Making a Mark: Social Impact Ireland’s Pauline Gannon

After securing a major international accreditation Mark, Ireland’s social enterprise sector is playing to win, says Pauline Gannon of Social Impact Ireland.

In recent weeks the Irish social enterprise sector reached a crucial turning point when Social Impact Ireland, previously known as the Irish Social Business Campus, brought the internationally accredited Social Enterprise Mark to Ireland.

This is a huge turning point for the sector, as this is first-ever quality Mark of its kind in Ireland; and an opportunity to show credibility for the work social enterprises do, the values that they hold, and the ethos of their businesses.

“The social enterprise sector in Ireland offers approx. 25,000 to 35,000 jobs, about €1.4bn in economic activity and addresses numerous challenges faced by Irish society”

In 2015 BNest, founded by Eamon Ryan and Pauline Gannon, was the first dedicated Social Enterprise Incubator Programme in Ireland, to support budding social entrepreneurs. Through this, they have connected with like-minded individuals and organisations.

From Bnest they formed the Irish Social Business Campus (ISBC) based out of the Nexus Campus in UL in 2018. Partner organisations include Kemmy Business School, Clare Local Development Company, SECAD, North and East Kerry Development Company and the Ludgate Hub in West Cork. Social Impact Ireland is partly funded through Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund.

Since 2018 the ISBC has provided valuable Incubator Programmes, events and other initiatives specifically designed to support and nurture social entrepreneurs in their entrepreneurial journeys; to connect them with the wider business community and to help them become viable and financially independent. Through this, they have developed a strong alumnus of social entrepreneurs who remain connected with each other and with Pauline, Eamon and the organisation.

“A circular social economy is driven by values that focus on social impact, innovation, profit reinvestment, it puts the human, the person, at the centre of our economy.”

We spoke to Pauline Gannon about the new Mark and the importance of social enterprise in Ireland today.

How big is the social enterprise sector in Ireland and what impact does it make?

The social enterprise sector in Ireland offers approx. 25,000 to 35,000 jobs, about €1.4bn in economic activity and addresses numerous challenges faced by Irish society. According to the European Commission, the social entrepreneurship sector currently employs around 40 million people and engages over 200 million volunteers globally – and is growing. This gives a clear indication of the potential of the sector.

Social enterprises contribute hugely to the community in several ways; they bridge the gaps that exits and tackle social issues that need to be addressed.

Social enterprises and the social economy both play crucial role in a modern Irish economy. The sector has the unique ability and expertise to address some of the major challenges facing Ireland, especially at the moment. Social enterprises strive for  sustainable and socially inclusive economic growth, this approach 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, profit reinvestment, it puts the human, the person, at the centre of our economy.

This approach not only helps to boost our economy but it also helps to boost our social fabric. It faces social problems head on, bridging the gaps created by cutbacks in funding and expenditure.

“The Mark provides an opportunity for social enterprises now, within an achievable time frame, to show they are a true social enterprise achieving true social impact”

What will the Mark mean for the sector?

Social Enterprise Mark CIC is an award-winning international social enterprise accreditation authority, which recognises and builds the capabilities of social enterprises as competitive, sustainable businesses, dedicated to maximising social impact.

It will bring credibility to the work carried out in the sector, helping those enterprises to stand out as a true and approved social enterprise, that are using their business to create positive social impact.

In Ireland the sector is undergoing huge change and although it has Government support, this change is slow as each measure from the National Social Enterprise Policy goes through the process for research and implementation. One example is the research just started to look at whether Ireland should have a dedicated legal form for the sector.

This research is welcome, but it will take time, in the meantime, the Mark provides an opportunity for social enterprises now, within an achievable time frame, to show they are a true social enterprise achieving true social impact.  This opens up opportunities in Ireland and abroad for access to funding and collaboration opportunities that will grow and strengthen the social enterprise thereby growing social impact.

“We need a big push to recognise the commercial aspect of social enterprises and see that side as being equally important to the social good aspect”

What policy decisions need to be made to help the sector flourish?

There is so much can be done at policy level but the three pressing issues are:

Legal and Governance Compliance: In Ireland there is no distinct legal form for Social Enterprises and currently they can adopt one of the existing legal structures provided for through the Companies Act. This coupled with governance compliance causes confusion resulting in choices that may not suit the growth and scaling of the enterprise, or more worrisome practices that fall short of good governance. A more simplified system is required to ensure a better setup and practice.

Funding: Sourcing and access to funding for both start and to scale up the social enterprise. It is really important that funding frameworks are simplified, and the administrative procedures for applying for funding to be improved.

Collaboration: 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, building better partnerships across all sectors, strengthens all sectors, not just the Social Enterprise sector.  Collaboration requires a deeper understanding and educating all sectors about what a social enterprise is and how it operates. We need a big push to recognise the commercial aspect of social enterprises and see that side as being equally important to the social good aspect.

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 3 December 2020