Former CEO of Ballyhoura Development and long recognised as a champion of social enterprise in the Mid West, Carmel Fox, spoke of the passion and drive needed by those choosing this path. Without this the journey would be impossible but that passion alone won’t succeed. In order to create the impact they desire sustainably there are other critical challenges that need to be overcome.
While funding is always problematic success is as much dependent on the leader being able to find and engage a team of complimentary skills around them. This is a difficult challenge for all enterprises but one they need to solve.
However, supports for social motivated enterprises are only starting to develop slowly now. Help that allowed nascent enterprises to hire people early would be of huge benefit but existing supports are more oriented towards bricks and mortar than this.
This though in turn leads to the second challenge that needs to be addressed – visible transparent good governance practice as this needs to be the necessary requisite in return for supports.
Finally, there is the need to understand that while the motivation is impact that impact is delivered through enterprise and no enterprise can succeed without communicating and the marketing that follows with that.
Emily Duffy, founder of Duffily Bag invention aimed at helping the homeless to assist in helping themselves, spoke on the need to understand the real needs of the user.
Her “sleeping bag” for the homeless was designed by engaging with them to fully understand what life was like on the street, delivered in a way that met their unique needs, not necessarily those that we might assume they have. She also spoke re the challenges of taking a great idea to scale, the need to balance control of the purpose with growing the diverse team that can deliver it.
Critical to this is that all participants in the enterprise share the same ethics and values that caused her to address the need she saw – a need that for her came from the realisation that the homeless population in Ireland greatly exceeds the total population of the small town where she grew up!
The final speaker was Gert O’Rourke, centre manager for Nexus UL who spoke on the importance of diversity to innovation. This was the reason that Nexus became the first centre to co-locate separate programmes for both commercial and social enterprises, the first such effort in Ireland.
From what she has seen they share very similar challenges and indeed a social enterprise may be a slightly more extreme version of a commercial start-up. She awaits with interest to see how in time the two streams may interact, both with each other and among each other, as one of the clearly identifiable indicators of success is an ability to get out there meet with people and above all learn. Start-ups are about learning, and networks combined with “shoe-leather” are central for this.
All wished the emerging social enterprises well for the future and shared a mutual admiration for the courage to go out and seek to act not just to complain. What ever bright futures might be ahead for the enterprises, to those that step forward, that is real personal success and hopefully only the initial steps on bringing their enterprises forward and creating real social impact for us all.