Last Week’s Awards Ceremony marked the beginning of an exciting new journey for both the team here at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland as well as our incoming Awardees.
The stage was set, the performance ready and at the back of the room several ReCreate shakers were being fervently tested by volunteers awaiting the start of the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards 2016. Sparks of anticipation were very much in the air, not only for the Awards Ceremony but also for what would follow…
The Awards ceremony acted as the starting piston for our entrepreneurs. The start of the next stage of their journey which they have spent months and in some cases years, working towards.
This was to be my first Awards. Having recently joined the SEI team, the Awards was my first opportunity to see the results of the SEI selection process, to see both the team and this year’s awardees in action. Having met the awardees in the weeks prior to the event I had a sense of their journey, but to hear their stories told at the Awards was exceptional. To see their passion and determination was inspiring. As each of our Awardees stood up and told the story of their first follower, I, as I’m sure was the case for many of the 650 people in the room, was reminded of my own first follower and the difference they made to me.
This, for me, is yet another way that our entrepreneurs are actively creating change, by telling their story, of their successes and failures, they are inspiring others.
Our entrepreneurs are extremely dedicated, working tirelessly to improve upon their existing work and are determined to achieve change both for themselves and for Ireland.
The sense of determination, of this unwillingness to settle for the status quo, for pre-existing norms, is evident within each of this year’s entrepreneurs. They are willing, able and above all passionate that they can, and will, positively impact Irish society. It is this passion that has helped them become the 2016 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Impact and Elevator Awardees.
The Awards ceremony was not just about acknowledging our Awardees and their work, it was also about acknowledging their first followers.
First Followers are the people who get behind social entrepreneurs in the early stages, who validate their decision to act and provide the support that is needed to overcome the many challenges along the journey. First followers are leaders too, stepping up before the crowd gathers. Throughout the night we heard from our Awardees, about their work and about the first followers who helped them start their journey as social entrepreneurs.
This year’s awardees include a diverse range of winners, providing solutions to issues such as accessible travel, providing support for those living with social anxiety disorder, creating a national wellbeing movement to help change how we talk about mental health.
Each of our Awardees began with an idea, a hope that they could make a change to the lives of those around them. Many of our Awardees used their own lived experience to provide a solution to improve a system that is either too slow, inadequate or missing. This is the essence of social entrepreneurship. To go beyond the norm, to not only maintain a set of beliefs but to actively engage them in order to create social change.
Over the past 12 years SEI has supported over 200 social entrepreneurs to create change in Ireland. These social entrepreneurs have provided innovative and creative solutions to many of Ireland’s social problems. Just like our Alumni, our current Awardees have and will continue to…Think Big, Act Now, Change Ireland.
Marketing and Development Specialist
Wayne Dignam First Follower
The moment a social entrepreneur decides to act is the moment when everything changes. But this change is only fully ignited when someone decides to follow. First followers transform an individual with a vision into a leader.
In light of our upcoming Awards Ceremony, we asked our 2015 Awardees to share with us who their first follower was, and why they were so important. Wayne Dignam, the founder of Care Leaver’s Network shared his story with us.
I set up the Care Leavers’ Network in October 2014 by simply buying a domain name, and writing my hopes and dreams for what I would like the Care Leavers’ Network to be. ‘If you were in State care as a child, then you can join us’ was my calling card. I was in State care as a child, spending most of my childhood in foster care, and I knew the time had come to connect with other people like me.
A website went live five weeks later, and I was now the founder and sole volunteer. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Would people want to join? Would people want to volunteer? I didn’t know many other care leavers, and in truth, I had done very little research as to whether there was a need for this. I just knew that it was the right thing to do. And I knew that if I did this for the right reasons, the right people would also become involved.
Six weeks later I was asked to speak at a seminar that was discussing the foster care system and how it could be improved. ‘Listening to the needs of the child’ was my theme to speak about. I was introduced as the founder of the Care Leavers’ Network, and this was my chance to develop my network. I was beginning to have doubts. The speech went well, but I wasn’t meeting any care leavers. Near the end of the day, finally, the right person approached me. He gingerly came up to me and shook my hand, ‘Great speech Wayne, I get what you are about’.
I knew within a millisecond that I had my first follower. We connected.
I could understand what he had gone through, without him even having to explain it. He knew what I was about, in spite of my doubts and fears. We exchanged our histories, our thoughts, our dreams for a network of care leavers. We acknowledged what needed to be done. We made a pact. We shook hands, the start of something big. ‘You’re my first care leaver to join’ I said, a little embarrassed. He smiled, ‘the first of many Wayne!’ He walked away a little taller. I walked away a little prouder. This will work.
Any many more did follow. We since developed a core group of volunteers that have given countless hours of their time. We have supported many care leavers, we have campaigned for children’s rights, we have trained foster parents, and we have given a voice to people who were voiceless. If it wasn’t for my first follower, I don’t know how we could have done it.
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