Exploring a Shared Services Model in Donegal: Insights from a Social Enterprise Study Visit

An image of an autumnal field in donegal. In the distance, you can see the shoreline and sea

Exploring a Shared Services Model in Donegal: Insights from a Social Enterprise Study Visit

Recently we co-ordinated a delegation of leaders from Scottish social enterprises (including our own CEO Martin Avila) to Donegal, Republic of Ireland to learn about their shared services model. In this blog, Deputy CEO of Social Enterprise Scotland Kim Wallace tells all about the visit and the key takeaways from the trip.

In May, a group of us ventured to Donegal to explore a Shared Services Model for social enterprises. This journey was both inspiring and educational, enriched by the presence of colleagues from CEIS, Firstport, Community Enterprise, Impact Hub Inverness, Social Investment Scotland, Social Enterprise Academy, and Challenges Worldwide

Understanding Share Services

Shared services involve the collaborative use of resources across organisations. These services emerge when multiple organisations join forces to leverage the expertise of contractors or employees primarily focused on back-office functions.

A Morning of Insights and Inspiration

Our journey began with Donegal Local Development CLG (DLDC), which offered an enlightening presentation on regional support for social enterprises. Established in 1995, DLDC has been pivotal in community-led local development. Their extensive experience in providing training, work placements, grants, and services is impressive.

The presentation delved into:

  • The Shared Services Model
  • The Incubator Hub
  • The Social Enterprise Network Donegal (SEND)

It was fascinating to learn how DLDC had been inspired by a pre-COVID trip to Scotland, leading to the development of initiatives such as a social enterprise strategy and census. Particularly impressive is how SEND has grown into a network of 109 members, meeting monthly online and quarterly in person. DLDC’s dedication to fostering social enterprises is evident, and their efforts in sustainable community development are commendable.

Inclusive Health at No Barriers Foundation

We then visited the No Barriers Foundation in Letterkenny, an inspiring social enterprise dedicated to creating an inclusive health facility equipped with specialist neurological equipment. Their mission is to empower individuals with disabilities to improve their physical and mental health, regardless of their starting point. This visit underscored the importance of inclusive health facilities in fostering community well-being and resilience.

Historic Charm and Modern Innovation

Our next stop was the Lifford Old Courthouse, a historic building constructed in 1746 and transformed into a vibrant visitor centre. Offering guided jail tours, escape rooms, musical performances, room hire, and an on-site bistro, the Courthouse operates under a social enterprise model. Profits are reinvested to create local employment opportunities, making it a shining example of how historical sites can be repurposed for community benefit.

Surfing Towards Inclusivity with Liquid Therapy

In the afternoon, we arrived at Liquid Therapy in Rossnowlagh. Founded in 2011, Liquid Therapy supports young people who face barriers to mainstream opportunities, enabling them to experience surfing. The organisation has grown from a small volunteer group to a social enterprise, operating the first Inclusive Surf Centre in Ireland. Their innovative mental health program, A Drop in the Ocean (ADITO), has become a lifeline for young people experiencing trauma. Liquid Therapy’s collaboration with Vision Sports Ireland and the Irish Wheelchair Association underscores their commitment to accessibility and inclusivity in sports.

Wrapping Up a Day of Discovery

Dinner with the Irish delegation provided another opportunity to exchange ideas and reflect on the transformative potential of social enterprises. We learned more about the Shared Services Pilot, where three different social enterprises—a community facility, a gym, and a youth hostel—collaborated to employ a bookkeeper. Each enterprise contributed to the bookkeeper’s salary, with additional funding and support from DLDC. This arrangement freed up the CEOs to focus on other business areas, and the bookkeeper provided positive feedback about their experience working across multiple enterprises.

This visit to Donegal showcased the power of community-driven initiatives and innovative approaches to supporting social enterprises. From inclusive health facilities to historical site revitalization and accessible sports programs, Donegal’s social enterprises are making a significant impact, offering valuable lessons and inspiration for all.

Social Enterprise Strategy Republic of Ireland

On the final day, hosted by John Logue, Social Enterprise Republic of Ireland (SERI), we heard from Rob Nicholson, Principal Officer at the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD), Irish Government, who has been leading the development of the next Social Enterprise Strategy. The similarities with the Scottish context  are striking, with their Census reporting:

  • 4,300 social enterprises
  • 61% women-led
  • 57% urban
  • 43% rural

Scottish Census 2021

  • 6,047 social enterprises;
  • 71% women-led;
  • 67% urban;
  • 33% rural

The new strategy is due to be published soon.

Back Home: Reflecting on the Visit

Now that we’ve been back for a few weeks, it’s clear that there are many similarities in challenges and opportunities for the social enterprise community in both Ireland and Scotland. The Irish Government’s investment in the social enterprise ecosystem, along with additional EU funding, makes for exciting times for our colleagues across the water. Reflecting on our visit, we feel the impact of losing EU funding and connections, alongside the ongoing cost of living crisis and austerity measures.

The trip offered incredible learning opportunities and the chance to bond with colleagues from Scotland. Shared services can be a powerful strategy for organisations seeking to optimise their operations. However, careful planning and execution are crucial to overcome challenges and achieve the desired benefits.

We’ve already begun scoping a Shared Services Model in Scotland and look forward to sharing more information in the coming months. Please get in touch with Kim.Wallace@socialenterprise.scot if you have experience with operating shared services models—we are eager to learn from others’ experiences.

Are you a group of Scottish social enterprises looking to go abroad? Or perhaps a collection of international social enterprises eager to learn how Scotland approaches social enterprise? We can help arrange a study visit tailored to your needs.

Get in touch with us today to explore the possibilities and embark on an inspiring learning journey.

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