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.
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 tell us about their first followers and why they were so important. Derek McDonnell, the founder of Mojo shared his first follower story with us.
Daniel Morris, a 54 year old truck driver, had all but given up on life before he came to Mojo.
Daniel was the first man on our first training programme to take a leap of faith and share with the group that he was ‘struggling with life and finding it difficult to cope’. That one sentence had a profound effect on all of us; the other men began to talk and we, the facilitators, breathed a sigh of relief as this was a sign, after a nervous few weeks that we may be on to something.
Two years later, Danny told 100 people during his speech at an event to celebrate the success of our pilot in South Dublin that he had planned to die by suicide on week six of the programme. He explained that the only reason he came on Mojo was to show his family that he had done everything possible to stay alive before he took his life. Fortunately for all of us, connecting with other men on Mojo gave him hope for the future and, four years on, Danny continues to thrive.
The moment I realised Mojo needed to be available to men across Ireland was when Danny shared his story with us.
This story shows that with the right support, it’s never too late to change. Danny was walking through the Square in Tallaght with his 23 year old daughter, chatting about ‘stuff’ when he took the opportunity to tell her about Mojo. He told her that he had just done a session on his role in the family which helped him understand why he had not been the best of dads when she was growing up and wanted to apologise to her. His daughter thanked him for being so honest. It was Christmas time and they were passing by a Santa’s grotto. “I never even took you to Santa when you were a child,” Danny said. His daughter asked, “what’s stopping you now?” Danny and his daughter now have a Santa photo together.
As the programme drew to a close, Danny and the lads told us that they did not want this experience to end and they wanted to keep their connections to each other going. With a little support and encouragement, the lads set up their own Mojo Men’s Shed which brings a variety of men from South Dublin together five times a week. These men are part of the growing Mojo team who are working towards real change for men in Ireland.
Learn more about Mojo Programme.
In this blog, we asked our last Minnovation Fund winners HOUSE of AKI-NA, to tell us how the Fund has helped them progress their idea in the last year. This is their year in review.
Winning the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland ‘Minnovation Fund’ in April 2015 was a great boost to House of Aki-na in our drive to establish an online presence for our brand.
Winning the Fund contributed immensely towards the creation of our much needed ecommerce site. The fact that we did not have the funds initially to create our online platform left us disconnected from a large customer base- we could only engage with and sell directly to customers via events, pop-up stores etc. The funds received from SEI bridged that critical missing link every lifestyle brand requires; we were now able to carry out the next step, which was to build our e-commerce platform!
As a Social Enterprise, explaining the benefit that winning the Minnovation Fund last year has had on #Houseofakina is quite simple, not only can we now sell directly to our customers through fairs, markets and other events; we can now achieve our goal of reaching new customers both nationally and internationally via our newly designed ecommerce platform. We created this site with a small website development and support agency in Ireland, keeping business local and further proving we are a Social Enterprise who are determined to- “Look Good, Do Good”. Seeing is believing, have a look at www.Houseofakina.ie or simply Google search #Houseofakina
The next critical phase for us is to fund and execute our marketing strategy, which is to drive traffic to our e-commerce site through an integrated marketing campaign; Houseofakina ecommerce platform is critical to that plan. A platform created with the assistance of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and the Minnovation Fund.
“We will be forever grateful to the SEI Minnovation fund for facilitating our online presence and now we can use any future investment to carry out our wider Marketing Strategy. Which will broadcast our products and website from every rooftop to every connected device. SEI has been critical to helping us expand our reach. My advice, Whatever stage your enterprise is at, engage with the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and you just never know… that dream fund you’ve always needed might just be within your grasp”.
Founder and CEO | Houseofakina
The Minnovation Fund consists of ticket proceeds from the Impact Series Event (approx €1,000) plus 1 year’s worth of phone services to the winner to the value of €500 sponsored by Blueface. If you would like a chance to pitch your idea for the next Minnovation Fund which takes place at the Impact Series event on Thursday 19th May in Smock Alley Theatre, click here to find out how you can apply.
Our application process closed April 7th and we are now in the midst of our review. This is our favourite time of the year as it allows us to see and learn about what is happening all over Ireland, and get an insight into grassroots efforts being made in various fields to tackle some of Ireland’s most entrenched social and environmental issues. As our applicants await the results of our review, we wanted to share with you all some interesting insights from this year’s applications.
1. Social entrepreneurship is on the rise all over Ireland
While Dublin still leads in number of applications received, this year we’ve seen a significant increase in applications coming from Cork and Galway. Both have gone up by nearly 3% since last year, from 7.1% of all applications to 10%. Interestingly, for the second year in a row we are also seeing a tie between Cork and Galway for the second highest number of applications outside of Dublin. Waterford and Wicklow hold spot number three, each accounting for 6% of this year’s applications.
2. Social start-ups and the economy
This year, even more so than last, we get a clearer sense of the influence that social start-ups have on our economy. This year’s applicants are currently employing 200 full-time and 228 part-time employees, and their average annual turnover was circa €325,000 for Impact applicants, and €51,000 for Elevator. This demonstrates to us that these social start-ups are not only doing great work in their respective communities, but are also adding significant value to their local economies.
3. Volunteers are a precious and important driving force
While social start-ups have an immense influence on our communities and economy, they often have to rely on one of their most valuable assets – volunteers! Once again, volunteers are shown to be an important force for good with the average Impact applicant utilising the help of about 50 volunteers, and an average Elevator applicant about 19 volunteers at any given time.
4. How old are they?
You might find it interesting to know that the average age of the organisations applying for an Impact Award is 6 years, with Elevator organisations about 2 years old. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some older “teenagers” amongst them, with the oldest applicant organisation having been established in 1989!
5. Why do today what you can do tomorrow?
During the applications process we closely monitor the daily numbers of applications started and submitted. We are always interested to look at the peak day and see how it relates to the deadline. This year our peak day for applications started was April 6th – the day before the deadline, with 40 applications started, which is a record to date. Our submissions peak of 110 applications submitted was on April 7th, THE deadline! This means that 65% of all applications were submitted on the deadline. Why do today what you can put off until last minute?
6. How did they hear about the Awards?
These statistics tell us how our applicants heard about the application process:
Word of Mouth (including past Awardees) – 42%
Online – 25%
SEI Event/ Outdoor Campaign – 10%
Media Coverage – 7%
Judging by the numbers, it is safe to conclude that our applicants have amazing networks as the majority of them have heard about our applications by word of mouth or from a past Award winner. Our Social Entrepreneurs Ireland website also seems to have been a great source of information along with other social media platforms. Additionally, thanks to the amazing support from Dublin Airport Authority and Exterion Media, this year we’ve had an outstanding outdoor campaign aimed at promoting our applications process. Because of their excellent work, some of this year’s applicants found out about our Awards programme from a billboard or saw an ad on the back of a bus. How cool is that?!
The numbers above represent some interesting trends that are worth noting, but they don’t capture the importance, excitement and true impact of the work that these social entrepreneurs do. We are all very excited and truly look forward to learning more about what they do during our review, and meeting some of these amazing individuals at Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp on May 24th.
It is that time of the year again. Our 2016 Awards applications are open, and you are getting ready to apply (Deadline: April 7th, 5.00 pm).
We understand that it can be a daunting task to apply for funding and support. It can sometimes be challenging to get your message across, particularly if it is your first time seeking support of this kind. We want to make the application process as easy and useful for you as possible. In light of this, we have created a list of five tips to help you to make a competitive application to the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards. So, here are our top five tips for a successful application:
1. Think quality, not quantity
Seek to become more effective in telling your story. Don’t be tempted to just fill in the word count because it’s there, as quality is always more important than quantity. Additionally, keep in mind that we are not experts in the field that you work in, so be conscious of that when trying to explain the complexity of your problem and solution – be as clear and as concise as possible.
2. Know your market
Be clear about why your project is better than others out there that are addressing the same problem that you are tackling. It is best to be upfront and honest about the work of other organisations, and it’s key to know your competition well.
3. Think about your solution
Approach the time invested in writing your application as a valuable chance to assess or re-assess your solution, how you speak about it, and the plans that you have for it. Time invested in careful reflection and planning will have a huge impact on your future success and should be something that you do on a somewhat regular basis.
4. External review
Make sure that you have someone who is not familiar with your project read your application to see if your articulation is clear. This will help you to determine if your reader’s interpretation of your application matches the reality, and if their overall impression is the one that you want to impart.
5. We’re here to help
And finally, remember that at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we are not looking for the finished article. Our programmes are designed to support and help you and your project. To do that we need to know what areas you still need to develop and see that you are open to developing and improving. So, in a strange way, being open about the challenges you face and the support you need can actually strengthen your application.
We hope that you find these tips useful and that they can be used as a guiding reference for you in your application process. While filling out your application, please read all questions carefully and make sure to refer to our FAQs or contact us directly if any questions come up.
We look forward to receiving your application!
With the last few remaining seats for the 32nd Dáil decided this morning, we thought we’d take this time to reflect on the 2016 General Election, what it meant for social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in Ireland, and where we go from here. While it’s been all doom and gloom from political parties and pundits, is the situation really that bad for those of us trying to do our bit to further social innovation?
The obvious thing to point out is that we have yet to determine the shape and make-up of any potential government in the 32nd Dáil. While Fine Gael remains the largest party in the state, their coalition options are in short supply, with many senior members within the Fianna Fáil party making it perfectly clear that they have no interest in entering into a formal coalition with their historic rivals. Although many smaller parties and groupings have stated their interest in forming ‘constructive’ partnerships, their numbers simply won’t be enough to form any sort of stable government going forward.
So formal coalition options are hard to come by, but perhaps there is a way forward that allows for some governing to be done in 2016 at least. In the days following the vote, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have indicated a willingness to work with each other, although in the case of the latter it would be an agreement to work with Fine Gael from the opposition benches. This type of agreement – opposition support for a minority government on certain issues – presents both challenges and opportunities. While not the most stable form of government, it does allow us to avoid an immediate repeat of an election campaign, while making legislative and policy progress on a number of common areas of agreement.
Social Enterprise Reforms:
For the first time ever, all four major political parties outlined a number of social enterprise and entrepreneurship reforms they would introduce as part of their manifestos in 2016. While this in itself is not success, it is indicative of the progress being made in highlighting the economic and social value of these sectors at a political level. It’s also important because in an increasingly unpredictable and divisive political environment, it’s one of the few areas all political parties seem to agree on. This presents the sector with a big opportunity to implement some important reforms over the next 12-18 months. Let’s not waste it.
Looking closely at the commitments made by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil (the only two parties with enough seats to win a majority in the 32nd Dáil), both parties seem to agree that progress can be made on developing social enterprise in three key areas; political leadership, business supports, and an improved financial environment.
Broadly speaking Fine Gael have committed to ensuring the “continued growth of the social enterprise sector”. They propose doing this through a combination of accessible finance, educational initiatives, and increasing awareness of supports currently available. More specifically, they promise to ensure that any SME, commercial or social, receives high quality mentoring, and support from Ireland’s Local Enterprise Office (LEO) network.
Fianna Fáil for their part agree, stating that they will extend the role of LEOs even further, establishing social enterprise-specific training courses and broadening out financial guarantees to assist in the attraction of investment. They also committed to measuring social enterprise activity in Ireland as part of future CSO business surveys, helping to improve access to data in relation to the size and influence of the sector. Finally, Fianna Fáil also made a clear commitment to move social enterprise under the remit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation – the Department with oversight over existing and future enterprise support delivery.
The overlap in commitments here is clear, and requires us all to insist that social enterprise and entrepreneurship form a core part of any SME/enterprise strategy agreed by these two parties over the coming weeks and months. This will mean SEI working with our sector colleagues to drive this message home, but it also requires individual entrepreneurs and organisations making their views clear to their newly elected representatives also. For anyone interested in getting in touch with their local TDs, please click here to find more details on those elected in 2016.
In the meantime, we at least have the launch of the 2016 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards to enjoy. Regardless of political circumstances, we’ve got €600,000 worth of funding and support to give out to 9 social entrepreneurs this year. More details on our Awards can be found by clicking here, and please do spread the word to let others know if we might be of use to them.
In this blog, Wayne Dignam of Care Leavers’ Network reflects on Ireland’s record on child protection, and suggests ways we can approach this issue differently. Join the conversation @CLNetworkIRE
Last week the Minister for Children defended the State’s record on child protection to the United Nations Committee in Geneva under the UN Convention on the rights of the child. It was the first such scrutiny in ten years. Ten years too long. This should happen every year, or even every quarter. Child protection is not top of the agenda when the Irish people hold our Government to account at local and national elections every few years. It is important that international experts hold the Irish Government to account on child protection issues much more regularly.
Ireland signed up to the UN Convention on the rights of the child in 1992 after a legacy of failure to protect children. Has our legacy improved? In many ways it has. We now have the Child and Family Agency that is focusing on children’s welfare, we have a Cabinet-level Minister for Children and in 2012 we amended the Irish constitution to allow for improved Children’s Rights. However the impact of these reforms has yet to be felt by many of our most vulnerable children in Ireland.
The best-selling book ‘Children of the Rising, the forgotten casualties of 1916’ commemorates how the 1916 Easter Rising affected children. Sometimes it is easier to face up to the truth of the past rather than the truth of the present. A more apt book would be about 2016 ‘Children of the Recession, the forgotten casualties of 2016’. The facts are startling and we should think of the human story to these figures:
- One child in nine is living in poverty;
- As of October 2015, 1638 children are homeless;
- There are approximately 5,900 child protection cases awaiting assignment of a social worker.
The Government has a lot of work to do to alleviate poverty and homelessness. The third problem is a more specific problem that the Care Leavers’ Network believes can be addressed.
The Care Leavers’ Network represents adults who spent time in the State care system as children, and many care leavers come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. As an Elevator Awardee from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland in 2015, we are passionate about changing Ireland and speaking out about what could be improved. Once we were children who were assessed for child protection and then assigned a social worker because we were at risk. So we care about this figure of 5,900 children who are currently at risk because we understand deeply what types of risks these children are facing, and the effects these will have on the rest of their lives. We have some suggestions to improve this situation.
Consider the backlog of child protection cases awaiting social workers. These social workers are so busy because their focus is on children within the care system. Are they really the right people to assess child protection cases and develop a ‘family plan’ of family support to that family, when some day they may end up taking that child into the care system? Ideally, a ‘Child welfare and protection officer’ should make the assessment, decide on the level of risk to the child, and explore all avenues of family support. We need to give families a chance before a social worker is brought in. By doing so, the child welfare and protection officer has gathered enough information about the family, and if a care order is required, then there is sufficient grounds for such an order. In addition, a range of family support measures need to be implemented in some cases where there is a chance that a child can remain with their family.
Some States in America adopt this preventative approach to child protection and have seen a decrease in the amount of children entering the care system. Those in the care system have much greater therapeutic and social care support which will most likely lead to improved outcomes. It has been led by an Irish American social worker, Molly McGrath Tierney, who manages Maryland’s child protection system. Between 2007 and 2010 the results were dramatic:
- The number of children in foster care dropped 28% from 6,342 to 4,556
- The number of children placed in group homes dropped 71% from 1,251 to 365
- The number of annual adoptions rose 59%, from 265 to 422
To get to these numbers required a lot of soul searching and leadership development. Irish agencies still have a lot to learn, and working on a crisis basis is not the best place to start. But there is a better way, and we must learn from the countries and States that manage their care systems better than ours. And most importantly, we can learn from those adults who have lived through the care systems.
If you would like to contribute to this conversation, follow us and send your thoughts @CLNetworkIRE
As 2015 comes to a close, here in Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we are reflecting on a great 2015 and are getting ready for an even better year ahead! We have been blown away by the social entrepreneurs we have met throughout our Selection Process this year, and are already looking forward to renewing the search for Ireland’s best social entrepreneurs who are bringing about incredible positive change throughout Ireland.
Our ambition is to continuously improve how we work. Our call for applications will therefore take place slightly earlier in the coming year. We will be asking Ireland’s social entrepreneurs to ‘Take the Leap’ with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland by submitting their applications to us from the 29th of February, closing on the 7th of April.
More detail on the 2016 Awards will follow in the coming weeks and months, so please do keep an eye out for updates on our website and social media channels.
If we want change in Ireland, we need to create that change ourselves. We can’t afford to wait around for others to solve our problems. We can’t just sit back and complain about the status quo.We need to act, and we need to act now. Real change will only begin when we stop fighting the old and focus all of our energy on building the new.
As Ireland’s economic recovery gathers pace, we are starting to see improvements in many areas of Irish
society. Although there are still huge challenges to overcome, our employment figures are improving, government revenues are increasing and cautious optimism is slowly starting to return.
While this is encouraging, we must ensure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. None of us want this recovery to bring us back to where we were before. That isn’t success. We need to create an inclusive recovery.
But if history has taught us anything it’s that things don’t change on their own. The default position will be to spend any new resources on the same old approaches. We still won’t be solving our social problems quickly enough.
Our social entrepreneurs are experts in building the new. They see problems as opportunities, and set about tackling them using innovative, business-like approaches. Social entrepreneurs take risks and work relentlessly to show us what is possible. Often driven by profound personal experiences, they have the motivation and passion to overcome any challenge in their path.
When social entrepreneurs take action they shift our focus from the problem to the solution. Their decision to act is the lead domino that starts a chain reaction of events. Once that first movement is made, momentum builds and the early friction dissipates. Strong leadership generates more leaders. People yearn to be part of something constructive, to be part of the solution.
In most cases, the first action creates an impact far greater than could ever have been imagined. The work of the social entrepreneurs is inspiring, but this isn’t a spectator sport and all of us need to play our part. Our achievements to date have been built on the shoulders of giants; early visionaries and supporters who took a chance on Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, on the team and on an idea. We are serious about solving Ireland’s biggest social problems and we need your support to do it.
Social entrepreneurs make huge sacrifices to change this country. We can’t let them do it alone.
If this is the moment that we all decide to act, then this could be the moment that everything changes.
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