THE Cork Foundation, which empowers community enterprise and connects the global Cork network to support people locally, has recently announced its new chairperson.
Áine Collins, a Fine Gael TD for Cork North West from 2011-2016, is heading up the board.
She is joined by three new board members; Deirdre Waldron, founder of Fuzion Communications, Suzanne Kearney, associate CEO of SECAD and Frank Hannigan, business advisor.
Collins started the conversation that led to the establishment of the Cork Foundation in 2013. She met international business people with Cork roots who expressed a desire to give something back to Cork but had no mechanism to do this.
As CEO of the Cork Foundation, Padraic Vallely, says: “We want to promote the notion that giving is good.”
Vallely, who has been the CEO for the past year, studied government policy at UCC and got a three week contract to work at Fianna Fáil HQ for three weeks.
That turned into a ten year career in Dublin as an advisor to Louth TD Seamus Kirk until the politician retired.
Originally from Crosshaven and married to a Cork woman, Vallely always wanted to return to Cork and reflects that his stint in politics has given him the perfect skill set for the Cork Foundation.
“I learned how to fundraise effectively and, more importantly, to make a difference to society.”
The Cork Foundation is a registered charity that matches donors to social enterprises. Through the funding that the enterprises receive, they can create sustainable jobs that have a positive impact on communities at grass roots level.
As Vallely says, social enterprise is a relatively new sector. “It’s invested in economic, environmental and social issues. Its motivation is to give back to communities. It is a business with profits invested back into the community.”
There are up to 40,000 people working directly in social enterprises in Ireland “which brings in about €1.4million to the economy. It’s a sector that is beginning to grow,” he says.
“Young millennials want to have businesses and make a difference as well. That’s what the social enterprise model looks at. We have a new minister for social enterprise, Michael Ring, who has released a fund of €1.8million to invest in social enterprises.”
When the Cork Foundation was initially set up, it focused on enterprise.
“With the recession, the banks hadn’t been lending. A couple of people asked how they could help so that was why the foundation was formed,” explains Vallely.
“Thankfully, now that we’re moving out of recession, the board decided that the focus had to be on social enterprises with job creation in that sector.”
This year, the foundation wants to help close to ten social enterprises, he says.
“So we’re looking at the right projects across Cork city and county. We’re also looking at developing international networks. I’ve spent the last year building those foundations and now, it’s about bringing it up to another level such as engaging with the Cork ciaspora in London.
“I’m recently back from meeting the diaspora who are involved in the fine arts, media, the IT sector and construction.
“London has 175,000 Irish people. A lot of them left Ireland in the 1980s and formed a life in London.
“Also, we’re really engaging with the new Irish, people in their twenties, thirties and forties. We’re giving them the opportunity to give back to their parish or the community from where they come. It’s something the diaspora really wants to engage with.”
Cork pride is a potent force, with most Cork born people having loyalty to where they come from, says Vallely.
Before Christmas, Vallely organised an event in the House of Commons with 26 key Cork people in London invited.
“There was a mix between media people, politicians, key figures from AIB and Bank of Ireland and also people from the construction industry and legal networks. I reached out through a friendship I built with Alasdair McDonnell, an MP for south Belfast. His focus is to really strengthen the Irish community in London.”
Vallely was also in San Francisco last September as part of a Cork City Council and Cork Chamber mission.
“I really found out how important the Irish community is there, not just first generation Irish but also second and third generation’s key Cork born people who made the leap and are very successful.
“I reached out to the new Irish in Silicon Valley to see if they’d be willing to invest at a low scale first and then after building on the relationship, they may invest in ourselves and what we’re trying to do.”
Rural Cork is part of the Cork Foundation’s focus as well.
“The recession hit a lot of rural Cork. We’re looking at rural enterprises and seeing how we can create jobs for those areas.
“It can be about creating one or two jobs that have an impact on the community. We know we’re not going to create millions of jobs. The key thing for us is that the jobs are sustainable.”
The Cork Foundation has recently announced a partnership with Cork County Council.
“It’s great that the county is on board. The aim is to get communities active and engaged with their diaspora,” says Vallely.
Training sessions for the Cork County Community Diaspora took place recently and welcomed communities including Kilworth, Castletownroche, Fermoy, Lombardstown, Mitchelstown, Blarney, Drimoleague, Youghal, Ballycotton, Inch, Drinagh, Passage West, Castlemartyr, Mourneabbey, Ballydehob and Innishannon.
This followed from the successful launch of the Pilot Community Diaspora initiative which aims to connect Cork parishes with their global Diaspora, creating visibility for their locality while building relationships with descendants of these communities from all over the world.
As Vallely says: “It’s a powerful emotive way of reaching out to the diaspora.”
The Cork Foundation is donor-driven at the moment, he adds.
It’s targeting people who have the capacity and belief to give back to Cork. For example, we secured a donor who gave €120,000 towards the Cork Life Centre, which is a great project. It created three jobs involved in rolling out a suicide awareness project and investment in core services such as art, woodwork and home economics.
“The Cork Life Centre is an education centre. Its focus is on empowering individuals and young people who may have mental health problems or may not be used to traditional sources of education.
“It can help people to get through the Junior and Leaving Certificates. There are 90 volunteer teachers involved in the centre.”
The Cork Foundation has 18 projects on its books, looking for funding.
“Last year, we helped close to eight projects, both in a monetary and non-monetary way. The money for the Cork Life Centre came from a private individual who has Cork links and wanted to give something back. He is really impressed with where the fund has gone. It’s those individuals that we want to talk to.
“If they have the capacity to give, we’d love to be the avenue through which they can give to their community or the town they came from.
“We’re always looking at philanthropic funding. With philanthropists, it’s all about relationship building. You have to build trust, identify key individuals and also find the right project. Part of what we do is match donors to suitable projects.”
Vallely observes that there is “a buzz about Cork at the moment” and adds: “We never want to be a Dublin. We never want to be that size. What Cork has to offer are the pharmaceutical sector, the IT sector, the food sector and the education sector.
“We’re not just talking about UCC and CIT but also about St John’s College which is about empowering individuals to be better.
“I think Cork has so much to offer. That’s what we’re trying to say.
“Cork is a centre now for Fáilte Ireland’s campaigns; the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East.
“With the transatlantic flights coming in, Cork has a great opportunity to grow.”
When he was in London, Vallely says there was a lot of discussion about Brexit.
“Even the political diaspora spoke about it. It’s a very big worry. We’re very Europe-centred.
“But we’re so reliant on the UK that the special circumstances which the Taoiseach and others have talked about, need to be focused on more.”
For more, see www.corkfoundation.com