The Foundation’s mission includes the aim to provide leadership and support for initiatives under the broad definition of social finance. Work completed and in progress in this areas includes the following:

Financial Inclusion

Having developed the strategy for Financial Inclusion on behalf of the Department of Finance in 2011, the first phase was the development of a Standard Bank Account by the main banks to meet the needs of those financially excluded. A pilot program for the Standard Bank account was completed in early 2013. It had limited success and the approach to a national roll-out is under review.   It requires the integration of a number of key national strategies from other players i.e. National Payments Strategy (Central Bank of Ireland), Post Office Network Strategy (Dept. of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources), Payment Strategy of the Dept. of Social Protection and the Credit Union Payments project.  The Foundation continue to support the implementation of the strategy with the Department of Finance.

Social Enterprise Task Force

The Foundation plays an important role on the Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Task Force – SEETF. It was set up to promote the concept of social enterprise in Ireland, given its positive employment and social inclusion benefits. The SEETF made a submission to Forfas on the topic and the Forfas report was published by the Government in 2013. Sean Sherlock Junior Minister in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation was given responsibility for this area shortly after that.  An inter-department group (IDG) has been set up to address the recommendations in the Forfas Report. Progress, albeit slow, is being made by the IDG and the SEETF working collaboratively together.

Personal Micro Credit for those on low incomes

 Some individuals have no access to mainstream consumer credit as they are deemed too risky by lenders mainly due to the low level of their income i.e. unemployed people, part time workers or the variation of that income i.e. self-employed workers and/or the existence of mortgage arrears. Therefore, it can be difficult or impossible for them to cope with unexpected expenses (e.g. car repairs) without borrowing from non-mainstream lenders at a very high cost (credit unions’ loans require a history of saving). Consequently, their fragile financial situation may deteriorate and lead to very expensive borrowings from legal or illegal money-lenders.  Inspired by the success of microcredit in the southern hemisphere as well as the success of professional microcredit in Western Europe, personal microcredit has been developed to meet the financial needs of these potential borrowers. Within the EU15, such initiatives take place mainly in two countries, the UK and France.  In the UK, personal microloans providers have to compete with money lenders (licensed and unlicensed) while such alternatives do not exist in France.

Personal microloans are small loans granted by lenders providing support (themselves or in partnership with social workers or charitable associations) during the reimbursement period in order to minimise the risk of arrears and maximise their social impact. Microloans are seen as an important tool to promote financial inclusion.

A project has been initiated by Georges Gloukoviezoff to research this area taking account of experience in U.K. and France in detail and the other EU15 countries at a high level. The project is being sponsored by the Foundation and the Central Bank of Ireland. The overall aim of the project is to explore the financial needs of individuals facing difficulties accessing mainstream consumer credit and to examine the feasibility of introducing personal microloans to respond to these needs in Ireland. Implicit in this objective is a desire to provide a practical alternative to moneylenders, thus reducing the costs of personal microcredit.  The project will complete in late 2014.

Social Housing

The Foundation currently funds social housing to a maximum of €1.5m p.a. Given the social housing crisis in Ireland, it is felt that we could play a larger role in this area, if we had access to more funding at a low rate of interest. Research is taking place with key parties – Irish Council for Social Housing, Dept. of Finance, Department of Environment, Community & local Government, politicians, Housing Finance Agency (HFA) to establish whether there is a valid role which the Foundation can play. Simultaneously, an application has been made to the HFA to become a borrow of funds from them so that we can on-lend to Housing Associations which cannot obtain funding from the HFA nor from banks.  Whether such a role can be played, should be evident in Q1 2015.