Ireland has undertaken a huge transformation since the global financial crisis. In the last few years, unemployment has fallen from about 15% to 5.4% in April 2019. It is expected that unemployment will fall below 5% in the next year, which the country will deem as ‘full employment.’
In an article by the Irish Times, an economist Pawel Ardjan said “The country is also drawing on inward migration to fulfil open roles, with 57 per cent of employment growth in the past year coming from non-Irish nationals, and nearly half of that coming from outside the EU.”
The growth in the tech sector, particularly in Dublin has attracted talent from around the world. However, there are still roles that need to be filled including in warehousing, supermarkets and other manual labour jobs.
As the tech sector booms, so does the social enterprise scene in Ireland. ‘Philanthropy and giving to charities has been part of Irish culture for a long time, however we are now needing this mindset to evolve to understand where social enterprises fit in the scheme of business and charities.’ Clodagh O’Reilly, CEO of ReCreate told me recently. ‘Many businesses think social enterprises are charities and many consumers feel a bit bad ‘taking’ something from a charity, even if they are paying for it.’
Building the social enterprise ecosystem
The Government has been working with leaders in the charity, social enterprise and business sectors to define the term ‘social enterprise’ and then build an ecosystem to help social enterprises thrive.
The challenge for Government is to create a term that is defined and tangible enough that includes the critical mass, however just not generalise terms so that it becomes meaningless.
Clodagh spoke about this delicate definition balance, but also the importance of building the ecosystem.
According to the Irish Government’s website, ‘A National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland is currently being drafted. It will seek to provide a coherent policy framework to support the development of the social enterprise sector in Ireland over the next 5 years.’ In the meantime, there is strong engagement to build the policy as well as great initiatives including the Social Innovation Fund.
Social Innovation Fund Ireland
Clodagh spoke about the critical role of funding for social enterprises to build their capacity to develop sustainable revenue streams that will ultimately help them to move away from traditional grants. The Irish Government set up the Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) which is partly funded through their dormant accounts fund. This is a pool of funds collected from banking and credit accounts that have not been accessed in over 15 years. After 15 years, these funds come under Government control but must be used to support the development of persons who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, or those affected by a disability.
Social Enterprise spotlight: ReCreate
Clodagh is the CEO of ReCreate, a social enterprise with social and environmental impact. It became very evident very quickly that Clodagh and her team have a strong purpose that is coupled with impressive business capabilities.
ReCreate’s vision is to establish a national social enterprise fostering creativity, valuing social inclusion and protecting the environment.
So what do they do?
Well, it all started with a group of people from the early education and arts sector. They wanted to reduce their environmental impact and at the same time increase creativity in others.
They work with local and national businesses to collect unwanted and surplus items, for use in early childhood education, schools, colleges, special needs groups & community centres, and by individuals for art, craft, theatre and creative projects of all kinds. This helps local businesses produce less waste, helps schools and communities to be more creative, and helps the environment by reducing waste and our carbon footprint.
Creativity, social inclusion and waste diversion
Clodagh said that the heart of the social enterprise is to spark creativity in people and to show that it is a process, not an output. Their warehouse, called the ‘warehouse of wonders’ is stocked with a range of high quality arts and craft accessories they have reclaimed from businesses that would have ordinarily gone to landfill. The stock they hold is varied and the team doesn’t have much control to choose the inventory. However, Clodagh sees this as an advantage. ‘The beauty of not being able to choose the inventory means it creates an extra layer of creativity. People who come into the warehouse get inspired by what they can find, rather than coming in with a shopping list.’
This feeds their purpose of harnessing creativity in all people.
The environmental waste diversion is key to their business model and is also often the easiest to quantify. For this to occur, the team has a logistics team that pick up the products and brings it to the warehouse. This is a critical component of their business model because their main revenue stream comes from their membership fees. Members pay an annual fee and have access to the warehouse of wonders. They can turn up whenever they want and take as much stock as they need. Sounds like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but for arts and craft! They have over 15 000 visitors to the warehouse every year and the team absolutely love to show people around.
Beyond the membership model, they are also looking to diversify their revenue streams with more workshops and employment accreditation for local businesses.
The accreditation is an interesting model as the organisation employs people with physical or social challenges in the warehouse and other aspects of the business. This is done to help people get the relevant skills required to get a regular paying job. ‘As Ireland almost reaches full employment, there is a big push for us to help people who find it difficult to find a job. However, it presents an interesting opportunity because some of the roles that are hard to fill in a state of full employment are jobs in warehousing and supermarket stacking. What we are doing is training up local people to build relevant skills so that they can be a confident and able employee to local businesses. By offering training accreditation, local businesses are more confident of the employee before taking them on.’ This solves a challenge for people breaking into the workforce and also the challenge of regular staff at a local business level.
The future of ReCreate
The next 5 years will be an exciting time for ReCreate. Clodagh has been in the role for almost 2 years and has helped to redefine their purpose, which is creating stronger focus and a clear roadmap for the future. ‘Our aim is to have all of Ireland within 1.5 hours of a warehouse of wonders in the next 5 years!’ Clodagh told me excitedly. For this to happen, they need to formalise their logistics team, get funding for expansion and build a new partner network to reclaiming waste.
At the moment, Clodagh and the team are analysing the social and economic impact of diverting waste from businesses to build the business case for new partners. ‘We really need people to see the value of our work that they will pay for the service.’ If the team can cover the costs of logistics through a fee for service model, their operations will be able to continue to grow.
Another focus for Clodagh is to empower her team to talk about the impact they are having. ‘We have a lot of visitors come through our doors and I want all our employees to be empowered to talk about what we are doing and why it is important.’ Her priority is to ensure her team are all aligned with their common vision and are able to articulate their collective purpose.
Progress over perfection
As an social and environmental activist, Clodagh shared the practicalities of keeping motivated and focused on driving social change. On a personal level, Clodagh is passionate about transforming her own mindset to ensure she maximises her impact.
The trick, she told me, is to focus on progress rather than perfection. Living a sustainable lifestyle can often feel overwhelming. Clodagh gave the example of doing ‘zero waste weeks.’ When she started, her focus was often on when she made a mistake. ‘I soon learnt though, that if I obsessed with all the waste I made, then I would get overwhelmed and nothing would happen.’ Instead, she started weighing her waste at the end of the week and used those metrics as a way to improve for next time.
This is something I am sure we can all relate to. Changing the mindset of sustainability from perfection to progress means we can be empowered to make ongoing changes, rather than working on the assumption we need to do everything at once.
I remember a quote that said ‘we don’t need 100 people doing sustainability perfectly, we need 1 000 000 people doing the best they can.’ What is one simple thing you can do today that will have an environmental impact?
This was definitely one of the most inspiring conversations I have had to date. Clodagh’s commitment, passion and humility for building out this exciting business was infectious. The business model is fascinating because they are looking at all facets to find new ways to create change. Everything from their energy consumption to logistics to employment to waste management, they are continually striving to do better. Clodagh even said that sometimes she will sort through the ReCreate bin to see if there are things that could still be used! These are the leaders who will transform the way our communities operate and I cannot wait to see what ReCreate does next!