Being Edinburgh
Being Edinburgh, the award.

Eoghan: using business for good

Eoghan Mackie (Law 1999) was nominated for his passion to do good by helping communities worldwide to address the challenges of their communities. He's done this by establishing the Challenges Group that promotes and assist social entrepreneurs in developing countries. We talked to him about it and his time at the University.

Eoghan Mackie

Where I am now

I live in East Lothian with my wife, Francesca and two young children. I run The Challenges Group, which is an international consultancy supporting the growth of business with positive social and environmental impact, fair economic inclusion for a range of target groups like youth and women, and developing and investing in a range of innovative impact ventures. I founded Challenges in the late 1990s and have grown it to now having six offices globally. We have delivered work in 70 countries. Challenges is a partner in Montgomery Street Lane, an emerging social and environmental innovation hub in Edinburgh.  

Edinburgh and me

I studied law at Edinburgh because at the time I felt it was the best law school in Scotland and I wanted to start with a Scottish degree in case I ended up working here as a lawyer. My plan A was to move to London and so regardless I felt that a foundation in Scot’s law was a stronger platform than the shorter degree down south. I am not sure I actually chose law -  realistically it was more of a suggestion by my parents and school. Something to do with me always thinking I was right?  

From an academic point of view, a memory that sticks out straight away is being able to study Intellectual Property and Information Technology law.  We had a tutorial from an outside speaker on cyber security. I don’t remember exactly what he did, but on the screen in the room he managed to hack into one of the students’ bank accounts in under a minute. A real eye opener! I loved how that made what we were learning so real.  

From a social point of view, I suppose most remember some of the people I met at Edinburgh and the different events I was able to be part of where I met each of them. It was great to have the opportunity to connect with such a broad range of people and it has been really interesting to see the things they have gone on to do in all walks of life.   

My career so far

After the degree I did the diploma in legal practice for a further year and then a two year traineeship with a firm called Dundas & Wilson, which was part of Andersen at the time. It was a real eye opener for me. The time I was with the firm I was able to experience a range of different legal disciplines and meet a lot of people working for a range of clients. I learned a lot about the different roles people play and that helped me to realise that my personality and preferences might be better suited to trying to build a business than working as a corporate lawyer. I was also lucky in a strange way to live through the collapse of Arthur Andersen. That had a fairly profound influence on me as it showed me that nothing was too big to fail and so perhaps, contrary to all the career advice I had been given, working in a smaller and more dynamic environment would not actually be that much more risky.  

Social entrepreneurship

I think the experience at Andersen, combined with a family loss, feeling that that I had been fortunate, and a really deep sense that I wanted to do something positive for people all led me to go down the rabbit hole of social entrepreneurship. I started to travel to different places in my holiday time and meet with people that I was being introduced to through an organisation called Ashoka. I was in awe of what they were achieving and I really felt that using business for good was a powerful tool. I saw how hard it was for them to break through, but at the same time I could see they were happy and driven to keep going. I could also see areas that each of the people and organisations I met could do with a bit of help on, and so I set about trying to find ways to get behind these brave people, to help take care of some of the dull stuff and let them really drive their impact.

Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise were a bit new back then. I remember one person asking if that was even a contradiction in terms. What I didn’t expect was the resistance I would get from the traditional charity or international development sector to the idea of using business, and I underestimated the level of effort and amount of time it would take to get engagement from people outside international development in what we were doing. The world has changed and these ideas are more normalised. What really inspires me is the engagement of today’s young people in Scotland and around the world. So many see the opportunity to use business for good and in so many cases I see people now taking the leap and getting involved. 

Being Edinburgh

Being nominated for the award was humbling to be honest. But then, I really value this University and what I think it stands for. We are really privileged to have such a rich history combined with such a cosmopolitan population. Whenever I walk across town I love hearing all the languages people speak and I am always still fascinated by how many people we have here who do such fascinating things all over the world. Pick any subject and there will be a handful of people in Edinburgh involved in it somehow….but you have to look. Not everybody shouts it from the roof tops. So, if in some way what I do shows that to other people, then that’s great.   

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