Enactus is a unique global organisation which brings together student, academic and business leaders to use entrepreneurial action to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need.
What makes Enactus unique is that it is student-led but guided by academic advisors and business experts. The student leaders work to create and implement community empowerment projects around the globe. These projects not only transform lives, but help the students develop the kind of talent and perspective that are essential for leadership.
The organisation was founded in the US in 1975 and has been expanding around the globe since. In 2011, KPMG led the charge of getting Enactus established in Ireland as there was no programme here dedicated to promoting social awareness and social entrepreneurship at university level. The initial steps saw KPMG hosting a breakfast for business people to help enlist support for the concept.
The main barrier was the fact that Enactus would have significant operating costs in its first year of operation in Ireland and naturally couldn’t establish here without a firm guarantee that those costs would be met. KPMG decided to take a leap of faith and fund the first year’s costs to kick start the organisation in Ireland.
KPMG staff visited universities to explain the concept and get academics to support it as well as finding students who would be trained and inspired to participate. Other companies such as AIG, Bank of Ireland, CarTrawler, Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, The Ireland Funds, KBC Bank, Merc Partners, Microsoft, Musgrave Group, New Ireland Assurance, Unilever, Willis Tower Watson and Abbott Ireland also came on board as partners.
“Our aim is to challenge students to identify social issues and people in need in their communities and develop a business idea to address an issue”, says Laura Dennehy, Enactus Ireland Country Manager. “It can be homelessness, addiction, unemployment, the environment, educational disadvantage or almost anything. The students have to identify a need or a group that they can help with and develop a response to the issue that will have a lasting and sustainable impact.”
This benefits both society and the students. “We are developing future leaders by helping them make the move from academic theory to practice and giving them a greater understanding of their community. Enactus challenges them to move away from the comfort of the university and to understand other people’s lives and issues.”
Each year Enactus runs a national competition where teams of students from Irish universities present their projects to a judging panel made up of business leaders from partner organisations who rank them on how they use business concepts to improve the quality of life of those in need. The teams receive guidance and support from academic advisors and business leaders throughout the year helping them bring their projects from concept to reality.
The National Champion team qualifies for the prestigious Enactus World Cup. In 2017, Enactus Ireland, represented by Dublin City University (DCU), progressed to the semi-final round at the Enactus World Cup in London. KPMG has also put in place a bursary programme for students from each college that didn’t win to attend and experience the event for themselves, and to Faculty Advisors to also engage at the international event.
“All of the students come up with their own ideas and it is up to them to form their own teams”, Laura explains. “They can get quite strategic in terms of finding people with different skills and so on. The students work with their business advisors throughout the year and all of the training they receive is delivered by our partners.”
“There has been some amazing work done by the students”, says Laura. “And the calibre of the students taking part is really remarkable. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the future. The students also learn a lot from participation. We encourage them to do needs and strengths assessments as what they want and what they may be able to achieve can often be very different things. Enactus isn’t for every single student, it is hard work, the vast majority of students sign up because they want to make an impact.”
“It’s a really wonderful concept and we would not be here if not for KPMG”, she adds. “Their support at the beginning was absolutely vital and their support since then has been tremendous. They are genuinely interested in and committed to Enactus. It’s great for us to be able to pick up the phone to KPMG to get advice and support and their staff are really incredible in the way they are interested in working with the students.”
And the work continues throughout the year. “We run competitions and events right the way through the year. Enactus is self-sustaining in the colleges with each year’s team recruiting the next year’s participants. It’s like being carried along on a wave, the energy it generates is infectious and everyone really does win.”