THE playing pitches of Mayfield United are probably not the first place you would associate with sophisticated new forms of global finance.
Nor, indeed, Waterford’s world-renowned Copper Coast Geopark, let alone the close-knit community of Rathmore in Kerry.
Yet it was only by availing of such innovative new forms of finance and support that all three were able to embark on ambitious new projects that delivered major gains for their communities.
Thus Mayfield United now boasts some of the finest facilities of their kind anywhere in the country, hugely enhancing the opportunities and outlets for youth in the area.
Across the border in Kerry, the Rathmore Social Action Group has developed a state-of-the-art sheltered housing facility for the elderly, greatly enriching their lives and that of the wider community.
Meanwhile, the Copper Coast Geopark — the only Unesco world heritage site to be run by a community group — has now established itself as a major European tourism landmark.
But these stories are not isolated examples. Rather, they are echoed the length and breadth of the country and woven into the fabric of a wholly new form of community-led, grassroots development that has helped transform thousands of lives.
And so successful has this new model of development proven, that Ireland has now been selected to host a major international conference on the subject, with the 10th Annual Summer School on Social Banking set to open in Kinsale on June 25.
It is expected to attract more than 80 delegates and keynote speakers from more than 20 countries.
The annual event is organised by the Institute of Social Banking (ISB) and is the largest international gathering of its type, bringing together experts and practitioners from social banking and community loan financing.
This is the first occasion that the conference has been held in Ireland.
Crucially, it will be co-hosted by Clann Credo which, since its foundation 21 years ago, is now firmly established as the country’s leading social finance provider.
The 2017 Summer School will focus on developments in social finance, in an era of low interest rates, new regulation and the impact of digitalisation.
Social banking and social finance differ significantly from conventional banking in that they demand both a social and a financial return from all investments.
Thus each project or initiative seeking financial support must be financially viable and also be capable of delivering a clear, benefit to the wider community — be it through providing a vital social service, creating employment or enhancing community infrastructure. While social finance is well developed across the rest of Europe, it is a relatively recent arrival to these shores.
The concept was pioneered here by Clann Credo, which was established in 1996. To date, Clann Credo has successfully funded hundreds of community development and social enterprise initiatives across a wide range of sectors, including sports, the arts, tourism, and social services.
Mayfield United, Rathmore Social Action Group, and the Copper Coast Geopark are just three of the more than 800 community initiatives into which we have invested more than €82m since 1996. That investment has helped to sustain and create hundreds of full and part-time jobs.
In many instances, the initiatives we have funded had found their ambition thwarted or hampered by a lack of funding and the refusal of conventional lenders to provide support.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, our work became ever more necessary as local communities across the country found themselves starved of resources.
Today, Clann Credo operates a €50m Community Impact loan fund, a €10m Community Sports fund and a separate €25m fund supporting groups applying for the Leader programme funds.
It is a testament to the impact of our work over the last two decades that we have been selected as the co-host for the international summer school in Kinsale.
It is also a clear recognition of the growing importance of social and community finance in the Irish economy and an acknowledgement of Clann Credo’s role in delivering innovative new forms of finance for locally-led development.
Equally, the success of the annual gathering — now in its 10th year — highlights the deep roots of social banking across the developed and developing world and its growing importance in the global economy.
Indeed a recent OECD study of the sector’s impact internationally, found that it delivered “inclusive growth” and contributed enormously to developing social cohesion.
These key elements give hope in constructing a sustainable economic model for the future and successfully combating the marginalisation and division that plague our societies.