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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Ahead of our annual Awards ceremony on the 12th November, we have asked some previous winners to share with us the progress of their organisations since receiving their SEI Award. Anam Cara won a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland award in 2008. Since then, they have expanded their services and supported more than 6,250 bereaved parents. Here Sharon Vard, CEO of Anam Cara explains how far they have come and their plans for the future.
This year Anam Cara is commemorating 7 years since the launch of our national organisation. In that time we have supported more than 6,250 parents following the death of their son or daughter. We do this through both our online and face to face support services.
Anam Cara was very fortunate to receive an SEI award in 2008. This was instrumental in allowing us to expand the organisation from the initial meetings in Dublin and Cork to eight parent support groups throughout the four provinces.Today we have nine active groups, meeting monthly and co-facilitated by a bereavement support professional and a parent volunteer. Professionals were introduced into the meetings in 2012 and their presence helps ensure a safe and comfortable forum for parents who are often in an extremely vulnerable place.
As well as our peer support meetings, Anam Cara also hosts Bereavement Information evenings andfamily remembrance and social events. Our website provides private online forums for both bereaved parents and adult siblings, as well as links to information and other resources in the community. We receive no state funding and rely on grants and donations to fund our services, all of which are offered free of charge.
“ You think you are the only person in the world feeling the loneliness and fear and pain. Then you find out you are not, and while they can’t take the pain away, it does lift the isolation.”
-Bereaved Mum, Dublin
The last year or so has seen Anam Cara move into new territory. We are proud to have co-founded the Family Bereavement Network in Europe, which brings together organisations across ten European countries. The network’s focus is to ensure the sharing of research, information and best practices across similar organisations in Europe, as well as advocacy at EU level for statutory leave for bereaved employees.
Bereaved parents are under financial pressure to return to work. Employers are under pressure to have a productive and efficient work force. Colleagues often feel awkward around the return of a co-worker to the work place who has experienced the death of a child, not knowing what to say or do, or how best to support them.
Recognising the dilemmas of these groups, in 2014 Anam Cara conducted a survey among parents in the Anam Cara Network on what helped/did not help them. The result is what we believe to be a unique and essential booklet: “Guidelines for Employers of Bereaved Parents”. It will be launched in November 2014 and distributed to employers throughout the country.
Every year some 2,500 families in Ireland experience the death of a child. The grieving process can last far longer than society realises. Anam Cara envisions that “every family throughout Ireland will have the relevant support services they need following the death of their child.”
To this end, our objectives for the coming year include increasing our reach so that face-to-face peer support services will be available within 75 miles of any bereaved parent in the country. We would also like to establish a bursary to provide counselling for bereaved siblings, though our ability to do this will depend on whether we can access much-needed funding.
- Finalists 2011
- Finalists 2012
- Finalists 2013
- Latest News
2012 Awards, 2013 Awards, acceleration, Aviva Cohen, awards, Bono, Bookbuzz, Branding, Carer, change, charity, chronic illness, City of a Thousand Welcomes, Creative Writing, Dublin, Education, entrepreneurs, Fighting Words, GAA, GIY Ireland, impact, Jim Stynes, John Hume, Karl Swan, Mary McAleese, Michael Kelly, Neuro Hero, non-profit, Ron Immink, scaling, Sean Love, SOAR, Social Change, social enterprise, Social Entrepreneurship, social innovation, social isolation, Sports, start-up, status quo, Tony Griffin, Tourism, Tourism Ireland, Trevor White, VdeP