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!
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.
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,
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.
A former SEI Awardee, Paul Mooney is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Jobcare – one of Ireland’s leading employment support organisations. In the build-up to our 2014 Awards on November 12th, Paul looks back on Jobcare’s 20 year history, and the role SEI played in their success.
This year we in Jobcare are celebrating our 20th anniversary – 20 years of skills development, of lives changed and of hope restored.
When I co-founded Jobcare in 1994, my conviction was that ‘Working Matters’. Yet the unemployment rate in Ireland stood at 15.1% and there were three generations of unemployment in some areas of inner city Dublin. Jobcare’s purpose was to help those people who were long-term unemployed to address their own barriers to employment and to secure suitable work. We knew that work would positively impact not just those individuals and their families, but their friends, communities and the economy as well. It was powerful to see that legacy of unemployment broken in families and a culture of work introduced to their children.
As the Celtic Tiger years took hold, with jobs in abundance, many of those long-term unemployed people secured work. However, I realised there were a group of people being left behind: those with a criminal record. That’s when I began to research and form the initiative that became Jobcare’s Trasna work programme – to provide work experience, training and support for ex-offenders, giving them the opportunity to forge a new path for themselves and their families and to re-establish themselves within society. As an SEI Awardee in 2007 (and later in 2009), I was so grateful for SEI’s recognition of our efforts and support in helping us launch this programme. This enabled us in January 2008 to establish an effective work programme tailored to the specific needs of this group, securing special funding from FAS for the first two years. We were able to provide a work programme of individualised coaching, training and education, centred round a framework of work. Since that time, over 100 ex-offenders have commenced Trasna with over 60% going onto work or full-time education. For most of these men and women, their time with Jobcare has been the longest period of time they have remained out of prison since their first sentence – only 9% have gone back to prison as opposed to the national average of 45% (the re-offending rate after three years).
We know that change is the only constant and the Irish economy certainly changed when we entered recession. The collapse of the construction industry meant a re-thinking and re-focussing for many of our Trasna participants. Funding cuts and a different jobs market meant Jobcare had to adapt in order to sustain the programme, including integrating our Trasna participants into the landscape of our other work programme.
Interestingly we were simultaneously seeing a new kind of jobseeker in the Irish jobs market – professionally skilled individuals and graduates who, because of the decline in the economic climate, find it difficult to secure work, yet have much to offer a potential employer. The impact of unemployment, of the sudden loss of income, of structure and of mental and emotional satisfaction that working brings, was having a profound impact on these individuals. In contrast to our original experience of people who were third-generation unemployed, we were now assisting people, many of whom were experiencing unemployment for the first time. And so we responded in 2011 by initiating and developing the Jobnet programme for professional and graduate jobseekers. Jobnet empowers jobseekers to market their skills and learn to network effectively to find employment. SEI again supported our initiative when Peter Johnson, our Jobnet manager, became an SEI Awardee for Jobnet in 2013. Of the 732 jobseekers who completed our first 16 Jobnet programmes, 62% have progressed to employment or further education.
So in the ten years of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, the journey Jobcare has taken with their support has fundamentally required innovation and enterprise in order to effectively meet the changing needs of the people we seek to impact. Jobcare’s Trasna programme does not currently look like we expected it would back in 2007. However, in exploring how to adapt the programme in response to the economic landscape and consequently integrating our work programme participants, we realised that we were in fact meeting a deeper need for these people. Our goal to reduce recidivism through meaningful employment and to support ex-offenders’ re-establishment within society is born out of their identifying skills, achieving goals, having self-esteem and hope restored and developing a new sense of themselves as people contributing to their families and communities. This re-framing of identity requires a reintegration, a levelling of the playing field, an equality of opportunity. By integrating our Trasna participants, they have the experience of working side-by-side, on an equal footing with other jobseekers from diverse backgrounds. Whether professionals, people with a disability or the “average” jobseeker, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone has their own individual challenges and that, with support, they can deal with these challenges and progress positively to work, hope and making a positive impact on those around them. Necessity may be the birthplace of change, but innovation can ultimately meet our original and core purpose.
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