Local firms urged to practice 'social innovation' and engage in community projects

Local firms urged to practice 'social innovation' and engage in community projects

Firms in Cork have been encouraged to practice so-called ‘social innovation’ by engaging in community projects and not only raising funds for good causes.

The monthly Cork Chamber business breakfast heard from chief executive of Social Innovators Fund Ireland (SIFI), Deirdre Mortell, who said the concept was about using innovation in order to solve critical social issues.

SIFI was founded three years ago and raises money through philanthropy, with every euro raised matched by Government, in order to tackle issues such as poverty, barriers to education, and healthcare.

The fund has so far partnered with firms such as Google, Medtronic, Mason Hayes & Curran and IPB Insurance, as well as SMEs, trusts, families and individuals.

Ms Mortell said it has raised €14m in its three years, with Government funding bringing it up to €28m.

Cork Chamber has partnered with SIFI to mark its 200th anniversary, aiming at raising €200,000 for the fund over six months as part of its Cork Chamber 1819 Fund.

Ms Mortell said the fund combined "the best of philanthropy and the best of innovation for community development", working with companies to see the most critical social issues.

The event heard from three initiatives that have been funded through SIFI, Michael Mulhall of DPS Engineering which has partnered with six schools in less affluent areas to encourage third level participation and further education.

Mr Mulhall said the firm had assisted 600 students so far, but that four or six schools was a "drop in the ocean" in comparison to what could be done in so-called Deis schools, or disadvantaged school communities.

As well as providing mentoring and financial assistance, DPS had also gained with its own employees sharpening their managerial and knowledge bases through its Aspire To programme, Mr Mulhall said.

John Kearney of Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) said in 2008 the organisation wanted to "bring a piece of the hospital to the community" in order to respond to immediate life-threatening events.

Almost 240 volunteer doctors "Kerry to Donegal" are part of the north Cork operation, which supports the national ambulance service.

SIFI had been a lifeline for ICRR when it faced a crossroads, Mr Kearney said.

Michael Kelly of GIY (Grow It Yourself) said his concept of encouraging people to grow their own food in order to promote health had started as a community group in Waterford in 2008, but now had 27 people employed all over Ireland and Britain.

SIFI brought business processes to social problems, and allowed community groups to scale accordingly, Mr Kelly said.

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