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!
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.
From the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland “Minnovation Fund” to expanding operations to the UK and beyond – Foodcloud have had whirlwind of a journey since accepting their Impact Award last year. In advance of the SEI Awards, Iseult Ward reflects on the last year as a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Impact Awardee, in the next entry to our series “Generation 2014″. Iseult Ward speaks of her journey with SEI and what advice she would give to the new Awardees 2015.
Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien founded Foodcloud after working on a university innovation project together, which is now saving tonnes of food across Ireland and the UK, connecting supermarkets with too much food to charities with too little. After winning the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Minnovation Fund as part of the Impact Series in 2013, Iseult and Aoibheann attended the 2013 Award Ceremony “thinking wouldn’t it be amazing if something like this would be possible for us“, but never believed it could and would happen for them the following year.
In 2014, walking into the Award Ceremony as Impact Finalists, Iseult & Aoibheann felt a sense of “déjà vu” and “quite emotional at the same time, having walked the exact same steps the year before, but in completely different shoes“.
Moving into the Impact Programme, Iseult comments “We were at the stage as an organisation that we needed to grow, and the Impact Award was a good fit for the organisation. It’s fantastic knowing people are there, who care about this nearly as much as you do, and are there to help you through the challenges and with new opportunities”.
Giving advice to the new Awardees who will be announced on Tuesday, Iseult highlights the importance of “getting to know all the awardees and helping each other through the experience”
Its a great feeling knowing you’re not alone as there are other organisations working towards a social change and trying to have a social impact too.
Moving Foodcloud to the next level with the second year of SEI Impact Programme, Iseult acknowledges “getting retailers on board in Ireland, diversifying retailers supplied and hopefully being able to bring on more charities” is their goal. Foodcloud have started to have an international impact, with a pilot programme running in the UK with Tesco. “The next phase will mean us taking on 100 stores in the UK with Tesco in partnership with Fairshare – it’s really about taking it all in stages to develop a social franchise model that can work beyond the UK.”
We’ve been growing really quickly since we began, but it’s the energy and momentum that has helped us gather so much support.
Iseult concludes how “it’s the passion of the team that has allowed us to get to where we are, and making such ambitious plans for the future.” With the incredible success of Foodcloud since being announced as an Impact Awardee 12 months ago, we’re excited to see where the next 12 months will lead the organisation.
Having “The Last Word” on Matt Cooper yesterday were the newest Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Elevator Awardees, Arlene Naughten of Sugru Therapy and Wayne Dignam of Care Leavers’ Network. Arlene and Wayne will officially receive their award next Tuesday night in the Mansion House, where we will reveal all six Elevator Awardees, alongside the three new Impact Awardees.
Speaking about the power of social entrepreneurship, Matt Cooper interviewed Arlene and Wayne on “The Last Word” ahead of the Awards Ceremony, to get an insight into the life-changing work their organisations do.
Sugru provide vital therapy services for children, parents and families to develop children from early childhood age to adulthood. Arlene and Lorraine of Sugru, offer individual counselling sessions, workshops and summer camps to help create stronger and healthier children and families across Ireland.
The Care Leavers’ Network, founded by Wayne Dignam, provides a support system for people who exit the Irish care system. The organisation has supported over 950 care leavers during their transition into society after leaving the Irish care system. Currently expanding their operations, Care Leavers’ Network are planning to significantly scale their organisation with the help of the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Elevator Programme.
In conversation with Matt Cooper, Wayne highlights the aim of the Care Leavers’ Network “is about us making a difference and stepping forward to improve the outcome for care leavers and children in Ireland”.
The Elevator Awardees will receive financial, organisational and developmental support from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland over the next 12 months, to elevate their organisations to the next stage. Check out the Elevator Awardee interview with Matt Cooper on Today FM.
Our Policy and Innovation Manager, Eamonn Fitzgerald, looks at the importance of site visits to the SEI selection process, and why all funders should look beyond application forms and pitches to inform their investment decisions.
People have a tendency to assume that all funding decisions these days are made as per the Dragon’s Den formula. High pressure, time constrained, all-or-nothing pitching sessions. After all, you learn a lot about people in situations like that right? Wrong. There’s a reason less than half of the successful entrepreneurs on the show actually receive a penny!
Pitches are great, but they only tell you a part of the story. For the past couple of years, as part of the SEI selection process, we’ve decided to conduct site visits with the finalists competing for a place on our Impact Programme. We do this for the same reason we do anything in our selection process, and that’s the fact that it improves our decision making capabilities. It allows us to make more informed and effective investments.
The team at SEI is currently in the middle of our 2015 site visits, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to look at the information that these visits provide us with, and to build a case for why all funders, whether they be commercial or social, need to be doing this as part of their decision making process.
1. Due Diligence
Application forms are a useful way to enforce eligibility criteria, and to obtain key pieces of information about a project, but they’re not fool proof. There’s only so much you can articulate on paper. Site visits provide funders with a chance to literally see a programme in action, to observe the development of products or the delivery of services, and to fact check some of the information already provided. It can also inform whether or not the level of investment being requested is realistic, often proving a good indicator as to a project’s readiness for the level of funding involved. This increased level of understanding is crucial to funders – who are often unfamiliar with the nuances of particular social/environmental challenges.
2. Entrepreneur Engagement
Investments are about more than just the money. For it to be successful there needs to be a good working relationship between the entrepreneur and the funder. While pitching sessions are useful for meeting entrepreneurs face to face, site visits allow you to interact with an entrepreneur in a more traditional and real world environment. It allows you to discuss aspects of their project in a location they feel comfortable, and to see how they interact with other members of their team. All of this is far more representative of what a working relationship with them might look like, rather than the interrogation like pitches that we’re so used to seeing on TV.
3. Support Network
When we’re talking about growing and scaling an organisation, you need more than just the right entrepreneur behind the project. That entrepreneur needs a support network, and those individuals need to be valued as part of any selection process. Site visits give funding bodies a chance to meet and talk with staff members in charge of various aspects of the project, and to meet with board members overseeing the organisation to get their sense on the future direction of the project. It’s one thing to hear about the plans for an organisation from the entrepreneur themselves, but it’s another thing entirely to hear from the people tasked with delivering those plans.
4. Social Impact
We all love quantitative data when we talk about social impact, and application forms are a great place to articulate and display all those numbers and graphs, but in most cases the qualitative data is where the real game-changing impact is best demonstrated. Site visits are often a great chance to meet and interact with the beneficiaries of the projects in question. Hearing first hand their experience of an organisation, what’s worked well for them and what hasn’t, and the difference they’ve seen in their lives due to a particular intervention, can be the most powerful way to understand the impact potential of any early-stage project.
While site visits alone are not the answer, they do massively complement traditional selection process elements like application forms and pitches. So if you’re looking to improve your funding decisions I’d recommend getting out from behind that desk and hitting the road. You, and your fund, will be better for it!
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