Our integrated hybrid social enterprise redistributes business surpluses from the sales of the products and services of its private subsidiary, Independent Living Ireland. This approach funds our social mission, reducing dependence on donations, grants, and subsidies while presenting a platform for the project to scale and create lasting social impact.

The organisation of the commercial and social sectors has long been governed by an assumption of independence between commercial revenue and social value creation. Thus most organisations that sought to pursue social value and business revenue simultaneously continued differentiated strategies.

Amicitia seeks to change this trend with the integration of social and commercial value creation which enables a virtuous cycle of profit and reinvestment in the social mission that builds large-scale solutions to social problems.

Rather than take a non-profit model and add a commercial revenue stream — or take a for-profit model and add a charity or service program — Amicitia’s integrated mixed-model approach produces both social value and business revenue through a single, unified strategy.

We achieve our social mission by integrating beneficiaries as customers which reduces the risk of conforming to demands from paying customers and dismissing the needs of beneficiaries who may lack resources and the ability to pay. Commercial and social activities are interwoven to achieve the social mission, such that profit and social value are created through the same set of activities.

The first phase of the project sees the launch of our new social space in Athenry. This space will be used to manage business activities during the day and open its doors to the community in the evenings by hosting events and workshops such as computer classes for the elderly and art classes for children with intellectual disabilities. This approach allows us to measure closely and track our social impact and provides oversight to ensure mission drift does not occur. It also allows us to create a reciprocal relationship with our local community and develop new products and services based on the needs of our beneficiaries.

The rationale for this approach is linked to the growing need for the business community to tackle serious societal issues such as those discussed in this blog. To ensure we achieve this unified strategy is a success we will develop the project with three key objectives.

Work Integrated Social Enterprise (WISE)

By developing a project with both commercial and societal goals it is important, where possible, to deeply understand the society in which we are trying to impact, improve and provide services too. One obvious way to achieve this includes the creation of employment opportunities for people with disabilities who can support others which different forms a disability.

18.5% of the population of Ireland has some form of disability with 30% active in the labour force representing a participation rate of less than half that of the overall population. However, over one-third of people with disabilities, and almost two-thirds of younger people in the 18-34 age groups would like to work if the circumstances were right. This last point needs to be emphasised; if the circumstances were right

The social model of disability suggests that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people.

The advancement of modern computing technologies allows us to reshape and organise society to better accommodate people with disabilities and present new employment opportunities to this group. This strategy also ensures that the business objectives of the Amicitia project are closely aligned to the societal impact we are seeking to achieve.

Establish a Board of Industry Professionals

Social enterprises face a unique governance challenge: how to handle the trade-offs between their social activities and their commercial ones, so as to generate enough revenues but without losing sight of their social purpose.

Amicitia seeks to integrate beneficiaries and customers, similarly, it is important to develop a board of industry professionals which can primarily provide governance to the project but also support the development of the commercial activities by presenting avenues to scale the business; thus increasing social impact.

Due to recent scandals in the non-profit and charitable sector, the issue of governance is once again in the spotlight. The importance of this cannot be overstated and as a start-up organisation, it should not be seen as a drain on resources but rather as a key aspect of the project built into the organisational culture from the outset. To this end, we are signed up to the Governance Code and actively seeking to develop a strong board which will play an important role in the success of the project with a unified strategy between the commercial and social sectors.

Network of Strategic Partnerships

The final objective which will allow Amicitia to scale and positively impact the community organisations we work with is the development of a network of key strategic partnerships. One early example of this approach is our work with EmployAbility, who act as an employment support service for people who have a disability or health issues throughout the Galway region. Their experience and support allow us to develop the work integrated social enterprise discussed above while ensuring the highest quality of service is maintained throughout the organisation.

As the project matures and develops, we will be establishing more partnerships such as this to support our overall business strategy. This invitation is open to organisations across a broad range of sectors including social enterprises, corporations, non-profit organisations and government.

With theses three key objectives built into the organisation at the outset of the project it is envisaged that the integrated hybrid model of social enterprise will present a platform to create lasting social impact for a large percentage of the most disadvantaged members of our communities.