Niamh Crosbie, as the first ever recruit for the SEI “Count Me In” initiative, shares her experience volunteering with Sensational Kids. Working to bring affordable therapy services to children across Ireland, Niamh played an integral part in Sensational Kids recent fundraiser, the “Fairy & Elf Festival”.
I spotted the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland ‘Count Me In’ campaign on social media and decided to sign up not really knowing what was involved. Looking back, I’m so glad I did!
SEI put me in touch with Sensational Kids in Kildare and I met Karen Leigh, CEO, to discuss how I could help. I started working on the PR and marketing for the charity’s 6th birthday party to help build the profile of the charity locally.
The next big challenge was to fundraise €20,000. Karen’s idea was to hold an “Enchanted Fairy and Elf Festival” at the Irish National Stud – an organisation which very generously gave all proceeds on the day to the charity. The event theme really captured the imagination on social media and in just a few weeks we had 2000 people attending on Facebook! Planning was key, so we met regularly with a journalist volunteer, Noel O’ Driscoll, to make sure the event would be a success.
“I really enjoyed volunteering with Karen Leigh- she is so passionate about Sensational Kids and her enthusiasm is infectious. ”
On the day of the event, the sun shone, the Gardai had to be called to direct traffic and a steady stream of people queued under the balloon arch and bunting in fairy, elf and superhero costumes – some parents more excited than their children. Over 70 people volunteered on the day, from the local ‘Silken Thomas Players’ drama group in costume to Newbridge Lions Club to stalwart supporters of the charity. There was an amazing camaraderie among the volunteers – people who had never worked together coming together to create this fairy wonderland. The result was worth all the planning – to see the excitement on the kids faces and the crowds having fun, and knowing you had played a part in it and for a good cause – not just for a corporate product launch, but a chance to help kids get the therapies they need to achieve their potential in life.
The final numbers were approx. 2500 attendees with €19,300 raised – a day to remember for all involved.
Joe Schmidt brings the Irish Rugby Team to the World Cup full of optimism and as one of the top teams in the world. Despite the recent defeats, there is excitement throughout the country about what this team might achieve. Regardless of what happens over the next month, Joe Schmidt’s achievements with this Irish team over the last few years have already set him apart as one of the greatest coaches in the world. He’s meticulous, detailed, a master strategist and an amazing motivator, but at the same time he empowers his team and gives them a large amount of responsibility.
One of the central approaches he takes to management is never spoken about by commentators or rugby analysts, but provides a valuable lesson for all entrepreneurs: defining team values.
The Irish team have three values that guide the behaviour of the players in every aspect of their lives. From training, to their personal lives, what they eat, and on match-day. Most importantly, these values were decided upon the team members themselves, and so they are embraced from the bottom-up, rather than imposed from the top by Joe Schmidt.
These values guide the players to be:
These are three guiding principles that the team and individuals can constantly refer back to.
Am I being humble in my approach to myself and to the opposition? Is my training relentless and is my tackling relentless? Am I disciplined both on and off the pitch?
When it comes to leading any team, developing this kind of clarity around team values can help shape and influence all of the little decisions that each team member makes every day. Rather than constantly looking to Joe Schmidt for guidance from the top, their behaviour is driven by team members themselves. And if a player isn’t living up to these values, it is understood that his team-mates will let him know and hold him to account. This is a highly effective tool for management that empowers the team and gives all of the players responsibility. After all, Joe isn’t going to be on the pitch with them on match day or watching over them 24/7 in their lives, so they need to have a shared understanding of what behaviour is expected.
The Lesson for Entrepreneurs
This approach to leadership provides a valuable insight for entrepreneurs. Set clear values with your team members and empower them to do great work. At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, I believe the team is everything. We support Ireland’s leading social entrepreneurs, working closely with them to solve some of Ireland’s biggest social problems. Providing the team with autonomy and ownership around their tasks has improved performance and empowered them to go above and beyond in our work with social entrepreneurs. To enable this approach we have developed our own team values, decided by the whole team, that guide our behaviour.
Our commitment, in everything we do, is to be:
We commit to do what we say, to be open and transparent and to be fair in our selection process. We always act behind closed doors exactly as we would if somebody was watching. This is a powerful value that ensures all of the team know that doing the right thing always comes ahead of a quick win.
As a team and as a group of individuals, we’ll never settle for the status quo. We have huge ambition for SEI as an organisation, but most importantly we have huge ambition for the social entrepreneurs that we support. We support many organisations that are still in the early stages of their development. We choose to be visionary, to see the potential in all of the projects that we support and to do everything we can to help them to fulfil their full potential.
At SEI we know that doing good isn’t good enough. All of our work is driven by the end result and if something isn’t having an impact, we should stop doing it. This value also drives us to become better at measuring our own impact as an organisation, not for the sake impressing donors or to tick boxes in our annual report, but to accelerate our own learning. With this focus we can constantly improve and adjust our programmes to maximise the impact we achieve.
These values have played a key role in the our team’s development as the organisation has grown. Based on the results that we’ve seen in SEI, I’d highly recommend that all entrepreneurs and business leaders take a page out of Joe Schmidt’s playbook and spend a few hours with your team to define your values. You’ll quickly see the return in improved performance, morale, empowerment and ownership.
P.S. Does your team have a set of values? I’d love to hear them, so please share them below. If you haven’t defined your team values yet…get on it!
Photo credit to Irish Independent of Independent News & Media PLC.
Our Policy and Innovation Manager, Eamonn Fitzgerald, looks at the new lobbying regulations coming into force in Ireland, and what it might mean for the non-profit sector and state funding.
Lobbying – it’s not usually a word that’s met with much positivity, and there’s a pretty good reason for that. Lobbying is associated with back-room deals, shady trade-offs, and special interests corrupting our political process. While this image of lobbying is fairly inaccurate, it’s also pretty understandable. Its image problems boil down to one simple fact – a complete and utter lack of transparency. Thankfully, Ireland has taken its first step in addressing this. On September 1st the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 came into force. This is our nation’s first attempt at solving the transparency problem, and hopefully our chance to provide a better understanding of what lobbying really means in the Irish context.
The first thing to point out is that this isn’t just relevant to big business. Lobbying is an essential part of every democracy. It’s the process by which organisations and individuals engage with public officials to make their views known, and hopefully to better inform discussions and policy creation at a local and national level. However, let’s be clear. People lobby to influence. Organisations lobby to influence. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they’re open and honest about what they’re trying to do and why they’re trying to do it.
Just because organisations have a social mission attached to their work doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be subjected to the same level of scrutiny. Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is one of these organisations. We have an interest in the development of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in Ireland, and have lobbied officials in the past to encourage additional support and drive increased investment into these sectors. We will of course continue our lobbying efforts into the future, and we welcome the introduction of these regulations because we’re comfortable in standing behind the arguments being made.
We believe social entrepreneurship remains a relatively untapped resource in Ireland, and we have an evidence base to indicate that additional support for social enterprises doesn’t just drive better social outcomes for communities, but better economic ones as well. We stand behind the value of our work to the social entrepreneurs we engage with, and while we believe we can always get better, we’re confident in our ability to advise on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to social enterprise support.
The non-profit sector doesn’t just lobby on individual social issues though, it also devotes a sizeable amount of time to lobbying on funding opportunities. This is where our sector really needs an additional level of transparency. SEI has long been an advocate for investing in impact. Put money into things that work and solutions that deliver actual results. It’s a pretty simple philosophy, but a surprisingly alien concept when it comes to grant funding. When you don’t demand an evidence base, you create a massive problem for yourself – how do you know which organisations to fund?
It’s this problem that drives the less attractive side of non-profit lobbying in Ireland. It’s resulted in a number of very poor criteria being used to determine successful funding applications to state bodies:
- The more desperate you are for money the better – State funds put far too much of an emphasis on financial need, demonising non-profits who have sensibly built up financial reserves in the event of a rainy day. How can we expect long-term impact on serious issues if we incentivise short-term financial planning?
- All overheads are a waste of money – The exclusion of core costs from so many grant rounds erodes organisational effectiveness, and reduces the likelihood of efficient spending of the money invested. Excessive spending is bad, but we should be smart enough to know the difference.
- Previous public funding experience is rewarded – Government funds almost always insist that those applying have previous experience in managing state monies. This attitude encourages a system of renewals, rather than reviews. It’s hardly public funding if it’s reserved for those already in the club. It’s like advertising a graduate position and insisting on applicants having two to three years’ experience.
The biggest issue it’s created though? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not any of the three above. It’s the simple fact that personal relationships with public officials too often dictate successful funding applications. This cannot and should not be accepted by Irish society. With so many social and environmental challenges still to address, we need to spend our money smarter and better than ever before. Shining a light on how these funding decisions are made can only encourage this, and it is my belief that these regulations are a good first step.
SEI itself will need to be more open about its own lobbying activities, and we hope to make that the case in the next couple of months. Ireland has a long way to go to make all of this a reality, and enforcement of these regulations will be key to securing this transparency. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the regulator gets on over the next few months, and I hope you will too. For anyone looking for additional information on what the regulations mean and if they apply to you or your organisation, please visit www.lobbying.ie
The virtuous journey of a social entrepreneur is often plagued with misfortune, mishaps and misunderstandings. What is my mission? What does success look like? How will I truly help the people who need it most? The SEI Impact programme gives direction, focus and mentoring to those who need it in their journey to try change Ireland for the better.
Karen Leigh, an Impact Awardee in 2014, has had a steep learning curve in her quest to provide therapy and professional services for children with Sensational Kids, a Kildare-based therapy centre for children.
This year, Karen celebrates the first anniversary of her relationship with SEI following her Impact Award in October 2014. The evening of the awards ceremony in Christchurch Cathedral was a surreal experience for the mother, social entrepreneur and businesswoman. Questions centering around “Am I going to be able to get through this?” or “Am I going to be able to give my speech on time?” consumed Karen, only to realise her efforts had been successful and she would make the transition from Impact finalist to Impact awardee. And Karen’s aspirations weren’t small: in her speech, she vowed not to rest until she could see Sensational Kids in every province in Ireland.
“The long-term plan is to grow and scale Sensational Kids. I won’t rest until I see at least a Sensational Kids in every province in Ireland”
Moving on from the awards ceremony, into the Impact Programme, Karen breathed a sigh of relief: “I’ve won the award now, happy days – I’m going to sail off into the sunset”. Unfortunately, the reality wasn’t as simple for Karen, as a robust programme of workshops, mentoring and goal-setting was in store. Karen quickly realised the effort and hard work needed to make her ultimate goal a reality would need significant time and energy investment.
The most obvious change for Karen in her work ethic, through the mentorship programme, was the change from thinking about operations to thinking about strategy.
“In the past, I might have got caught up in the day-to-day operational activities, which is important too, but through the SEI workshops I’ve really realised in the last year the importance of prioritising what is going to bring the most impact. It has really changed the way I work”. Speaking about the importance of resilience in social entrepreneurship, Karen cherished her time with her SEI confidant, Annalisa. Moving into the second year of the programme, Karen sees SEI helping them “build that bridge from where we are now to where we want to be in the future.”
“It’s life-changing in terms of work and how you do it. It’s the connections and relationships you build with other people that are really beneficial”. Hoping to transition from a mentee to a mentor, Karen highlights the experience of growing her own organisation, as an opportunity to help new social entrepreneurs entering the sphere “The challenges you face everyday as a start-up are nearly everyday things for me as we have been there, done that and do it nearly everyday. You can then help other people, give them advice and help them with those challenges – That support in the alumni network is really beneficial”.
The mentorship, funding and alumni network have been fantastic resources for Karen, however her newest SEI support service, Count Me In is proving truly beneficial to her business model. Count Me In is a synergistic initiative to bring together industry professionals with social entrepreneurs hoping to change Ireland. Karen was delighted to have the fantastic marketing support of a Count Me In partner, volunteering her time to help grow Sensational Kids especially with so many events and workshops throughout the busy summer period – “we have really valuable volunteers with really great skill sets to come into the organisation and help us, all through the SEI corporate superhero”.
“Growing and scaling our impact was going to be a huge step and is going to take a lot longer than previously thought”.
However for Karen the programme offered the right mixture of funding and mentorship to allow her to grow Sensational Kids over the last year. A combination of impatience and passion is met with strategic support to help Karen, one of Ireland’s best social entrepreneurs, succeed.
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