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Wayne Dignam on His First Follower

Posted by on October 8, 2016

Wayne Dignam on His First FollowerWayne Dignam First Follower

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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.
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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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