Meet the Innovators- Brian O’Neill from Enterprise NW

In the run up to FuSIon Fest, we’re sitting down with a number of the key social innovators in Northern Ireland. First up is Brian O’Neill from Enterprise NW. Brian works on the Social Innovation NI Social Innovation Skills Programme  which will be showcased at the festival.

Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to Enterprise NW

I worked in the private sector for a number of years. Like most people I was focused on improving myself and getting promotions within this multinational organisation. With age comes reason (or so they say) but while studying at Magee I learned that Social Enterprise meant business! I took a risk (my wife still thinks I was mad) and took a job in an SE company. Since I made that move I have steeped myself in SE and one could say I’ve not only become a convert but a promoter. I’ve seen first-hand how social innovation and social entrepreneurs can make a real difference in society and people’s lives. People say you can’t be a “poacher and gatekeeper” but I’ve come from a cynic to complete convert. I live my life now by supporting, helping, mentoring and promoting social innovation at every opportunity I get.

How did you first get involved in ‘social good’ work and why is it so important to you?

I did my “shift” with a huge US multinational and learned a lot. It was a “rat race”. I knew that, but at some stage I wanted something different. I was quite naive on what “social good” was but what made it important to me was the people. It’s about helping others by “grafting” and in the last 10 years the people I have met have not only impressed me, but sometimes embarrassed me by their conviction to put others first. Social good has made me a better person all round.

How do you think Social Innovation can help Northern Ireland based organisations?

There are a lot of great organisations across Northern Ireland. Social Innovation is, however, one of the best kept secrets in the world. Many people have a blurred, fuzzy definition of it and we need to change that. We can start with small wins and build momentum. NI lags behind other regions in Europe, and it’s my personal goal to change that. We have fantastic people who can help and a “can do” attitude. We need to change the contextual perception of Social Innovation. We need to give ownership of this to everyone. We also need to build public, civic and private sector partnerships and we have a willing Government and Council so we should build on that. This can create better communities and jobs in the community.

Do you think cross sector collaboration is important to the social innovation agenda? If so, why?

Yes, see above. Social innovation starts with a strong partnership and, of course, a catalyst. Derry/ NI has no shortage of catalysts. We also need to look at great examples within the EU.

What interests you in FuSIon Fest?

The diversity of the conversations that will take place at FuSIon Fest and also the mix of organisations and individuals that will be in attendance. These are people that have a “can do” attitude and are willing to roll their sleeves up to make things happen.

What and who inspires you?

Local people inspire me. Locally we have local community champions who trail-blaze every day and make society and their own communities better. These are grassroots people trying to do “social good”. If we had more of these types of innovative people working at a grassroots level we would have lower levels of unemployment. These people put 60+ hours a week in and by their actions peoples lives are better and sustainable communities and jobs are created.

Fusion Fest is brought to you by Social Innovation NI in association with the Building Change Trust, supported by the Department for Communities and managed by Innovate-NI.


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