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Innovation Profile : Vodafone Ireland

Changing the world for the better

The Vodafone Ireland Foundation has partnered with youth organisation Young Social Innovators (YSI) to combine its successful education programme and inspiring vision with Vodafone's finances, people, technology and expertise.

The overall aim is to drive social innovation in Ireland by helping YSI expand its programme to enable 100,000 young people to have taken the course by the end of 2015.

The Vodafone Ireland Foundation is one of 24 similar charitable foundations set up by Vodafone around the world with the aim of making a positive contribution to society.

“Every country where Vodafone operates has a foundation addressing issues of particular importance to those countries”, says foundation manager Natalie Hodgess.

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"In Egypt, for example, the foundation addresses the issue of literacy which is a major problem for society there, and we have other foundations tackling diseases such as malaria and HIV."

The link-up with Young Social Innovators came about last year as a result of a strategic review of the foundation’s activities. “We had worked with a number of different charities since our establishment in 2003 and we carried out a review last year to establish how effective we were. As a result of that review it was decided that we would be more impactful to work with one charity on one issue.”

The issue chosen was young people and how they had been affected by the recession. “The recession has had a very strong impact on young people in terms of unemployment, emigration, the feeling of disempowerment and disenchantment, and further downstream problems such as mental health issue and ultimately suicide in the worst cases.”

Youth charities were then invited to pitch to the Vodafone Ireland Foundation and Young Social Innovators was chosen as the one which was most aligned with the foundation’s aims and would gain most from its support.

“We then worked with YSI to set the goal of having 100,000 young social innovators go through the programme. It’s an amazing truly empowering programme and a really positive cause. We wanted to use our resource to help achieve that target.”

"Young Social Innovators was set up in 2001 to fire young people's passion to change the world for good," says YSI chief executive Rachel Collier. "Young people have great potential to change the world and our aim is to make sure they get the opportunities to do it."

YSI defines social innovation as the practice of using creativity to develop solutions which improve the well being of people and society. “The emphasis is on creative thinking and action for the wellbeing of people and society,” says Collier. “The innovation part is the creative thinking and action; the social word is all important, as it promotes a vision for well being of people and society.”

The organisation runs a range of programmes aimed at promoting social innovation by young people. These include the Social Innovation Action Programme in which 6,000 young people participate each year, special regional “speak out” events, training and development for educators, and an annual showcase event in Dublin which attracted a crowd of more than 4,000 earlier this year.

The programmes and activities are all firmly based on the YSI “four C’s” framework. “These are care, cooperate, communicate, and change,” Collier explains. “The process begins with the young people understanding what they care about and then co-operating with others to address the issue, after that they learn how to use communications to inform others about the issue, and ultimately they learn how to bring about change.

“They are very much the same skills used in business innovation. Every child has the capacity to innovate and like every other skill it’s just a question of developing that ability.”

The youngsocialinnovators.ie website is playing an increasingly important role in engaging with and celebrating the work the young people involved in the programme, and it has recently been enhanced as a result of the Vodafone partnership.


Power pillars
"With the help and support of Vodafone Ireland Foundation we have created the Social Innovation Hub, Hub-si, a new online facility for young people to network, share ideas and actions and collaborate to promote social change."

The Vodafone Ireland Foundation supports YSI in a number of ways. “We looked at ways in which we could help and identified what we call four power pillars – areas where Vodafone could bring its power to bear to support YSI,” Hodgess explains.

“The first was our financial power and we help out financially. The second is people power – we have 1,000 employees here in Ireland and we give three charity days per year per employee. Then there is our brand power; we are the fifth biggest brand in the country and we can use that power to get the YSI message out through our various other sponsorships and so on.

“Finally, there is our technology power and we can use this to support YSI in the development of things like Hub-si and to support young social innovators in their projects.”

The foundation also sponsors the technology award at the annual showcase event and is playing a key role in the development of this year's winning entry from St Declan's Community College in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford.

“The team of students are engaged in the design and development of an app which can be used by special needs children in mainstream secondary schools to help them cope better with every-day life. The team hopes the app will work as a substitute for Special Needs Assistants who are now in short supply and, in turn, help the students carry on their normal school day as best they can.

“This could be a super new app and one of our guys in here in Vodafone Ireland is mentoring and helping the group to develop it. He is also going to run sessions with another group who are developing an app. All of the kids are so creative, it’s so refreshing. YSI is a real gem of a charity and we are very pleased to be working with them.”

“I can’t say enough about Vodafone Ireland Foundation,” says Rachel Collier, returning the complement. “I’ve been absolutely amazed; I’ve never seen anything like it in a partnership. They’ve helped us financially, they’ve helped us with their professional approach to communications, their volunteers have been tremendous in helping out at the showcase and other events, as well as in mentoring young innovators and educators, and their technological expertise has been great. ”