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2014 Social Innovation Report

This report examines how social innovation can be harnessed to benefit the Northern Ireland economy as well as its expected goal of social impact.

It aims to provide a practical and theoretically grounded guide for the growing number of individuals and organizations in Northern Ireland who are trying to understand what social innovation is and its importance across all sectors of the economy; the private, social enterprise, non profit and informal sectors.

The report draws on a growing body of global research from respected academics, innovators, policy makers, funders, social innovation enablers and practitioners, and distils the key information into recommendations, actions and opportunities to be implemented over the short to long term which will have a positive effect on the economy and social impact in Northern Ireland.

The importance of social innovation

Over the last few years there has been a growing curiosity and focused interest on social innovation.

Like most countries,  the United Kingdom has a range of seemingly intractable issues that the national government and regional devolved administrations are struggling to find solutions to. Examples of these issues are social exclusion, youth unemployment, ageing population and chronic long-term illness as well as Northern Ireland specific social issues associated with a post-conflict environment.

Today there are signs that social innovation is becoming even more important for economic growth, so it is essential that Northern Ireland is ready to take advantage of future opportunities as they arise.

This rise in importance is due partly because some of the barriers to lasting growth (such as climate change and ageing populations) can only be overcome with the help of social innovation and partly because of rising demands for types of economic growth that enhance rather than damage human relationships and well being.

The key growth sectors of the 21st century economy look set to be health, education and care, accounting between them for around 20-30% of GDP, and more in some countries.

Key diagrams

  1. A model for strategic management for social innovation
  2. How shared value creation focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress
  3. A definition of social innovation
  4. The main goals for social enterprises
  5. The length of time social enterprises have operated for
  6. Innovation strategy linkages
  7. How social impact bonds work

Aims of the report

Key recommendations

Extensive field and desktop research was undertaken and two key recommendations were proposed. We believe that the responsibility for implementation of the first key recommendation lies with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the second key recommendation will require support from all government departments in partnership with key stakeholder organisations, but it should be led by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Social innovation needs to be accurately defined by government departments as “new solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act”

This definition will raise awareness across government departments and embed social innovation in future programmes for government.

Establishment of a sustainable social innovation ecosystem with shared value across all sectors in Northern Ireland will lead to direct, positive impact on the economy and enable Northern Ireland to maximise global opportunities in the field of social innovation.

Action Plan

Opportunity Timescale Suggested Key Stakeholder
Social innovation report referenced in the NI Executive innovation strategy Immediate: 1-2 months DETI
Additional research undertaken to identify and benchmark key social innovators across Ireland Immediate: 1-2 months DETI, Castlereagh Borough Council
Formation of Cross-Sectoral Working Group to identify pipeline of opportunities by March 2015 (including ongoing engagement with UK based social innovation experts) Short: 12 months Government Departments, InvestNI, Social Enterprise NI,
NICVA, Building Change Trust & Private Sector
Establishment of social innovation accelerator in Belfast Short: 12 months Cross Sectoral Working Group, Young Foundation
Establishment of social innovation accelerator in the North West (L’Derry) Short: 12 months Trinity College Dublin, Young Foundation
& local innovators
Establishment of collaborative network focussing on digital social innovation Short: 6-12 months Invest NI (Collaborative networks team), partner organisations
Agreement to scope out research for social impact measurement study through Horizon 2020 funding Short: 6-12 months Social Innovation H2020 Partnership
Feasibility study on effectiveness of social innovation vouchers and consultation with social innovation experts Short: 6-12 months InvestNI, Young Foundation, SI Camp, NESTA
Feasibility study for the establishment of a social innovation hub in Belfast (to cover Northern Ireland) Short: 6-12 months Cross Sectoral Working Group, Young Foundation, Nesta, Bethnal Green Ventures, Hub Impact Network
Private Sector engagement through BITCNI proposal for Social Innovation Leadership Opportunities Programme (SiLos) Short: 6-12 months BITCNI & Private Sector partners
Evaluation of SE Hubs outputs – benchmarked against key social innovation sub-fields Medium: 24-36 months DSD, DETI, InvestNI
Development of seed funding strategy for social innovation including prize and challenge funds Medium: 24-36 months InvestNI, Social Enterprise NI, Building Change Trust
Integration of social innovation into NI university and college curricula Medium: 24-36 months DEL, QUB, UU & FE Colleges

The panel

John McMullan

Bryson Charitable Group

John is the Chief Executive of the Bryson Charitable Group, Northern Ireland’s leading social enterprise that operates through 7 subsidiary companies each leading in a range of social business markets. The Group currently employs 650 staff with a turnover circa £30m per annum.

Bryan Keating

CIP Partnership

Dr. Keating is Managing Partner of CIP Partnership. Bryan co-founded CEM Computers Ltd, and CEM Systems Ltd., a leader in access control system for airports worldwide and over the last 30 years, he has been a board member and an investor in a dozen private high-tech companies based in Northern IreIand.

Sinclair Stockman

Digital NI 2020

Sinclair has an extensive career in telecommunications and software engineering and has played a leading role in a number of ground breaking initiatives throughout the years.

Juliet Cornford

Social Enterprise NI

Juliet has been involved in Social Enterprise Development for over 12 years. She began her career taking Supported Employment projects from within the NHS and spinning them out as standalone self-sustaining social firms.

David Brownlee

HSC (Innovation)

David Brownlee is the Innovation Advisor for Health and Social Care (HSC) where he heads up the HSC Innovations regional service. After a period of Medical Research Council funded post-doctoral research, he then moved into technology transfer at the University of Southampton.

Nigel McKinney

Building Change Trust

Nigel McKinney is Director of Operations and is is responsible for the management of the services provided to the Trust by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI).

Paul Braithwaite

Building Change Trust

Paul Braithwaite works for the Building Change Trust, an endowment-based Trust set up in 2008 by the National Lottery to promote and support change in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector in Northern Ireland.

Claire Ferris

Work West

Ms Ferris has promoted enterprise professionally, through various agencies, for the past 17 years though her business experience goes back further. While completing her Masters Degree in European Business she helped her family set up their Portrush catering business.

Stephen McGarry

Gauge NI

A business adviser of 14 years, Stephen has worked with a wide range of SMEs and Social Enterprises to start up and grow through tailored mentoring, training and coaching support.

Paula Jennings

Stepping Stones

Chief Officer at Stepping Stones NI, a charitable organisation based in Lisburn that provides youth, transition, training and employment services and social enterprises for people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties.

Tony Colville

The Young Foundation

Tony leads the Young Foundation’s search for new partners, overseeing the organisation’s efforts to decentralise. Previously Tony was a Senior Associate in the Ventures team at The Young Foundation where he worked on a number of programmes to develop social business models and new programmes.

Sharon Polson

Invest NI

Sharon Polson is a Client Manager at Invest NI

Glen Mehn

Social Innovation Camp

Glen has 15 years of operational and technical experience, including running his own social performing arts group in New Orleans, managing the IT operations for Burning Man and managing IT and operations departments in Silicon Valley.

Jo Casebourne


Before joining Nesta in November 2011, Jo was Director of Research at the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion for five years, where she led the organisation’s research work, conducting high profile research and evaluations for central government, local government and charities.

Peter MacCafferty

Social Impact Tracker

Peter has been involved in the field of digital technology for 18 years and worked for private, public, third sector organisations as a ICT Consultant, Software Engineer, Customer Services Manager and Community Projects Manager.

Denise Crossan

Trinity College Dublin

Denise Crossan was appointed to Trinity College’s School of Business in January 2009 as Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship; the first post of its kind in Ireland. She is responsible for the management of the Initiative on Social Entrepreneurship in TCD.