly higher than the traditional commercial space, where men are twice as likely to be engaged in early stage entrepreneurial activities then their female counterparts.
More than two thirds of SEI supported businesses in 2014 were female led organisations – FoodCloud, Virtual Community College, Sensational Kids, Future Voices Ireland, Irish Charity Lab, MyLife Solutions, and Sólás. These women are highly entrepreneurial in their approach to driving social change. Like all innovators they refuse to take no for an answer because the alternative simply isn’t acceptable. They are willing to put everything on the line for their idea. They are not afraid of risk and we all know that every business investment worth its salt involves risk.
Why is this?
Is it that women tend to be the glue that holds communities together? Is it because women take action around specific causes that are closest to them? Is it that women are serial connectors and when we are deeply dissatisfied with a status quo we aren’t afraid of rolling up our sleeves and coming up with new ways to address the gaping holes in our education, childcare, political or environmental systems? Whatever the reasons, we salute those mothers of invention. And, as our Awards process gets ready to kick in to gear this March we look forward to supporting many more women as they step forward with bold new solutions to Ireland’s social problems.
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
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