Belfast Telegraph

Hillary Clinton loved childcare enterprise

There are very few people from Northern Ireland who can say they have taken part in a seminar with a US presidential candidate.

However, Hillary Clinton was so interested in the work being done by Marie Marin that she was invited to take part in an event with the former first lady.

It is an experience Ms Marin - whose business won in the social enterprise category in the 2014 Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards - will never forget.

"It was very scary but absolutely brilliant," said the 53-year-old mother-of-two from Belfast.

Ms Marin went on to establish Employers For Childcare Charitable Group and is now chief executive of the award-winning organisation - a social enterprise dedicated to helping parents find work through the provision of affordable, quality and flexible childcare and family friendly employers.

Based in Lisburn, it now employs 60 staff and works with thousands of companies and families around Northern Ireland.

It is a far cry from its humble beginnings.

"I was a community worker in west Belfast working with long-term unemployed when a job came up in Craigavon," Ms Marin said.

"That was in 1997 and it was a community project and I was working in gender equality helping women to get back into work."

Ms Marin identified affordable, quality and flexible childcare as one of the main barriers for women seeking employment.

So she set about working with local employers to encourage them to introduce family friendly practices.

"In those days, Craigavon was the second biggest manufacturing base in Northern Ireland and they had 700 unfilled vacancies at any one time," said Ms Marin.

"The companies described it as a revolving door and I worked with them to make it easier for women to be able to work.

"They operated 24/7 shifts so it was impossible for women with childcare responsibilities to work.

"It was my role to show employers that they could benefit by being more family friendly.

"At the time, Hillary Clinton was coming to Northern Ireland and I got a phone call one day from the White House asking if I wanted to take part in a seminar.

"To begin with I thought it was one of my friends winding me up but when I realised it was real there was no way I wasn't going to take part.

"They wanted me to be involved because they considered my work to be an example of good practice.

"I had to put together a speech and the White House had to see it beforehand and I had to present it to Hillary Clinton.

"That happened on the Wednesday and on the Saturday I flew out to Kansas City on a joint enterprise between the US Department of Labour and the Training and Employment Agency as it was then."

Ms Marin is passionate about the vision of the company - to encourage employers to recognise the importance of childcare and its benefits to the economy.

"We address childcare as a labour market issue," she said. "We are an extremely professional organisation and expect our employees to work hard.

"That's why awards are so important - because they demonstrate that we are professional and serious about what we do.

"At the top, we have the charity which lobbies and supports parents and employers.

"We have the voucher company and we have a childcare company that provides 24/7 specialist childcare to people who work shifts and parents of children with disabilities or special needs that provides them with respite.

"Then we have a training company that provides a range of training courses, such as paediatric first aid for grandparents.

"We also run fun training course for children so they know what to do if they walk into a room and find their granny has collapsed.

"One hundred percent of the profits from the three companies go towards the charity and we haven't applied for funding since we got the European funding.

"We're helping people to get jobs and it may sound very grand but in a way we're helping to change the world.

"That's the greatest feeling, if you are getting out of bed and looking forward to going to work because you love what you're doing, there's nothing better than that."

Belfast Telegraph