'New Economy Initiative'

Wednesday, 13 June 2001

Release date: 13 June, 2001

Breakthrough for Communities of the West - University President accepts Taoiseach's challenge on Social Capital

The President of National University of Ireland, Galway, Dr. Iognáid Ó Muircheartaigh today (Wednesday, 13 June) announced a major breakthrough in University support for the local communities of the West of Ireland. Entitled the New Economy Initiative , NUI, Galway in partnership with Kiltimagh community in Co. Mayo, is proposing a radically new approach to address the challenges of isolation, decline and disadvantage, increasingly prevalent not just in rural but also in urban communities.

Dr. Ó Muircheartaigh explained that the initiative is a two-way process with communities, to generate and disseminate knowledge and support in order to improve the quality of life for all. "What is unique about the new approach and why it will succeed" he said, " is that it will bring mutual benefits. Both NUI, Galway and Kiltimagh will gain through Experiential Learning Programmes, as students and staff engage voluntarily with communities, business and the public sector."

Internationally, there is widespread concern with a break down in community values in developed countries and unacceptable levels of isolation, loneliness and social disintegration, to which Ireland is not immune. The Taoiseach recently spoke of the importance of building social capital and putting "communities at the centre of our debates".

Dr. Ó Muircheartaigh said that NUI, Galway is accepting the Taoiseach's challenge and will develop and implement social capital systems. President Ó Muircheartaigh explained that like all great innovations, social capital is essentially simple and pragmatic. It makes it worth people s time to be mutually supportive. "Like financial capital, it operates a banking system and rewards people through time-credits. A bank of knowledge, skills, experience and general help is built up in a community from which people participating can withdraw." There are now more than 1000 social capital initiatives worldwide in the USA, Japan and the UK.The President stressed the importance of community spirit, defining it as the sense of belonging to a locality and expressed through mutual support. "Mutual support and cohesion is a major competitive advantage over the pursuit of individualism and the anonymity characteristic of many large urban settlements", he said. "It follows that new social capital systems, which promote mutual support, harnessing the extraordinary power of computers, e-commerce and the Internet, can build social and economic strengths and individual well-being.

President Ó Muircheartaigh announced a major developmental strategy estimated to cost £7.9 million over 5 years for which the University is seeking support. This includes:

- A Social Capital Banking System at NUI, Galway

- Experiential Learning and Accreditation

- Grants to local communities for Social Capital Banks

- A Chair in New Economics endowed in perpetuity

- Building an Outreach Campus in Kiltimagh

- Doctoral and Post Doctoral Fellowships and Library Acquisitions.

Welcoming the announcement of the New Economy Initiative, Mr Brian Mooney, Chairman, IRD Kiltimagh said: "This provides an exciting and practical approach to the problems facing communities in decline. The four strands of the Initiative shall serve to give a new impetus and importance to the role of communities in deciding their own futures in association with State Agencies and Local Authorities. The overall Initiative should also help overcome the decline in volunteering, exacerbated in part by the Celtic Tiger. This is particularly timely in this, 'The Year of the Volunteer'. The benefits to Community and Rural Development will be manifold. The New Economy Initiative will provide an engine not only for the community sector to pursue their ambitions but also to the State Agencies who will now have a vehicle to work through in each local area, thereby making their role all the more impacting and efficient .

"He particularly praised the President and Staff of NUI, Galway whose "dedication and vision of service to the community has been exemplary and visionary throughout the evolution of the project. As a result of the New Economy Initiative, I hope that communities, throughout Ireland, rural and urban, grasp the opportunity to develop into sustainable entities, attractive to the younger generations and that the curse of emigration that we had come to accept, will be banished forever" he concluded.

Ends

For further details: Máire Mhic Uidhir, Press Office, NUI, Galway

Tel. 091 750418

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