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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