There is a greater need now, more than ever, for a stronger support system for social entrepreneurs in Ireland, with more understanding of the concept and the reality of social entrepreneurship.
Such is the mission of Pauline Gannon in her quest to help build a social economy for the benefit of all.
“Collaboration is the heart of what Social Impact Ireland is all about, working with organisations to support our social entrepreneurs at every stage of their business development," she explains.
"Social entrepreneurship generates social impact and not only helps to boost a country’s economy, but to also boost its social fabric."
Social Impact Ireland — formerly the Irish Social Business Campus — is the result of founders Pauline and Eamon Ryan collaborating with its partner organisations, Nexus Innovation Centre, Kemmy Business School, the University of Limerick, and Ludgate Innovation Hub Skibbereen.
In the eventual aftermath of Covid-19, the development and support of social enterprises will play a key role in the rebuilding of the economy and society.
The concept of a Social Enterprise is more understood now due to the publication of the long awaited National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022, she explains.
The pandemic has certainly helped to take social enterprise into the mainstream business arena as a means of dealing with and recovering from its effects.
The social enterprise sector in Ireland offers approximately 25,000 to 35,000 jobs, generating up to €1.4bn in economic activity and addressing many challenges faced by Irish society.
According to the European Commission, the social entrepreneurship sector currently employs 40m people and engages over 200m volunteers globally — a clear indication of the sector’s potential.
"The sector has the unique ability and expertise to address some of the major challenges facing Ireland, especially at the moment," says Pauline.
Social enterprises strive for sustainable and socially inclusive economic growth, she adds, an approach which creates jobs and opportunities for all within society, especially those who may find employment difficult to attain.
“A circular social economy is driven by values that focus on social impact, innovation and profit reinvestment, it puts the person at the centre of our economy, crucial for any modern economy.”
This approach not only helps to boost the economy, but also the social fabric in facing social problems head on, bridging the gaps created by cutbacks on funding and expenditure.
Collaboration is central to Social Impact Ireland, bringing together the differing elements of community, corporates, and academia.
“We are a values-driven organisation working to a clear long term sustainable strategy," says Pauline. "We strive to meet people and organisations driven by the same, or similar, values.
"This helps to foster a deeper understanding of the work being done on all sides, whether it is commercial, community, or academia."
"Once we meet on this common ground it is then literally just about starting a conversation and helping all sides to align to a common goal, with a common purpose, ultimately to support, grow and foster the social enterprise sector to create positive social impact.”
Given the disastrous effects of Covid-19 across all sectors, Pauline sees the months ahead as an opportunity for government to recognise, support, and invest in those within the sector, to allow them to flourish and demonstrate the value they bring to society as a whole, to the benefit of us all.
“With the right supports, it is an opportunity for Ireland to demonstrate to Europe, and globally, that we can and will thrive through a commitment to our social enterprise sector," she explains.
"The Government is certainly sowing positive signs of investment and commitment in the area and this needs to continue in a cohesive and inclusive way."
From a social entrepreneurship stance, while Covid-19 offers many opportunities to address issues such as housing, poverty, and healthcare, it is also an opportunity for all in business to look at how they do business and ensure there is a long term sustainable element of social good within their business model.
"If Covid-19 has taught us anything it has taught us that people need people, local is important and all those physical spaces and places you grew to value during restrictions, they need looking after — your community, your locality, the environment around you.”
Looking to the future, Pauline envisions collaboration as a key ingredient to the successes of 2021 and beyond.
“Collaboration can help social enterprises access funding or contracts, deliver services that they may not have the capability or capacity to deliver alone, reach wider geographical markets, and make financial savings through shared overheads and staff.”
Shared expertise and knowledge and building better partnerships strengthens all sectors, not just the Social Enterprise sector, she says.
“I’m inspired by what we have achieved at Social Impact Ireland through collaborative partnerships, because I know that it’s not just the best way, but the only way to achieve social progress at a scale we need to see during and post Covid-19."
That the year ahead will present enormous challenges, there is no doubt — but one to which Ireland as a whole can rise meet.
“I am optimistic that we will do our very best and that our resilience will shine through in all the challenges we face.
"At such an uncertain, and quite frankly scary time, I also feel very privileged. I have been surrounded by the most innovative, ambitious people who have continued to strive forward in times of such uncertainty. Our collaborations, partnerships and the community we have built around us, have moved forward with purpose.”
Currently, there are 14 people going through its Dublin incubator program, run in partnership with Innovate Communities based in Ballymun. In addition, it has launched Ireland’s first ever Social Enterprise Mark, in collaboration with Social Enterprise Mark CIC, a globally recognised quality mark for the sector.
“We have launched our first pilot program, with a second ready to launch, with social entrepreneurs from all over the country," says Pauline.
"We have moved ourselves from a regional to a national organisation and we have plenty more to come in 2021.”
In a job with plentiful challenges and rewards, Pauline Gannon remains more committed than ever to supporting the individual move towards their vision to solve a social problem and have an impact.
“When that individual is a woman, a migrant, a young person, a person from a marginalised or vulnerable group and I can support and help them to move forward, that gives me the greatest sense of fulfilment.
"I am inspired daily by the people I meet, the dreams they share and the social problems they set out to tackle in order for the world to be a better place for us all.”