Projects aim to raise empathy, support food-growers and aid overseas start-ups


SOCIAL ENTERPRISE:THE CHANGE Nation event at the MacGill Summer School heard of a number of innovative social entrepreneurship projects, and from speakers in business, education, health and non-profit sectors.

A baby also made an appearance at one point, as part of a demonstration of a project designed to teach children empathy skills.

The Roots of Empathy programme is “a social and emotional literacy” programme for children in national schools, which involves a parent and baby visiting the classroom nine times during the school year. It has been introduced in 27 schools in Donegal, with the expectation it will extend to 100 schools around the country.

From the floor, Ann Sheridan of the Health Service Executive outlined the Jigsaw mental health project – an early intervention service for young people up to the age of 25. Ms Sheridan said some of the challenges of the new Child and Family Support Agency would include how to provide services for people up to that age.

“Nothing magical happens at the age of 18,” she said.

Other projects outlined included the Grow it Yourself initiative founded by Mick Kelly to help support Irish people in growing their own food.

Mr Kelly said the idea came to him when he realised garlic he was buying in his local supermarket had been imported from China.

The bulb had been flown 5,000 miles to end up in our food chain. Mr Kelly said Ireland produced enough food to feed 34 million people every year, yet we still imported some $5 billion worth of food. “Our food chain is no longer just to feed ourselves; it’s about trade.”

Matt Flannery founded Kiva.orgin 2005. The non-profit organisation “crowdfunds” microfinance for small entrepreneurs in developing countries.

There are currently 330 Irish people on the “lending team”. They each lend small amounts of money, in this case $25 at a time, which get sent out to low-income entrepreneurs in about 60 countries.

Mr Flannery told the summer school Kiva had already funded about $300 million in loans in about 64 countries.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, who sat on the panel, said there was a big challenge at the moment in terms of all the philanthropic funding that had come into the country.

The transition from philanthropic funding to either “mainstreaming” or attracting other funding would need “a lot of discussion”, she said.

“From my perspective, they very easily translate into more money from Government and we know where we’re at at the moment in relation to that.”


CHANGE NATION, established earlier this year, seeks to act as a “social innovation platform”.

According to the organisers, it aims to connect “proven solutions” with talent and finance to accelerate innovations in areas such as the environment, health, education, civic participation and economic development.

A three-day event in March, staged at Dublin Castle and Farmleigh, involved more than 300 one-on-one meetings between social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, business and political leaders.

Founder of Change Nation Paul O’Hara is a director of Ashoka, a group that promotes social entrepreneurship.

The March event was held in partnership with businesses, the Government and the media. The Irish Times was among the media partners for the event.