A social finance charity established by a Portlaw-born Presentation Sister was commended by the United Nations in New York last week, where she addressed the global body’s Civil Society Forum.
Sister Margaret (Magdalen) Fogarty, who founded Clann Credo in 1996, spoke of her surprise and delight at receiving UN recognition for her social inclusion efforts which have benefited over 200 Irish projects.
“The congregation got a letter from the UN about a social integration survey last summer,” Sr Margaret exclusively told The Munster Express this week.
“I was asked to include Credo, so I decided I’d better, so I sent it off and I’d no idea what was going to happen, or if anything would happen for that matter.
“Then, one afternoon last November, I got an email from the UN saying that they’d had 190 responses to the survey from 62 countries and they were happy to tell me that mine was one of the 14 projects selected by the UN to present its work.
“I read the email over and over again: I couldn’t believe it! And I wondered who I could tell about as I wondered was it really true. Anyway I rang the CEO (Paul O’Sullivan) to tell him and he was about as incredulous as I was!” Thankfully, this was no wind-up!
That invite led to last week’s trip to New York where Sr Margaret and Mr O’Sullivan addressed the one-day Civil Society Forum, held on the eve of the 48th Session of the UN Commission for Social Development.
Sr Margaret, who began working in finance for her order in 1972, established Clann Credo to provide financial loans to social enterprises and community projects that financial institutions would never entertain.
Fourteen years later, Clann Credo has invested over €26 million in 250 community and voluntary groups dotted across Ireland, Eastern Europe (Slovakia and Kosovo) and South Africa.
President Mary McAleese, who saw the benefits of Clann Credo’s assistance through the Dunhill Fenor Boatstrand and Annestown (DFBA) Community Enterprise project, is a great admirer of the charity.
Speaking at its conference in 2006, the President said: “Clann Credo plays a truly invaluable role in giving practical effect to our moral responsibility for the social progress of the poor and the overlooked.
“You have meshed commercial acumen with the common good, created partnerships with established structures and given communities access to the funding and the confidence they needed to change their own futures for the better.”
The 3,000-mile trek to New York entailed a 10-minute presentation to fellow social integrators (“not a second over it”) at the UN on Wednesday last.
“We had tremendous support there thanks to the many Presentation Sisters who were in New York, so we had Sisters from Australia, the Philippines, America, Ireland, England and Pakistan at the talk, which was most welcome,” said Sr Margaret.
“The constraint of course came in the amount of time given for us in which to make our presentation, so the CEO and I shared the presentation.”
So how did it go?
“Well, I think the UN would be a very daunting place for most people to attend,” said Sr Margaret.
“At the moment, a third of the old colossal building has been demolished and replaced by a modern building, so while that construction work is going on, they’ve got temporary buildings on site, like the prefabs we’d have here.
“There was another Irish Sister presenting as well, a Good Shepherd Sister from Cork, and she had presented on the Tuesday, and that was held in a colossal room, but when it came to our presentation, we were in a much smaller room which appealed to me.
“I would say, for me, I found it very daunting but at the same time, it made it all very real to me, going back to that afternoon when I received the initial email. After all, there we were, in the UN last week, talking about Credo, and it was a very positive experience.”
She added: “One of the things that many we met were so struck by was how small our organisation is (six full-time staff), bearing in mind that we’ve assisted over 200 projects at home and abroad.
“In their book, that was very significant because it shows that the idea can be replicated elsewhere in other parts of the world.”
The recession has led to an increased demand for social finance, in Sr Margaret’s view.
“The loss of jobs and what this has done to so many communities around our country is simply devastating,” she said.
“And at a time when most banks ate not even lending to established businesses, social finance provides an ethical model of lending which can help to build a more inclusive society.”
Clann Credo’s annual conference will be held in Athlone on March 25th, with its theme focusing on creating jobs and building communities through social enterprise.
And with United Nations recognition providing extra wind to its already billowing sails, the work established by Sr Margaret through Clann Credo looks set to continue for many years to come.