“I think there is a generation rising up that is more socially driven to fixing problems and they will use business to do that.” Those are the words of David Linton, founder of Craigavon-based Madlug. It makes backpacks and other bags and works with children in care on a ‘Buy one, Give one’ approach. Every time somebody buys one of its bags, another is given to a child in care. It is one of a number of social enterprises set up in Northern Ireland to make positive change within communities. Profits are made, as with any business, but with social enterprises money is reinvested to benefit others.
“We want to be a company that employs care leavers and disadvantaged young people,” Mr Linton said. “We are trying to really draw an awareness to something that is unseen.” Mr Linton believes the term social enterprise will disappear over time and most businesses will start giving profits back to the community.
‘Warmth and compassion’
He added: “We get regular comments through social media saying how much the bags have meant and we have a lot of support from young people in care – even those who haven’t yet received a bag.” One young person in care wrote: “I wanted to thank you as when I received a bag off you, with the handwritten note, and the clear thought and care that is embedded in your work, I felt a surge of warmth and compassion. “I think sometimes people forget that every human being is deserving and should be shown love and compassion and value.”
Joe Brolly, manager of the 4Rs Reuse Workshop in Londonderry, explained how they aim to provide economic and social benefits to the community. They work in partnership with Derry and Strabane District Council to reduce landfill and give disadvantaged young people the opportunity to restore old furniture and gain skills and qualifications. “It’s not just a qualification, it’s the social engagement aspect of things,” Mr Brolly said. “Then we look at other things that they might need, like improving their IT skills. They might have personal issues, like drugs and alcohol abuse, mental health and wellbeing, and we just look at things that help them into further education and employment. “If we weren’t delivering this, there wouldn’t be anywhere for these people to go to.”
The 4Rs make about £30,000 a year to put back into the social enterprise. It is funded by the Department for Communities and from the European Social Fund (ESF), alongside applying for small grants throughout the year from different organisations.
David Johnston, founder of Belfast street clothing brand Outside In, saw potential in people who were often forgotten. “One day I was sitting down and starting to chat to them, and was blown away with how easy it was to become homeless, but not only that, how many skills these guys have and dreams they have and nobody knew them,” he said. Like Madlug, Outside In adopted an approach called ‘Wear one, Share one’ – an additional product is given to customers when they buy something to hand out to someone on the streets. “I wanted to create something that actually got people joining a movement,” Mr Johnston said.