I am going to make a case, in three steps, for the development of significant employment in Ireland’s best hidden industry, attracting a whole new range of foreign direct investment in internationally traded services, based on Ireland’s recognized world-leading expertise and track record.
Step 1: Uncover An Industry Hidden in Plain View
Who in Ireland employs more than 100,000 people with pay costs in the order of €3.5bn? Who in Ireland has revenues of more than €6bn, and holding assets valued at more than €3.5bn?
Google? Oracle? Intel? – No, try again!
Who delivers a wide variety of public services – in health, social services, education, emergency relief and elsewhere – and creates an untold quantum of public good – in culture, recreation, social justice, civil and human rights?
The Health Service Executive, Department of Social Protection, An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s National Police Service)? – No, try again!
Who are, perhaps, the principal source of social capital in Irish society, with more than 560,000 people engaged as volunteers, and more than 50,000 people engaged in their governance?
Have you given up yet? – Here is the answer: it’s the Irish Nonprofit Sector.
Many hard-core business people still look at the nonprofit sector as a ‘nice-to-have’ that keeps the eternal do-gooders busy, while ‘it is business that creates employment. It is profits that focuses the mind, drives business, and inspires innovation’.
By contrast, Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality recently said that it might be more appropriate to think of the nonprofit sector as an industry. For hard-core profit-driven business innovators, it might, indeed, be a surprise to hear that, in scale, the nonprofit sector in Ireland is at least comparable to if not greater than agriculture or tourism as a source of employment.
Isn’t it time to acknowledge the facts?
Step 2: It’s International, Stupid!
Now that we know how important the nonprofit enterprises are in Ireland, let’s have a look across the ocean and get some facts about the nonprofit sector in the USA and its international operations, its internationally traded services.
The nonprofit sector in the USA has revenues of US$1.9 trillion and assets of US$3 trillion. That is about a third higher than the combined revenues created by the oil and gas sector.
Nonprofit companies create 20% more employment (by revenue) than for profit companies. Their ‘shareholders’ are the people they support and work with. Whatever revenues they generate they are always re-invested into the organization. Revenues cannot and are never taken out of the organization and paid out as dividends to make individuals rich.
The nonprofit sector has ‘international’ coded into its DNA. Nonprofit organizations deal with ethnic, linguistic and social minorities; they work across borders; their staff and their clients are, in many cases, based across different countries; their fundraising efforts, outreach, and communications strategies are multi-cultural and multi-lingual – even when they work locally. The Rosetta Foundation in Ireland delivered its first translation job into African languages to Ruhama, a Dublin-based organization working with women from around the globe living in Ireland.
Isn’t it time to recognize the scale of internationally traded nonprofit enterprises?
Step 3: A Small Country on the Edge of Europe
Ireland is a small country on the western edge of Europe. However, there are many areas where Ireland has continuously ‘punched above its weight’. One of these areas is that of support for people in need, a trait that many relate back to Irish history, its experience as an occupied country over many centuries, the oppression of its language and culture, the Irish famine, and mass emigration.
Ireland is a country that is regarded as friendly, non-partisan, and generous. Some of the world’s most high profile charity events were led by Irish people, such as the 1985 Live Aid event, organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for the relief of the ongoing famine in Ethiopia, which attracted a global live audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations. Another prominent Irishman involved in global development issues is u2’s lead singer Bono. Ireland’s former President, Mary Robinson, was the high profile UN Commissioner for Human Rights.
On the business side, Ireland has become a global leader in internationally traded services. 84% of Irish goods are exported. According to the IDA, the Irish government agency responsible for attracting foreign direct investment to the country, nine out of ten top pharmaceutical companies are located in Ireland. The country has also evolved into one of the world’s most important centres for high-tech businesses, especially in the Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) sector. Nine out of the top ten ICT companies maintain a presence in Ireland. They are responsible for 25% of Ireland’s total turnover and represent one third of Ireland’s exports by value.
Ireland was the birthplace of the localisation industry in the 1980s. Softrans International was one, if not the first localisation service provider; Lotus Development was the first true multinational digital publisher to establish a significant presence outside of the US in Ireland.
The localisation industry made Ireland at some point the world’s largest exporter of software, ahead of the USA.
Isn’t it up to Ireland to take the lead in what promises to be the most significant growth opportunity for the industry, according to world leading experts, i.e. user-driven, community oriented, and socially aware international, and translation and localisation services?
Isn’t it time for Ireland to focus on the development of Ireland as a world centre for nonprofit internationally traded services?
To make it very clear: (1) Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) or companies are enterprises. What differentiates them from for profit enterprises is that they are not owed by individuals; they cannot be sold; and they do not have shareholders, nor do they pay dividends. (2) Charities are nonprofit organizations or companies with philanthropic goals. Otherwise, they can be run just like any other company or enterprise. They can be and should be at least as goal oriented, efficient, and innovative as for profit companies. One central differentiator is that they create significantly more and more stable employment (by revenue) than for profit enterprises whose main goal is to look after the interest of their owners or shareholders.
The Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL), a Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) and Irish research flagship investment, has
produced highly innovative technology that has been taken up by one of its most successful spin-offs, The Rosetta Foundation, to power the work of thousands of volunteers for dozens of nonprofits who are operating internationally. Within a very short period of time, The Rosetta Foundation has had a significant impact on the work of nonprofits in Ireland and abroad, operationalizing world-leading research made in Ireland.
The Irish Government needs to ask itself whether its efforts and money are really best spent almost exclusively on attracting and keeping multinational for profit enterprises who move quickly to where they can make the highest profits.
Here is the call for action: Let’s uncover an industry hidden in plain view; acknowledge the deep international nature of nonprofit enterprise and its need for nonprofit translation and localisation services; position Ireland as the ideal location for internationally traded nonprofit technology, products and services.
For further reading and information check the following:
Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange (INKE), Irish Nonprofits: What do we know? (January 2012)
Clay Shirky, How cognitive surplus will change the world (June, 2010)
John Mulholland, Bono on Africa: ‘What excites me is thinking about its future’. The U2 singer tells the Observer’s editor why the continent stands on the brink of becoming an economic powerhouse. The Observer, Sunday 20 February 2011.
Michelle McHugh, Pharmaceuticals in Ireland (no date).
Aoife O’Brien, ICT Ireland (no date). This article provides a good overview of the ICT sector in Ireland backed up by solid up-to-date data.
Centre for Next Generation Localisation
Localisation Research Centre (LRC) at the University of Limerick
The Rosetta Foundation