EU funded project to establish a National Competence Centre for Social innovation in Ireland

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Minister O’Brien welcomes announcement of EU funded project to establish a National Competence Centre for Social innovation in Ireland


Joe O’Brien TD, Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, has today welcomed the announcement by an Irish-led international consortium of a new EU funded project to promote social innovation and cross-collaboration across Europe.

The objective of the project, which will take place over two years, is to establish a sustainable and responsive National Competence Centre for Social Innovation (NCCSI) in each of the partner countries.

Led by Rethink Ireland and Genio Trust (Ireland), the consortium also incorporates partners from Portugal, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

As part of their application, the European Social Fund (ESF) Managing Authority in Ireland endorsed the collaboration of Rethink Ireland and Genio to act as a National Competence Centre for Social Innovation in Ireland. The ESF+ Programme for 2021-27 will include support for social innovation and the work of the Centre in building the national ecosystem for social innovation will be key to this support.

Welcoming today’s announcement, Minister O’Brien said:

“Under the direction of Rethink Ireland, this project is an excellent example of collaboration and partnership, bringing together a number of key organisations operating in an international context to develop social innovation.

“Government is firmly committed to developing social innovation and social enterprise, and believes that they are key to addressing emerging social, economic and environmental needs in a sustainable manner.”

The project has been granted €650,000 from the European Union, through the European Social Fund and the European Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI).

In conjunction, a commitment of at least €60,000 has been allocated to the project by the Department of Rural and Community Development towards budgetary costs.

The aim of the project is to facilitate an international, cross-sectoral network of stakeholders and promotors who will provide support for social innovations in each country.

Among the target outcomes of the project include the strengthening of transnational cooperation, strengthened public policy to support innovation, improving conditions for testing, replication and/or upscaling of social innovations and the increased likelihood that social innovation projects become ‘scale ready’. It is also envisaged that through supports for capacity building and knowledge transfer, each country will be able to overcome and address any gaps in the social innovation ecosystem.

The Minister continued:

“Social innovators are an important part of our wider social enterprise ecosystem. They develop concepts, ideas or businesses for social good and are often assisted through philanthropic or corporate donations, supporting them, kick-starting them and enabling their ideas to be tested in a real environment.

“The development of a National Competence Centre will greatly enhance the ability of our social innovators to respond, adapt and develop to the merging needs of our communities.

“By continuing to work closely with stakeholders, my Department reaffirms its commitment to social enterprise and social innovation as key drivers of an inclusive and sustainable recovery.”

Further information on this project can be found at: https://rethinkireland.ie/

Contact: The Department of Rural and Community Development Press Office

076-1006843 / 087-1734633



Notes to editor:


The consortium consists of Rethink Ireland, the Genio Trust (Ireland), Cohesion and Development Agency (Portugal), Portugal Social Innovation and Mission Unit, The Change Foundation (Bulgaria), BCause Foundation (Bulgaria), Cleantech (Bulgaria), Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law, The Business Institute (Bulgaria), the SYNTHESIS Center for Research and Education, and the Centre for Social Innovation (Cyprus).

Social Enterprises

Social enterprises are businesses that work primarily to improve the lives of people. Their core objective is to achieve a social, societal, or environmental impact. Like other businesses, social enterprises pursue their objectives by trading in goods and services on an ongoing basis. However, surpluses generated by social enterprises are re-invested into achieving their core social objectives, rather than maximising profit for their owners.

They frequently work to support disadvantaged groups such as the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, the Traveller community, etc., or to address issues such as food poverty, social housing, or environmental matters.

National Social Enterprise Policy

Ireland’s first National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022 was launched by the Department of Rural and Community Development on 18 July 2019, with the objective of creating an enabling environment for social enterprise to grow and contribute more fully to Ireland’s social and economic progress.

The Policy is focused on three main objectives:

  1. Building Awareness of Social Enterprise
  2. Growing and Strengthening Social Enterprise
  3. Achieving Better Policy Alignment


Rethink Ireland

The mission of Rethink Ireland is to provide growth capital to Ireland’s best social innovations, investing in solutions to social problems in this country and creating jobs.

Rethink Ireland, known then as the ‘Social Innovation Fund Ireland’, was established, by Government, in 2013, following on the recommendations of a 2012 report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising. To date Rethink Ireland have drawn down almost €20m from the Dormant Accounts Fund, mainly through its partnership with the Department of Rural and Community Development.

Since their first year of operations in 2016, Rethink have created a €72 million social innovation fund. They have partnered with companies, trusts, foundations, families and individuals to create 30 funds tackling issues such as inequality and educational disadvantage. Rethink have supported 246 social innovations, which have reached over 400,000 people. Rethink have created over 500 jobs and supported almost 1,000 people into employment.

Genio Trust (Ireland)

Genio’s expertise is in scaling social innovations to solve complex problems. Genio does this by helping to bring stakeholders together to navigate the pathway through the challenges of system reform. Genio are particularly interested in the scaling of citizen-centred, community-based, cost-effective innovations. They work with the public sector in Ireland and the EU, philanthropy, service providers and end-beneficiaries. Key to Genio’s approach is that the intended beneficiaries are at the heart of the design to ensure reform is grounded in the real world of people’s lives. Evidence resulting from studies in Ireland illustrates the benefits of person-centred approaches in terms of both quality of life, cost savings and cost avoidance. Genio applies an action research approach to informing the rollout of complex change efforts where there are strong, differing views across stakeholders about the nature of the problem and the ways in which it should be addressed. Action research uses a cyclical method to promote shared problem-solving and focuses on resolving implementation challenges in ‘real-time’ as they emerge.

In Ireland, Genio is currently working in the areas of disability, mental health, homelessness and addiction. Genio work closely with programme partners to reform services to adopt and implement proven innovations (e.g. the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and Local Authorities), in many cases underpinning national reform programmes.

In Europe, Genio lead the European Social Catalyst Fund (ESCF) consortium. This is a new initiative designed to have significant impact on some of Europe’s most pressing social challenges. The ESCF has been established and co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, Genio (Ireland), the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Germany) and the King Baudouin Foundation (Belgium).

Cohesion and Development Agency (AD&C) (Portugal)

AD&C is a public entity with the mission of coordinating both the European Structural and Investment Funds and the Regional Development Policy for Portugal. AD&C is the Government representative on the ESF Committee and the Certification Authority for cohesion policy funds, as well as the paying authority, including for European Territorial Cooperation Programmes of the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism Community Initiatives. Furthermore, it ensures audit functions and control at operations level, in conjunction with the Audit Authority. Concerning the ESI funds, AD&C ensures the general coordination, including the monitoring of the Portuguese Partnership Agreement, the Operational Programmes and guarantees the technical support to the Ministerial offices. Likewise, ensures the technical dialogue with the European Commission, coordinating and developing the assessment system of the Partnership Agreement. The Portugal 2020 Partnership Agreement, signed in 2014 between the Portuguese Government and the European Commission, defined the general guidelines for the five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) – ERDF, Cohesion Fund, ESF, EAFRD and EMFF – and enshrined the economic, social and territorial development policy to be promoted in Portugal between 2014 and 2020.

Portugal Social Innovation Mission Unit

PSI is a government initiative created and negotiated with the European Commission in 2014 as part of the programming for Portugal 2020 aimed at financing Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship intervention initiatives to stimulate the sector and promote social investment in Portugal. PSI has been both a catalyst and a market builder in the sector through funding and facilitating the social investment and impact ecosystem. With an initial allocation of €150 million, PSI achieves their mission by mobilizing funds from the European Social Fund (ESF). In this context, PSI is an Intermediary Body with delegation of authority agreements for the 2020 Operational Programmes (OP) that concur to the four financial instruments manage by PSI, three grant based instruments created for social sector organizations and social entrepreneurs, including one outcomes based model of Social Impact Bonds and one financial instrument, the first public impact investment fund (the first of its kind created with European funds) aimed at stimulating the social impact market to enable credit institutions and equity investors to directly participate in social innovation and social entrepreneurship projects. There are 581 applications approved so far, representing 79 million EUROS funding approved with a social co-investment of 35 million EUROS mobilising 418 entities creating impact for 376 734 people.

The Change Foundation (Bulgaria)

The Change Foundation is part of the network of Reach for Change – an international non-profit organization with the mission to unleash the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to create a better world for children and youth. Reach for Change finds local social entrepreneurs who work towards one or more of the UN’s SDGs. The entrepreneurs are supported to scale their innovations through capacity building, networks and funding all in partnership with multiple sectors. Established in 2010 in Sweden, today Reach for Change has supported over 1200 social entrepreneurs in 18 countries.

In Bulgaria, Reach for Change has been operating since 2014, co-creating and managing an Incubator and Accelerator for social entrepreneurs together with Nova Broadcasting Group; the cross-sector initiative Open the Circle together with ING; an Academy for Social Entrepreneurs and other initiatives and events developing the ecosystem for social innovation.

BCause Foundation (Bulgaria)

BCause Foundation is a 25 year old expert organisation, the Bulgarian member of CAF International. BCause works to change the lives of people and communities through development of giving culture, effective civic organizations and social entrepreneurship.

To achieve this, the organisation does training and grantmaking for NGOs, support programmes for Bulgarian startups and works with companies, foundations and individuals to manage their giving (EUR 3,47 million in 2020).

Through its Rinker Center for entrepreneurship, BCause is implementing exchange, training and accelerator programmes for early stage startups with social value. It consulted over 750 candidates, worked with 110 teams, invested EUR 200,000 in 27 teams and their projects for the last 5 years.

BCause also advocates for enabling policies in the field of philanthropy, social economy and social investment through research, government consultations and special communication projects. It has initiated and hosts the coalition Social Enterprise Forum in Bulgaria.

Cleantech (Bulgaria)

Cleantech Bulgaria (CTBG) is a business network for clean technologies, innovation

and sustainable development. The organization is working actively to introduce

resource-efficient solutions leading to a shift to new business models in the field of

the low carbon and circular economy. CTBG is a catalyst for innovative solutions and a trusted partner of national and international public authorities, science and

educational institutions and leading businesses and industrial players.

CTBG is an official partner in the country of the European Institute of Innovation andTechnology (EIT) – a body of the European Commission, in the areas of Manufacturing, Agrifood, Sustainable Energy and Climate Change, managing four EIT Regional Innovation Hubs of EIT Manufacturing, EIT Food, EIT InnoEnergy and EIT Climate KIC. The organization is coordinator and partner in a number of international projects at Horizon 2020, INTERREG, ERASMUS+ and various national programs and initiatives.

Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law aka, BCNL is a non-profit public benefit NGO based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Our mission is to support the development of an enabling civil society framework so that people can enjoy their right of association and be able to actively collaborate for a better world. We are let by our strong belief that NGOs are key leaders of change towards independent, inclusive and prosperous communities.

Established in 2001, BCNL supports the development of society that is built on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. In the last 10 years, BCNL has been developing a Social Entrepreneurship Program that aims to inspire innovative cause-related business initiatives of NGOs as a way to expand their financial and capacity sustainability. Within the Program so far we managed to support more than 170 NGOs’ teams to develop their social business ideas and plans. We had accumulated more than €150,000 euro private funding and invested it in 40 initiatives that bring social added value across various sectors. We reached out to more than 300,000 people across Bulgaria and made them familiar with inspiring stories of change and impact. We love to support meaningful ideas and efforts in a very practical way and we do that through our online and offline tools for shared resources with social enterprises and NGOs – the online platform DarPazar that promotes cause-related products and services of social enterprises and the NGO House co-working space.

BCNL works nationally but also invests efforts in building strong trans-border partnerships with peers and like-minded organizations and companies. We believe that cross-border exchange shapes the next level for inspiration, innovation and community change thus we are convinced that this is of crucial importance for the successful development of the social entrepreneurship eco-system in Bulgaria.

The Business Institute (Bulgaria)

The Business Institute is devoted to business skills development, using unconventional learning methods. The organisation provides business workshops and simulations to foster knowledge and skills in all key business management areas. For the last 9 years, the team specialises in research, knowledge and best practises creation in the field of innovative social enterprises business models and business models to support sustainable social innovations.

SYNTHESIS Center for Research and Education (Cyprus)

Established in 2002, SYNTHESIS is a pioneering enterprise which designs and implements research and educational projects with social impact. SYNTHESIS is one of the leading institutions in Cyprus in the fields of  social innovation and social entrepreneurship; it founded “Hub Nicosia,” a pioneering social innovation hub which houses and supports organizations, entrepreneurs and enterprises with social or environmental missions.  In a world surrounded with conflict and exclusion of many forms, SYNTHESIS initiates projects that aim to improve individual lives, enhance social inclusion, and contribute to a green and sustainable future, for the people and the planet.

Centre for Social Innovation (Cyprus)

Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) is a Research and Development organization which focuses on fostering social innovation that can bring about a positive change to local, national, regional and global contexts. CSI’s belief is that the four pillars of Social Interaction, Education, Development and Economic Rationalization coupled with fundamentally sound and sustainable solutions as well as disruption to streamlined solutions to systemic social problems can lead to creative solutions that impact significant change to the social fabric of every society. CSI is working closely to address market, social, economic and education challenges with governments, local administrative agencies, non for profit agencies, commercial entities, and educational institutions. We identify and address systemic challenges  through evidence based research, state of the art investigation of global, national, regional and local solutions, developing solutions by taking into consideration the local ecosystem, cultural dynamics, meet the stakeholders needs and implementing those solutions as we keep constant vigilance to ensure continual feedback loop and adjustments. The feedback mechanisms and processes we employ allow us certainty in keeping in touch with our stakeholders and continually update our social solutions proposition. The CSI team is composed of more than 30 open-minded, fully equipped researchers, educators, trainers, social entrepreneurs, project managers, and Information Technology Developers. CSI encompasses the capability and capacity to identify social needs, design and implement adjusted initiatives and projects, and provide for sustainable growth, based on its extensive expertise in successfully completing more than 100 funded projects. CSI is focused on the improvement of the Quality of Life for all and leverages Social Innovation to attain Social Justice, to solve Systemic Challenges and to develop solutions that may provide opportunities for individuals and organisations.

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