At a time when Ireland’s social and economic challenges are at a crossroads, Darren Ryan is an Irishman in a hurry.

Ryan, the Head of Engagement at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) is in New York to meet with people who may be interested in helping Ireland emerge as a better nation, socially as well as economically, from the greatest recession in the country’s history.

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is an 8-year-old not-for-profit organisation based in Dublin that supports people with new and innovative solutions to societal problems in Ireland.

Ryan is looking for venture philanthropists to join like minded people and corporates in Ireland, such as the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, KPMG, The Ireland Funds and Diageo, who support the work of SEI.

Since 2005 SEI has supported 161 emerging social entrepreneurs by providing expert counsel and investing over $6 million in these exceptional individuals and their projects. 

The social issues addressed range from mental health to the environment, unemployment and education. The 161 projects supported so far have  directly assisted over 200,000 people in Ireland and created over 800 employment opportunities in the process. Given its track record of delivering great results, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is now looking to scale up its capacity so it can do more in a shorter space of time but it needs additional support to achieve that goal.

Speaking to IrishCentral Ryan said: “While we have many major challenges to overcome, Ireland still has great potential. As an English speaking, high-tech, EU country with a well educated and innovative workforce, Irish people aren't sitting back and waiting for change to come about.

“They have the experience, education and spirit to recognise that a time of pressure and hardship is also an opportunity to fashion changes that are needed to make Ireland more efficient, inclusive and equitable.”

Ryan added: “At a time when we need a speedy response to Ireland’s social and economic challenges, social entrepreneurs can act as the first responders, developing innovative and effective approaches that can scale rapidly.

“Ireland cannot afford to ignore these social entrepreneurs and their ideas because, given the right support, they can and do provide solutions to some of the big challenges our country faces. The benefits on offer to Ireland Inc are both economic and social. Many initiatives have serious potential to relieve the state of significant annual cost to the exchequer and to stimulate local economies through the wages and expenditure they generate.”

Among the social successes that Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has backed to date is Coder Dojo, an international, free, computer programming movement for young people that started in Cork in early 2011 and already has hundreds of clubs in tens of countries from Argentina, to Indonesia, Uganda and of course the United States where there are over 30 clubs.

Other than providing substantial seed capital, SEI focus on helping the social entrepreneurs to scale their organisations and therefore their social benefit to society.

Ryan concluded: “Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is here to help but we cannot do it alone. Ireland needs to invest more in social innovation. Within the business sector we have seen how effective such investment can be, encouraging a dynamic and successful entrepreneurial culture and start-up environment. It is now time we did the same for the not-for-profit sector.

“We need more people who are prepared to back early stage, high potential social entrepreneurs, not-for-profit start-ups and social enterprises.”

“I am greatly encouraged by the response I have received on this our first visit to the U.S.”

Darren Ryan, the Head of Engagement at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI)Handout