As we approach the end of the THINKTECH screening stage, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on some of the application trends we’ve noticed and what this means for the Social Innovation sector in Ireland moving forward.
Data, data, data….
The standard of application writing for THINKTECH was high. In many ways the application form acts as an elevator pitch to people who know nothing about your project, in this case, our screeners. Sometimes less is more, and researched or measured data provides confidence that you fully understand the issue you’re trying to solve and can clearly demonstrate the impact of your project to date.
One of the key learnings from NPC’s ‘Stories & Numbers Report ‘ is the concept of using a ‘theory of change’ model for data collection. This model focuses organisations on inputs, outputs, and necessary outcomes to achieve success. Understanding these elements can often highlight ‘what’ data to collect, and ‘how’ to best measure impact.
Joined up thinking?
Whilst there was a significant spread of social issues identified by applicants, there were a number of projects that aimed to tackle these issues in similar ways. We’d obviously love to back as many projects as possible but realistically many applicants are going to be disappointed.
Funding is a constant challenge for the non-profit sector and one wonders what happens to some of these applicants after a prolonged period of time without funding? Many will have well-developed funding strategies in place, but the worry remains that some applicants may fall off the social innovation cliff face.
So what can be done to keep these innovators in the sector? The answer may lie in a regular forum that brings innovators together under social issue. Universities, Enterprise hubs and Hackathons offer a well-established base to provide a platform for social innovators. If brought together by social issue, flexibility and an open mind could unlock a ‘super-idea’ amongst a number of social innovators. As the famous seanfhocail goes – Ní neart go cur le chéile.
Can Ireland strengthen as a social enterprise hub?
Could social enterprises become the new heartbeat of communities across Ireland? Over 53% of THINKTECH applicants identified themselves as social enterprises. The Forfás Social Enterprise in Ireland Report 2013 stated that an estimated 30,000 people are employed by social enterprises in Ireland. To reach the mean EU level by 2020, social enterprises would have to account for 65,000 jobs which provides a massive opportunity for the sector.
However, the sector faces many challenges. The term ‘social enterprise’ is not defined as a legal entity by law. There are also funding and governance issues that hamper the progression of the sector.
What if we looked to our Scottish cousins as a model of success where the Community Interest Company (CIC) model has flourished? This model allows flexibility for companies to be limited by guarantee or shares but are bound by common principles of asset locks and dividend/interest payments to shareholders.
In summary, sometimes the best innovations have already been conceived at home or quite often abroad. The test for Irish innovators then becomes a matter of having an open-mind, being flexible, and maximising aspects of that innovation for the local environment.
By Eoghan Ryan, THINKTECH Project Manager