Radical innovation in technology and the economy can enable social transformation. To tackle the big challenges society faces, we need to embed social innovation in business models. We need to think differently about social business and shift the mindset of investors and consumers to move away from the 3rd sector towards a more sustainable business model, which is “Social Enterprise”.
Social Enterprise contributes to addressing todays key societal challenges, including poverty, social inclusion and unemployment, and overcoming gaps in general interest service delivery. They promote sustainable development and new ways of doing business, drawing on local assets and supporting job creation while generating revenues and triggering more efficient government spending. As social enterprise generates value that benefits local communities and society, scaling their social impact is important.
The WDC is tasked with delivering the national social enterprise policy outline in Our Rural Future in the western region. There are a large number of other partners also working in this region, often in isolation. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of social enterprises outside subsidised caring services and fewer still at scale. It is generally recognised that the social economy is not as well developed in Ireland as is the case elsewhere in Europe. The publication of a national social enterprise policy (2019- 2022) set out several key actions to (1) build awareness of social enterprises (2) grow and strengthen social enterprise and (3) achieve better policy alignment. Nationally there is a vibrant ecosystem to support social enterprises, but when we compare activity levels across the Eastern, Southern and the WDC region, significant gaps exist.
In addressing a national challenge, there is the opportunity to share existing entrepreneurial supports and programmes and transfer them to pressing societal challenges. This could be used to address the lack of critical mass in the West and Northwest. We propose to achieve this by creating a regional social innovation hub and developing a regional accelerator/ incubator programme targeted at social enterprises. Such a hub would provide access to training, mentoring, finance, markets and technology.
To achieve all this, there is a need to bring together a diverse set of stakeholders – local authorities, communities, citizens, social enterprises, third sector organisations, higher education institutes, research institutes, regional and national networks.
We would also need:
- A regional innovation laboratory providing outreach across AEC Hub Network.
- Service users participating in product development, service design and usability testing
- HEI and Research Institutes in the region working together to help communities/ social enterprises with innovation.
- To work with NUI Galway and other HEI TTOs to build a repository of technology that could be licensed for social good.
- To develop a leadership capacity in social innovation and enhance the competitiveness of the region to attract new social enterprises in.