Essex partners with Co-operation Ireland on social innovation project to foster peace

  • Date

    Tue 9 Nov 21

image of group of people including 5 young women who are showing a pizza just out of an outdoor oven

Areas in Northern Ireland suffering disproportionately from the legacy of the conflict are to be targeted in a new project led by Co-operation Ireland, with input from Essex Business School, that seeks to boost the social economy through targeted funding.

Future Innovators aims to further peacebuilding and reconciliation within and between communities north and south of the border through supporting social innovation projects.

Future Innovators will be based in the Urban Village areas of Northern Ireland – north Belfast (Ardoyne; Ardoyne and Greater Ballysillan), Derry/Londonderry (Bogside, Fountain and Bishop Street), west Belfast (Colin), east Belfast (EastSide), south Belfast (Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and the Markets), and the border region of Donegal.

The project is being delivered through a partnership led by Co-operation Ireland, with Belfast Interface Project, Donegal Youth Service, Animorph (a software development co-operative) and the University of Essex.

This support and the success of these projects will build, improve, and sustain relationships between communities addressing issues of trust, prejudice, and intolerance.

Peter Bloom Professor in Management, Essex Business School, said: “This project allows us to use cutting edge technologies to foster truly impactful community-led development. It is part of a broader research initiative to combine innovative social economy perspectives with 21st century knowledge, resources, and skills to give people the resources and power to shape their shared futures together.”

Social innovation means using new, creative approaches to develop practical solutions for addressing social, political, economic, and environmental challenges such as poverty, employability or climate change, among others.

These projects will be tailored to the specific needs and challenges of a particular community or issue and are driven by the community as opposed to a single organisation or department.

Social innovation projects identify unfulfilled needs of people and communities. Projects can range from social supermarkets that provide employment and services in the areas they are based, to digital democracy tools that empower people to have a greater say on local decision-making.

In addition to supporting fledgling business, on online toolkit will be designed for community members and organisations to use to practically envision and design the future of their areas.

Funding for the Future Innovators project has been awarded through the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). Match-funding for this project has been provided by The Executive Office, Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development, Ireland.

This is a regional project contributing to the PEACE IV objective of building positive relations. Speaking about the strategic importance of the project for the EU PEACE IV Programme, Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body, reflected: “Despite a lot of positive progress, many sections of our society still experience high levels of sectarianism and racism, as a direct result of our shared past, which has created an atmosphere of distrust. As our communities become more and more ethnically diverse, it is vitally important that we facilitate greater integration and the ability to both embrace and celebrate difference.

“The Future Innovators project offers a tremendous opportunity to assist local communities, within the five urban villages, to develop the skills they need to create innovative solutions that will address issues of local concern. The delivery partners in this project are perfectly suited to assist and maximise such efforts, drawing upon their previous peace-building experience within communities to ensure that all voices are heard, and understood, within important policy and decision-making processes.”

Co-operation Ireland CEO Peter Sheridan said, “Tackling generational problems stemming from the conflict remains a very live issue and projects like Future Innovators will not only foster cross community interaction, but also build the social economy in deprived areas.

“It is an exciting opportunity to be creative and innovative and Co-operation Ireland is delighted to be leading the project. I want to thank the Special EU Programmes Body for funding Future Innovators and look forward to working with all our partners in delivering this brilliant programme.”

The Minister for the Department of Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys TD, stated: “I would like to congratulate Co-operation Ireland and all of the project partners including Belfast Interface Project, University of Essex, Donegal Youth Service and Animorph, on the launch of the Future Innovators Project, which was approved funding of almost €1m under the EU PEACE IV Programme.

I am delighted to see these five regional organisations working together in a cross-border partnership for the benefit of the wider community allowing all members of the community a chance to use their voice to progress social innovation and to build positive relations in their community while also influencing the decisions that affect their lives and the communities where they live.

My Department is looking forward to contributing to this very worthwhile initiative and working with all parties to ensure the delivery of this essential ‘Future Innovators’ project”.