Harnessing potential of local enterprise

Solving social issues needs innovative thinking, writes John Daly

Harnessing potential of local enterprise

THE beginning of any New Year prompts many of us to think beyond the boundaries of our own world, to consider worthwhile projects or ideas for the greater good.

For those nurturing an innovative angle with the potential to benefit society, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland are looking for a few good men — and women. In order to solve Ireland’s social and environmental problems, new and innovative thinking is needed to challenge the status quo and tackle issues from a different perspective.

“In Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we see lots of potential,” says chief executive Sean Coughlan.

“We see the potential of new ideas to have a transformative impact on some of our most entrenched societal issues. But without encouragement and intentional action, potential will remain just that: potential. All the possibilities it contains will go unrealised. If that happens, the opportunity cost, the price we pay for inaction, is enormous. As a country and as a society we simply cannot afford to pay that price.”

SEI finds the social entrepreneurs who have the most potential to make an impact, and works with them to develop their projects and ensure their ideas are implemented as effectively and efficiently as possible. Its annual awards programme provides up to €140,000 worth of support per social entrepreneur over the course of up to two years. SEI’s overall investment in projects since its establishment in 2004 totals €5.82m, with support for 179 entrepreneurs.

In 2013, the number of people directly impacted was 44,959, with the average number affected by each social entrepreneur totalling 4,496. SEI is also diversifying its range of supports with the launch of the Social Entrepreneurs Exchange and The Impact Series — two initiatives complementing the direct support already provided.

“Commercial entrepreneurship has long been fostered and supported with the resulting benefits clear and widely acknowledged,” says Mr Coughlan. “It is time we adopted a similar approach for social entrepreneurship. SEI has for the last 10 years been at the forefront of encouraging a more proactive approach to supporting social entrepreneurs and social enterprises, and we are now beginning to see positive signs that government, business and the third-level sectors are engaging with us in this area. The sector has huge potential but, great as that is, it is not enough.

“We don’t want social entrepreneurship to just have potential, we want it to have impact.”

He describes the social entrepreneurs as collectors and translators driven by a deep-seated need to address some of society’s most pressing issues, constantly looking for those solutions that have the highest potential to create change.

Last year’s SEI awardees developed a range of projects in the areas of healthcare, unemployment, children in care and working with ex- offenders.

Geographically, there has been a notable growth in rural based projects. Amongst these was John Kearney’s Irish Community Rapid Response, focusing on rural isolation, particularly in the provision of emergency services.

With the financial crisis having heaped pressure on ambulance services, potentially lifesaving assistance frequently struggled to reach those in need within a critical timeframe.

“Rather than waiting for government to provide solutions, we initially established ICRR in West Cork, with teams enhancing local emergency services by providing additional medical personnel to respond to emergency callouts,” said Mr Kearney.

Funded by the communities they operate in, ICRR supports groups of volunteer doctors and paramedics who can be called upon in addition to the more traditional local emergency services. Working with established emergency services, ICRR teams have responded to over 300 callouts last year, dealing with more than 500 patients.

Having helped save 54 lives during the year in Cork, ICRR teams are already having the ultimate impact in parts of rural Ireland.

“Having expanded our operations into East Cork, we are now looking to take the model to a national level, establishing Rapid Response units in counties where emergency services are in real need of assistance. With an average of two lives saved per month, ICRR is turning an abundance of community spirit into action, and providing a vital service to the people of rural Ireland right when they need it most.”

We see the potential of new ideas to have a transformative impact

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