Camphill Communities of Ireland

Case Study

“Horses are beautiful and intuitive animals to be around; as partners in this process horses provide a non-judgmental approach to learning simply.

Horses don’t judge. They cannot over think a situation, identify motives or manipulate. Their intuitive nature and innate sensitivity can provide a person with a window into their behaviours which creates opportunity for self-reflection and change.”

BNest Incubator Programme 2016/2017 Participant

Elaine Ní Mhurchú grew up on a farm in West Cork, where there always were horses around. She discovered the mental benefits of being near them in her teenage years and the idea of an equine assisted learning and therapy centre for children was born…

The Challenge

“I had that idea, that concept in my head since I was 17, which was 18 years ago – and while I was accumulating different skills and experiences (that I don’t think now were crucial to creating this business), I still wasn’t really happy with myself, thinking ‘when am I going to do this?’.

It was slowly becoming a concept of regret.”

When BNest came along Elaine had a lot going on, on a personal level – she was living in Valentia Island, doing an equine therapy course in Bray, and traveling all over Ireland for work. She was worried how all of this would work out, but from the first moment she heard about the BNest Incubator Programme – she knew she just had to get a place in it.

“I never wanted a straight commercial business. I wanted to work with vulnerable children, but my ethical background and my moral code wouldn’t allow me to profit from people’s disadvantage. I wanted to set up a social enterprise to make that service viable, so it would be there for people.

And this what BNest offered me – an opportunity to create the self-sustaining business model without profiting from people’s misfortune. It fitted with my personal ethics.”

Elaine admits that if she didn’t take part in BNest her concept would have probably become a concept of regret…

“After years of working in high profile jobs, in highly regulated areas – even though they all had a principal of social justice underneath (from social work to building the peace process in Northern Ireland), I started to realise that I was drifting away from my dream.

BNest allowed me to get back down to the core of who I was. And to realise that helping kids and being around the horses actually makes me happy. I don’t think I’d have realised that without BNest process.”

Elaine is a social entrepreneur – and she sees the problem in Ireland that there is no recognition of social entrepreneurs:

“I categorically want to avoid the boards, committees – I’ve accepted that I’m a lone ranger and I’m happy with that, but the trade-off is that I might not qualify for many of the existing support programmes.”

The Journey

Elaine admits BNest had an important role in delevoping her idea, and it was hard for her to name the favourite element of the programme, so she picked few:

– all the different challenges the group was set with – from role play conflict mediation to practicing the sales pitch.

– making many valuable connections (that are still there, BTW)

– being in the peer group – supporting and being supported within the group – with any criticism being very constructive: “It was all about the enterprise, never personal”.

“There is so much affinity with the people you were in the programme with – there is that feeling that if they succeed, I succeed. It’s very satisfying and really lovely feeling – I love this ongoing peer support group.”

resilience part, built into the course. Even though she didn’t need the one-to-one sessions, she relied very much on the resilience and the energy of the group.

“The programme was easy to follow and to me it feels it was a one-year programme – BNest 1 being the initial 6 months in Nexus and BNest 2 – the next 6 months when I developed my business further.

It doesn’t stop when you finish the initial 6 months.”

“BNest caters for all the learning styles.

I’m verbal/interactive learner, some people learn through drawing or doing, other people learn through hearing etc. – I can see BNest has every learning style reflected in each piece of the programme. It was excellent. “

“The programme was easy to follow and to me it feels it was a one-year programme – BNest 1 being the initial 6 months in Nexus and BNest 2 – the next 6 months when I developed my business further.

It doesn’t stop when you finish the initial 6 months.”

Elaine says that one of the key findings for her during the programme was to learn to weight benefits and risks:

“It’s a one thing that stays in my head now: you put out the benefits and the risks – and if the benefits are so much higher – give it a go!

I always felt encouraged; it was always a very positive message and I felt I could do it, I could fill that social gap.”

Elaine also stresses the importance of the practical support received: 

“All theory was always translated into practice – we were able to produce relevant marketing materials like posters, flyers or video.

It’s a powerful way of learning.”

BNest Impact

What was a dream for Elaine over the past 18 years, has now become a reality. It is still ‘work in progress’, but she is already delivering her equine assisted learning sessions to children. To make this happen Elaine partnered with a private equestrian centre.

The moment Elaine started to deliver made all the effort she put in the BNest programme worthwhile – having been through the course, finding a place to operate, starting to apply what she has learned she made her dream come true step by step:

“Being with children in the arena and seeing them overcoming their challenges is an amazing feeling.

I worked with a child, severely affected by bullying in school, who had no self-esteem.

After the first session, the child came up with its own plan to come and talk to the bullies. I’ve suggested using positive-negative-positive form of communication (i.e. starting with saying something a positive – then telling them what you don’t like about their behaviour and finishing with the positive again then walking off).

It was huge success for that child. And that came from a work with a horse – from being confident and assertive, but fair. The term we use is ‘firm but fair communication’. Then the child transferred that to dealing with people.

After only two sessions, that child said “I am special. I am me.” And I just knew this was a game changing moment for that child. From that moment, with each session I could see the real personality coming out – not being afraid anymore, learning assertive communication, building confidence.

It’s been very empowering experience for both the child and me.”

“How I like to think about BNest is like a jigsaw with all the pieces connecting – you just don’t know what colours and what picture is going to come out of that jigsaw, because you’re the one painting it, but the pieces underneath is BNest putting it together with you.

Jigsaw pieces facilitated the picture to be painted. “

“Today, I feel very congruent with being who I am, being in the space I supposed to be, doing what I meant to be – it’s very powerful.

I wouldn’t have that without going through BNest.

BNest have been a very humbling experience, it often makes me look around me and think ‘wow, it is all becoming a reality, it’s really happening’.
It’s like living a dream, it’s what I wanted to do since I was 17!”

The Next Challenge

When first started BNest Incubator Elaine was developing ‘Meitheal Le Capaill’ – an equine assisted learning programme. After going through the programme it clicked that the idea was something more than just a programme – and this is how ‘Equine Learning Child and Family Services Munster’ is now becoming an umbrella for ‘Meitheal Le Capaill’ and other ideas.

Next challenges for Elaine are:

– trying to acquire a land/own space

– setting up Irish Draught horses conservation stud, to become an income generating arm of the company that will support equine therapy for children

– possibly even setting up a community cooperative…

All those ideas will develop in parallel to providing equine assisted learning services and will help with financing them.


I would 100% recommend BNest Programme.

It has helped me to understand I might not get there, how I thought I would. When you have something in your head for 18 years – you think you’re going to do it exactly the way you thought about it.

It is lovely to have a freedom of saying: ‘ok, this is where I’m going – I might take this route or the other or even go around – but I’ll know where I’m going and will get there’.”

It is a very positive programme. Even if you came out of BNest and you’re not where you think you should be at that moment – you will be prepared for that.

And this is a big deal – to know that it’s a process and that there is support in place after the programme and in thee peer group.

Whether you’re existing business or at the idea stage or diversifying another programme – there is a good mix in the peer group, it is well selected and well balanced – there are always enough challenges to bring the learning out of them for the group and individuals.

While other courses concentrate mainly on profit, BNest concentrates more on the journey and the social impact – and that appealed to me and other people who are considering social enterprises. But even if we don’t like the word ‘profit’ BNest did make us look at it! It’s about making your business sustainable, so you’ll be around for long time to have maximum social impact.

It is also important to say: BNest won’t do it for you! But you will be supported and your development will be facilitated.”

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Nexus Innovation Centre
Tierney Building
University of Limerick
Limerick, Ireland