Belfast Telegraph

Shiela McQuaid: Executive Director at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ireland

Enterprising approach pays good dividend

How’s business?

The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSEI), which is based at the Interpoint Centre in York Street in Belfast, has grown enormously since our establishment in 2004. We deliver accredited and non-accredited courses to Masters level and have over 150 professionalised social entrepreneur alumni.

Any exciting projects in the pipeline?

We will run our core programme Ready Steady Grow, a pioneering personal and project development programme aimed at chief executive officers and senior managers facing the challenges of significant growth in a rapidly changing environment.

We will also run the Advanced Diploma in Management Practice which aims to build the personal and managerial capability of managers in the third sector. SSEI believes that entrepreneurial behaviour is best developed in a learning climate that is practical and developmental.

What is the long term prospects for your company?

Since 2004 the school’s alumni have been creating employment, building social housing, establishing healthy living centres and devising education and training programmes, thus they have strengthened relationships of trust within civic society and contributed to a shared future for all. For many years social enterprise in Northern Ireland has been dependent on funding from Government, European Union and the International Fund for Ireland. These sources are drying up. The school will provide management, education, training and development support to the social economy sector, embedding standards of professionalism in management practice, enhancing individual and organisational entrepreneurial capacity and the sustainability of the sector.

What are the biggest challenges facing your organisation?

The current credit squeeze. Before there was very little spare money, now the social economy is faced with soaring costs which are completely out of their control. Our challenge is to prove that by investing in education and skills that we offer, they will be making a wise investment that will pay for itself helping them to grow and increase their chances of sustainability, enabling them to exploit their existing asset base and meet the challenges of the present economic climate.

Could the Government help you to do your business better?

Government Departments should ensure that a training element is built into funding packages to maximise the chance of the group learning to be independent before the support of the grant is finished.

Thus the group will become stronger and more effective and the Government Department will be assured added value as the project survives long after the grant has finished. The social economy in Northern Ireland employs over 25,000 people and provides a turnover of more than £500m. The social economy is not the poor relation, but a very important and vibrant contributor to the economy of the province.

Why would someone work for you?

Working within the social economy is a rewarding experience. You have an opportunity to help people to grow in confidence, gain skills and become economically independent, ridding them of dependence on funding.

I like to work with people as an equal and respected member of a team.

Your views on the economy?

We live in challenging times, not locally but globally led.

There will be big changes within the next couple of years. We will all have to tighten our belts, but I am very optimistic that we will come out the other side stronger and better.

We need to be vigilant that we don’t waste the opportunities that are being presented at the moment and whilst we must not be reckless, we must find a balance that enables us to be players in the 21st century global economy

The business climate — good or bad?

Changing definitely, and with change comes threats and opportunities. Northern Ireland has some of the best educated, hardest working people in the world and we shouldn’t sell ourselves short, we deserve a decent bite at the economic global apple. Be aware of the threats and take actions to protect ourselves, but we must grasp the opportunities that are available and use them.

What ambitions do you have on a personal level?

I want to see my family settled and happy and I burn with a desire to make the School for Social Entrepreneurs accessible and available to the third sector in order to give more people a chance for a better standard of living and way of life.

What do you get up to in your spare time?

I spend time with my family and friends, going on holidays abroad with my husband, reading, singing in my local choir, swimming, a bit of keep-fit, cooking and making sugar paste flowers in order to decorate cakes.

Belfast Telegraph