Seeds of change take root

ChangeX’s challenge to start 100 community projects in 100 days has been running for three months. As it enters its final week we meet some of its new social entrepreneurs

Community projects: changex.org has 21 ideas – soon to be 50 – for getting involved

Community projects: changex.org has 21 ideas – soon to be 50 – for getting involved

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‘There’s so little money out there, and people are always complaining about everything. We need to stop moaning and go out and do something. It can be just a little thing,” Audrey Smith says.

She is one of 95 people who have taken on a challenge set by the social-change start-up ChangeX 93 days ago. It wanted 100 people to set up 100 community projects in 100 days. With seven days to go, it is only five projects away from its goal – and is confident that it’s achievable.

“We didn’t know at the start whether it was wildly ambitious or not ambitious enough. We should get past 100, so we’re delighted. About 1,000 people have downloaded starter kits so far, so we’re hoping some of those might be tipped over the edge,” says Paul O’Hara, ChangeX’s founder and chief executive.

The start-up’s website, changex.org, has 21 ideas of community projects to get involved in. Each has been proven around the world, and ChangeX’s mission is to ensure that the ideas spread around Ireland.

Audrey Smith, who is also about to embark on a PhD in history, set up Street Feast, a neighbourhood street party, in Drogheda. She had noticed a subtle change in her neighbourhood, where people were no longer getting to know one another, and thought Street Feast was the perfect solution.

“People would say hello, but they weren’t stopping to talk. I thought it’d be a great idea to get people out. It just ended up being, ‘I’ll bring this, you’ll do that, you’ll have this, you’ve got bunting, I’ve got chairs,’ so it really is very simple to organise.”

For Iseult Mangan the motivation for getting involved with ChangeX was ensuring that children in her community weren’t missing out on opportunities. A primary-school teacher, she felt she needed to set up a branch of Coder Dojo, which teaches children computer coding, in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo.

“I decided if there were none near me, it was going to have to be me. We’re getting so far behind the UK” in teaching coding, she says. “CoderDojo has been a breakthrough for me in recognising that and making sure it’s a gap that’s not going to widen in my school.”

Coder

Dojo Since

Mangan decided to teach herself to code, a year ago, the class of eight that she teaches after school one day a week have become award-winning coders.

“My own little boy has won the National Scratch Finals for junior infants to first class, for a game he made, and two of the kids in the school made Ireland’s first farm-safety website, which won an Eircom Junior Spider Award. If you look back at this time last year, we knew nothing,” she says. “Our community has been enriched so much by it. It has given the kids a new lease of life. Every week when we finish CoderDojo club it’s, ‘Do we have to go?’, ‘Can we have 10 more minutes?’ ”

Seeing the impact a Men’s Shed had in his community a number of years ago motivated Andrew Swaine to restart the initiative in Greystones, in Co Wicklow, after the previous shed shut down because of a lack of funding. Men’s Sheds provide a friendly space for men to work on community projects and, through that, improve men’s mental health.

“The Men’s Shed motto is that men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder. If you’re distracted doing something, involved in a task, it’s easier to get into the chinks of someone’s armour and say, ‘Really, are you okay?’ They’re more likely to open up while they’re doing something they enjoy,” he says.

Swaine’s day job is for a mobile-phone company. “I worked so hard for the last 20 odd years. I put my career first, and I was probably doing that too much. Before it was too late I pulled out of that nosedive, and so it has actually given something straight back to me as well, an appreciation for stuff outside of work.”

Paul O’Hara estimates that 60 per cent of the people who started projects as part of ChangeX 100 are professionals – largely teachers, healthcare workers and social workers – who often want to better their community through their jobs.

“I thought more people would be doing it as an extracurricular activity, as against part of their job. I think, as we have more and more ideas that are relevant for educators, they’ll be the ones that will be early adopters,” he says.

Think big

O’Hara has now set ChangeX a bigger goal of 300 projects by the end of 2015 – and he’ll be upping the 21 ideas currently on the organisation’s website to 50.

He says ChangeX 100 has shown him a need for more straightforward projects, like Street Feast, for first-timers, and ideas that appeal to people who can use their skills from their current jobs to better their communities.

But, for him, the biggest lesson is simply that the appetite for social change is certainly there. It’s just a matter of putting good ideas where they can be found.

To find out more or to sign up as a starter, see changex.org

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