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.
As part of our Generation 2014 series, Adam Harris of AsIAm shares his experience with SEI as an Elevator Awardee for the last year. Changing Ireland and reducing the stigma for people on the Autism spectrum, AsIAm has ambitious goals and clear objectives to achieve their mission.
Sitting down to write this almost feels surreal. It is very hard to believe that nearly 1 year has passed since AsIAm was selected as an Elevator Awardee for 2014. If times flies when you are having fun, I think it flies twice as fast when you are working hard, and that is probably why we literally did not feel the year go by. Where we are now is totally unrecognisable from where we were last year, and so much of this is to do with the support, counsel and credibility, which Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has brought to our work.
This time last year we were a newly launched organisation, with a strong mission and vision for what Ireland should be like for people with Autism, but still trying to work out what our role was and how we could play a focused part in bringing this about. We had no staff, no office and the reach of our organisation remained very small. Our only funding, and indeed prospect of funding, was table quizzes and race nights.
Fast forward 12 months and I am now the full-time CEO for an organisation which also has a part-time community manager. We are based in DogPatch Labs, a hub for tech startups in Ireland and we have a clear sense of what we can do to make this country more inclusive of people with Autism. We have a growing team of volunteers and supporters committed to making that vision a reality.
How did this happen? Well, lots of different opportunities, approaches and planning helped us develop to this point but a common thread that seems to run through them all is SEI.
On winning a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Award, I received coverage on national radio and online publications like “The Journal”, which resulted in an invitation to the “The Saturday Night Show”, which brought unprecedented interest and support to our work. This vehicle for change has enabled us to develop a network and a reach much greater than before.
As a very young CEO and Social Entrepreneur, fundraising has been a challenge for a range of reasons – perceptions play a part, and so does experience and confidence. However, SEI levelled the playing field to some degree for AsIAm. Other funders and grant-making organisations were no longer being asked to make an independent, in depth assessment and be the first to back a new concept – rather they could take a measured risk in supporting us, knowing that a very credible organisation had already assessed our potential. This led to us being able to significantly increase funding to the organisation. We are still small and still have to work very hard to access funding. However, there is no doubt we would struggle full stop if it were not for SEI boosting our reputation and giving me the skills to apply for grants and have conversations with potential funders.
As a Social Entrepreneur working in the area of Autism, I am very much emotionally invested in the issue. As a young person with Aspergers Syndrome, it makes me angry to see the challenges people with the condition are facing – 50% bullied while still in school, 80% unemployment and a significantly higher rate of self-harm – all challenges which are not necessarily a part of an Autism diagnosis, but are often brought on by the attitudes of society towards people with the condition. I am determined to change this and I passionately believe we can, by empowering the community with a dedicated, online information service and engaging the public at the same time. I believe similar approaches have helped advance many other issues in Ireland in the past but I feel we have ignored the societal piece and that this is what we must now focus on.
However, all that said, when you are emotionally involved in an issue it is easy to want to change the world overnight or to attempt to solve every single issue. Indeed, I would even say this is normal for many social entrepreneurs. However, it led me at times to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Autism is such a large field you need to pick an area of focus and work to change that. We are the only organisation working for a societal understanding of Autism, and this is where we must focus.
In reflection, I would never have been able to get to this point of focus and determination without the fantastic counsel of SEI and my mentor, Eamonn. In 12 months we have come from a point of well-intentioned campaigning to a more focused, professional organisation which will soon produce its first 3 year strategy – a strategy I hope will sow the seeds of change for people with Autism. This highlights how SEI is about a lot more than just grants, but rather their help and focus has been a huge support in bringing us to this point.
Of course, we have a very long way to go. We have still not established solid lines of funding, we still are testing our programmes in schools, community and online – and they will take time to perfect.
We are still honing our message and our vision but the crucial point is – we are on our way!
Niamh Crosbie, as the first ever recruit for the SEI “Count Me In” initiative, shares her experience volunteering with Sensational Kids. Working to bring affordable therapy services to children across Ireland, Niamh played an integral part in Sensational Kids recent fundraiser, the “Fairy & Elf Festival”.
I spotted the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland ‘Count Me In’ campaign on social media and decided to sign up not really knowing what was involved. Looking back, I’m so glad I did!
SEI put me in touch with Sensational Kids in Kildare and I met Karen Leigh, CEO, to discuss how I could help. I started working on the PR and marketing for the charity’s 6th birthday party to help build the profile of the charity locally.
The next big challenge was to fundraise €20,000. Karen’s idea was to hold an “Enchanted Fairy and Elf Festival” at the Irish National Stud – an organisation which very generously gave all proceeds on the day to the charity. The event theme really captured the imagination on social media and in just a few weeks we had 2000 people attending on Facebook! Planning was key, so we met regularly with a journalist volunteer, Noel O’ Driscoll, to make sure the event would be a success.
“I really enjoyed volunteering with Karen Leigh- she is so passionate about Sensational Kids and her enthusiasm is infectious. ”
On the day of the event, the sun shone, the Gardai had to be called to direct traffic and a steady stream of people queued under the balloon arch and bunting in fairy, elf and superhero costumes – some parents more excited than their children. Over 70 people volunteered on the day, from the local ‘Silken Thomas Players’ drama group in costume to Newbridge Lions Club to stalwart supporters of the charity. There was an amazing camaraderie among the volunteers – people who had never worked together coming together to create this fairy wonderland. The result was worth all the planning – to see the excitement on the kids faces and the crowds having fun, and knowing you had played a part in it and for a good cause – not just for a corporate product launch, but a chance to help kids get the therapies they need to achieve their potential in life.
The final numbers were approx. 2500 attendees with €19,300 raised – a day to remember for all involved.
Joe Schmidt brings the Irish Rugby Team to the World Cup full of optimism and as one of the top teams in the world. Despite the recent defeats, there is excitement throughout the country about what this team might achieve. Regardless of what happens over the next month, Joe Schmidt’s achievements with this Irish team over the last few years have already set him apart as one of the greatest coaches in the world. He’s meticulous, detailed, a master strategist and an amazing motivator, but at the same time he empowers his team and gives them a large amount of responsibility.
One of the central approaches he takes to management is never spoken about by commentators or rugby analysts, but provides a valuable lesson for all entrepreneurs: defining team values.
The Irish team have three values that guide the behaviour of the players in every aspect of their lives. From training, to their personal lives, what they eat, and on match-day. Most importantly, these values were decided upon the team members themselves, and so they are embraced from the bottom-up, rather than imposed from the top by Joe Schmidt.
These values guide the players to be:
These are three guiding principles that the team and individuals can constantly refer back to.
Am I being humble in my approach to myself and to the opposition? Is my training relentless and is my tackling relentless? Am I disciplined both on and off the pitch?
When it comes to leading any team, developing this kind of clarity around team values can help shape and influence all of the little decisions that each team member makes every day. Rather than constantly looking to Joe Schmidt for guidance from the top, their behaviour is driven by team members themselves. And if a player isn’t living up to these values, it is understood that his team-mates will let him know and hold him to account. This is a highly effective tool for management that empowers the team and gives all of the players responsibility. After all, Joe isn’t going to be on the pitch with them on match day or watching over them 24/7 in their lives, so they need to have a shared understanding of what behaviour is expected.
The Lesson for Entrepreneurs
This approach to leadership provides a valuable insight for entrepreneurs. Set clear values with your team members and empower them to do great work. At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, I believe the team is everything. We support Ireland’s leading social entrepreneurs, working closely with them to solve some of Ireland’s biggest social problems. Providing the team with autonomy and ownership around their tasks has improved performance and empowered them to go above and beyond in our work with social entrepreneurs. To enable this approach we have developed our own team values, decided by the whole team, that guide our behaviour.
Our commitment, in everything we do, is to be:
We commit to do what we say, to be open and transparent and to be fair in our selection process. We always act behind closed doors exactly as we would if somebody was watching. This is a powerful value that ensures all of the team know that doing the right thing always comes ahead of a quick win.
As a team and as a group of individuals, we’ll never settle for the status quo. We have huge ambition for SEI as an organisation, but most importantly we have huge ambition for the social entrepreneurs that we support. We support many organisations that are still in the early stages of their development. We choose to be visionary, to see the potential in all of the projects that we support and to do everything we can to help them to fulfil their full potential.
At SEI we know that doing good isn’t good enough. All of our work is driven by the end result and if something isn’t having an impact, we should stop doing it. This value also drives us to become better at measuring our own impact as an organisation, not for the sake impressing donors or to tick boxes in our annual report, but to accelerate our own learning. With this focus we can constantly improve and adjust our programmes to maximise the impact we achieve.
These values have played a key role in the our team’s development as the organisation has grown. Based on the results that we’ve seen in SEI, I’d highly recommend that all entrepreneurs and business leaders take a page out of Joe Schmidt’s playbook and spend a few hours with your team to define your values. You’ll quickly see the return in improved performance, morale, empowerment and ownership.
P.S. Does your team have a set of values? I’d love to hear them, so please share them below. If you haven’t defined your team values yet…get on it!
Photo credit to Irish Independent of Independent News & Media PLC.
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.
Slow Things Down
“Slow down. Take stock. Decelerate.”
Not the typical thing you’d expect to hear from an organisation like Social Entrepreneurs Ireland perhaps. We are set up to scale the best solutions for social problems around Ireland. We support projects that have the potential to take an idea and replicate it elsewhere. After all, if we have found a solution to a problem in Wicklow, shouldn’t we be implementing this in other counties around Ireland? If we have found a more effective or more efficient way of doing something, shouldn’t more people benefit from the positive impact?
And it is a core trait of all entrepreneurs that they want to grow and develop their idea, to reach as many people as possible, to impact upon the world. As Steve Jobs said, entrepreneurs want to ‘make a dent in the universe’.
At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we love that attitude. Our slogan is ‘Think Big. Act Now. Change Ireland’ and it is because of this passion and the potential to significantly impact Ireland that we work with social entrepreneurs.
But over the last 10 years we have learned that all of this should come with a small note of caution. The rush to scale projects, to work with more people and to increase your impact, while totally understandable, is potentially counter-productive. Our experience has taught us that often what some of the most exciting projects need is a period of deceleration before they can think seriously about acceleration.
Getting the Model Right
Before you can deliver a solution at scale, it is vital to delve deeply into the core service, product or solution that you are delivering. And once that is clear, the scaling model needs to be clearly developed and defined before starting to roll it out. We have seen it many times that early success is seized upon and attempts are made to replicate something before it is ready. And the danger is that a really powerful idea might fail and as a result be written off.
Is your model scalable? Is it sustainable? Can you replicate the core elements of it or is it dependent on the actions of a few key individuals? Do you have the capacity to deliver at a bigger scale?
At SEI we now take a lot of time at the beginning of the Awards Programme to work through all of these things with the entrepreneurs, and only move to scaling conversations once the fundamentals are in place.
Another challenge that we have seen in recent years is that big, exciting ideas often receive a huge amount of attention very quickly. In particular, projects led by young social entrepreneurs can receive a lot of interest from media, potential partners and supporters. While this support and coverage is potentially transformational for the entrepreneur, the risk is that they may become over-exposed, they may burn out, or they may just be distracted by all of the noise, events and attention, to the detriment of their projects. In these cases they may not fulfil the early potential that their projects have.
Learnings for SEI and for Social Entrepreneurs
Indeed, this is a challenging issue for us in SEI, as our Awards Programme celebrates these social entrepreneurs quite publicly. It is a constant challenge for us to find the right balance between protecting the social entrepreneurs and showcasing their work. I’m not sure we’ve always gotten it right but we are constantly working on it.
Over the years at SEI we have changed and adapted our approach and now have a much more nuanced approach to how we work with social entrepreneurs. We are very conscious that sometimes the best thing we can provide a project is to give them permission to decelerate for a while, to take a breath, to take stock, to slow down, so that when they do choose to scale, they are ready to give it absolutely everything.
Charity, social enterprise and for-profit
With the launch of this year’s selection process we are already getting a few questions from potential applicants asking whether we support for-profit organisations, whether we just support charities and what our take on social enterprise is. Having pulled together some brief answers on this in our FAQs, we thought it might be good to explain some of our reasoning and thinking here in more detail.
Our current offerings for this are based on our latest strategy (full details of which will be revealed shortly!).
Ultimately at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland what we care about is that the best ideas for social change get the right support to help them to succeed. That is our vision. And in that context it doesn’t really matter to us whether the organisation is a charity, a social enterprise or a for-profit. Each of these models have different advantages and disadvantages associated with them, but all three models have the potential to make a positive social impact in Ireland.
Aviva Cohen of Neuro Hero launching her new app with Minister Sean Sherlock, TD
Congratulations to SEI Award Winner 2012 Aviva Cohen who recently launched ground-breaking speech and language therapy apps for stroke and brain injury survivors
The apps (for IoS and Android) will provide affordable home-based therapy solutions for families whose loved ones have communication difficulties arising from stroke, brain injury and a range of other conditions.
We were delighted to see Minister Sean Sherlock TD, who was recently announced as the Minister with responsibility for social enterprise, launch the four Talk Around IT apps.
Finalists Announced in 2013 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards
8 Innovative Organisations to Compete for €500,000 Cash, plus an Additional €250,000 in Support
The eight finalists in the 2013 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) Awards, sponsored by DCC, have been announced at a reception in Dublin today. The Awards celebrate and support Ireland’s brightest and most ambitious entrepreneurs with game changing ideas to solve the social problems facing Ireland.
The finalists are; John Evoy of Irish Men’s Sheds Association, Krystian Fikert of MyMind, Natasha & Toby Haslam Hopwood of The Galtee Clinic, Peter Johnson of Jobnet, Graham Jones of Solas Project, John Kearney of Irish Community Rapid Response, Brian McCormick of Adtruism and Mags Mullarney of Move4Parkinson’s. Each of the eight social entrepreneurs head young organisations that are employing innovative approaches to help effectuate major social change in Ireland in areas as diverse as healthcare, local emergency services, unemployment, charity fundraising, the children’s care system and the prison and probation system.
The finalists will now embark upon a three month programme of support and evaluation, designed to help them to clearly define the problem they are trying to address and refine their solution. They will receive in depth support and professional consultation before the announcement of the 2013 Award winners in October. Three Social Entrepreneurs will be awarded the top level “Impact Award” and €130,000 in direct funding with over €70,000 worth of support over two years. A further five will receive the “Elevator Award” and €22,000 in direct funding with over €10,000 worth of support over one year.
Will it be you?
The Most Exciting Time of the Year?
“Think Big. Act Now. Change Ireland.” We throw out the call to people all over the country. If you have an innovative solution to a societal problem in Ireland, we want to hear from you. We want you to tell us how your solution has the potential to change Ireland. And we don’t just want to hear about it. We want to help you to make it happen.
This year alone we have raised a fund of €500,000 in cash to give away and a further €250,000 in practical supports and training. At a time when funding elsewhere is being cut, this investment in innovative solutions is more important than ever.
The purpose of the application process is to attract the very best entrepreneurs who are tackling social problems throughout Ireland. Read More
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