11 Oct Meet the Innovators- Alan Mahon
Ahead of FuSIon Fest, we sat down with some our keynotes to get their stories and thoughts on social innovation.
Next up is Alan Mahon of Brewgooder, the craft beer brand on a mission to bring 1,000,000 people clean drinking water. They became the first social enterprise brand to gain a national listing with Asda in October 2016 just 3 months after launching their flagship style Clean Water Lager with a successful £60,000 crowdfund.
Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to Brewgooder?
Brewgooder really began when I combined two things I passionately care about- the first one was beer, I really enjoy craft beer and all the things that come around that, I really enjoyed living in Scotland, where craft beer is booming as a sector and industry, there’s lots of cool brands and different ways of doing things which challenge the mainstream, which I think is really important.
Brewgooder being a social enterprise stems from my own experiences when I got sick from a lack of access to clean drinking water in Nepal when I was a student and there on an international development programme and got ill. When I came back I managed to have easy access to the antibiotics that needed to get me back on my feet, which sharpened my focus that there’s a lot of people in the world that don’t have that luxury and they take risks with their lives every single day, so I thought that was an injustice that just because of an accident of birth people shouldn’t have to suffer. I was lucky enough to live in a country where you don’t just have clean water, but you have beer, so I thought that I would try and combine the two as there wasn’t anything on the market that did anything like that
How did you first get involved in “Social Good” work and why is it important to you?
I first got involved with social good work when I started my first real job with a company called Social Bite in Scotland, originally a small sandwich store which provides people with suspended food and coffee so people could pay for homeless or vulnerable people to have a hot meal or a hot drink in advance instead of giving them money on the streets, and that slowly developed into us hiring and training homeless people, giving them tenancy and bank accounts.
Social Bite has now developed to developing a village project we’re completing at the end of 2017, which will house 20 homeless people from Edinburgh and give them full service support back into an enjoyable life. I helped grow that business from 1 sandwich store to 7 with a large corporate catering operation and a higher end restaurant in Edinburgh. It’s important to me because if you have the luxury of doing a good job in a nice company that you can build up and have the satisfaction and have the self awareness to do it for other people then it’s doubly rewarding and it motivates me to do things when otherwise you get up in the morning and you couldn’t be bothered, it reassures you that you’re doing it for the right cause and then when you have good days you feel better because of the impact that it’s creating.
How can Social Innovation help Northern Ireland based organisations?
Social Innovation can help NI based organisations largely because it’s a bottom-up movement and doesn’t wait on anyone to come along and do it for you. You can have slight innovations and challenge how things are done and that’s really important in an economy like Northern Ireland. A great social compass exists in Northern Ireland- a lot of people hold the values that underpin social innovation true so social innovation should thrive within Northern Irish entrepreneurs and leaders of organisations. It fits the talents, the psyche and the ethics of Northern Irish people.
Do you think cross sector collaboration is important to the social innovation agenda? If so, why?
Collaboration is a key to most successes- very few things that change the world in a positive way are done in isolation; usually it’s the result of the hard work of a lot of people, but also the skills of the private sector and its capacity to grow and develop consumer products in particular, is something that is increasingly important to social innovation- we wouldn’t be anywhere if we didn’t have a really strong private sector partner in Brewdog who brew our beer, otherwise the idea of Brewgooder would still be that- an idea. I think the collaborative element of social innovation is the most important part and I encourage people to collaborate. Private sector companies are made up of individuals which the social innovation agenda speaks to, so if you can combine that with the expertise and assets of private companies with an agenda based around social innovation then you’ll probably find that that social innovation agenda is furthered and objectives are achieved.
What interests you in FuSIon Fest?
Northern Ireland has the opportunity to create some very innovative, social based companies. I’m Northern Irish, come from Ballycastle, but I’ve got a social enterprise in Scotland- largely because Scotland is such a collaborative and open place for social enterprise and social innovation, and I think Northern Ireland shares a lot of the similar traits and characteristics, but on a much smaller scale. I think that if Northern Ireland is led in the right direction and there’s examples to follow, be it community based or consumer-facing social enterprises, I think we really have an opportunity to catalyse a movement away from the public/private dichotomy into a third sector which can make the best use of everyone’s talents for a better country, and hopefully, if there’s more international facing social enterprises, it will be a better world as well.
To hear more from Alan, and the rest of the FuSIon Fest line up, get tickets here
Who inspires you?
My mum inspires me most- she’s been the person who’s taught me that it’s more rewarding to work for other people- not that she told me through her words, but showed me through her actions. My co-workers at Social Bite, Josh Littlejohn in particular, my team at Brewgooder, and people who have had a mission to do things, who have set out with what seems like an unrealistic goal, but bit by bit they’ve achieved it because right was on their side.