GRASS CEILING Living Lab Ireland’s first meeting of female rural innovators in the Southeast

The first meeting of the Irish Living Lab took place on June 20th, at ArcLabs, Carriganore, Southeast Technological University (SETU). The Lab’s co-leads Dr Leana Reinl, School of Business, SETU and Caroline O’Keefe, Macra na Ferime, welcomed seven women innovators and other stakeholders to the event.

Lab participants are women at early and later stages of innovation and rural business experience. Their business offerings include diverse dairy-based products and services, organic chocolate, micro-greens, and rural marketing services.

Participants shared their perspectives in a series of workshops and discussions and highlighted areas of focus important to their rural innovation aspirations.

Dr Margaret Tynan, Growth Hub Project Lead, SETU Waterford Campus facilitated a workshop using ‘Lego Serious Play’ in which the women built metaphors of innovator identity, which enabled them to share stories of their experience, contexts and communities.

These reflections included examples of progressive initiatives of socio-economic value which draw on ‘the local’ through an authentic and sustainable lens. There was a strong sense of pride among those present. However, many expressed concerns that resources and support are lacking for dynamic, sustainable models of local rural development that can travel, with support often focused on large scale commercial growth.

Suggestions to support the work of rural women included greater visibility of champions and a change of language about the rural and rural women in the wider media. Shared graduate placement models and work hubs offering diverse professional skills to underpin innovation were suggested.

Dr Eugene Crehan, Director of Programmes, Centre for Enterprise Development and Regional Economy, School of Business, extended a warm invitation to the women to be part of SETU’s entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem, briefly describing research centres, teams and projects at ArcLabs and across SETU’s campuses of value in the context of the project’s aims.

Leana explained “We heard about many impressive initiatives that are being undertaken and about others that are in the pipeline. The rural and small business resource challenges noted in the sessions are a recognised barrier to innovation, and gender specific barriers also emerged. The GRASS CEILING project will support women as agents of change in our rural communities and beyond and will run until December 2025. We are excited about the participatory methodology, training and networking approach that the project will use to support women led innovation”. The next meeting is scheduled for October 2023 in Growth Hub’s Imaginarium, SETU Waterford Campus.