Call for new donors as €5.5 million Innovate Together fund reopens for applications
Rethink Ireland has announced a new round of its Innovate Together Fund, designed to help people and communities respond to the challenges of Covid-19
Joan Ellison from We Make Good and Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Rethink Ireland
In the wake of Covid-19, a new €5.5 million fund has been established to help social innovations to continue offering innovative solutions to communities across Ireland.
The fund is being managed by Rethink Ireland, which was previously known as Social Innovation Fund Ireland. While the name may be new, the organisation, led by CEO Deirdre Mortell, has plenty of experience in sourcing and granting funds for community based projects.
“It felt like the right time for a change,” says Mortell. “We are at a point where we need to rethink Ireland in the context of climate change and climate justice, and also in terms of how we move out of this pandemic period. We need to look at how we can build a just transition from the economy and society that we have today into one that is more sustainable.”
Mortell has spent the last four and a half years as CEO, while the organisation has managed and awarded funds connected to youth mental health, education, and equality. Rethink Ireland’s latest fund, the Innovate Together Fund, focuses on supporting emerging innovations that address the current and long-term social, economic and environmental challenges. It opened for a second round of funding from 22nd July.
“The Innovate Together fund was set up in partnership with the Irish government,” explains Mortell. “Through all the contacts we have with our previous Awardees, we were aware of just how much innovation was happening on the ground in response to the changing needs of people and communities all over the country in the early stages of the pandemic.”
Minister Heather Humphreys, Minister for Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands says, “it’s my pleasure to officially launch the second round of the Innovate Together Fund in partnership with Rethink Ireland which will continue to help organisations across the country who contribute so much to our society. My department has pledged to provide €5 million via the Dormant Accounts Fund so that as many organisations as possible can get the help they need to help to continue to support those affected most by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Philanthropy stepping up
“In a crisis, the barriers to innovation can fall away,” says Mortell. “Suddenly, we stop thinking about it and we start doing it. So we wanted to look at ways to put together a fund that would support those innovations to scale and grow.” In addition to the €5 million from the Government, Rethink Ireland has been raising further funds from donors.
The Z Zurich Foundation has pledged €500,000 to support the successful applications and help them to continue the essential work they are currently carrying out for individuals and communities across Ireland.
The fund has also received additional funding contributions from Medtronic, Twitter and Oakfield Trust
Anthony Brennan, CEO, Zurich Ireland says, “this is a hugely proud day for Zurich in Ireland. We have a unique and powerful opportunity thanks to the Z Zurich Foundation to deliver on our global community investment strategy and empower vulnerable Irish communities to better protect themselves from risk, and to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world, particularly to deal with changes caused or accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Through our engagement with Rethink Ireland we are confident this fund will help to create a fairer, more open and sustainable society across Ireland. Together, by embracing innovation, we can find new ways to meet today’s challenges head on with solutions that better serve and protect people across our communities."
The fund has also received additional funding contributions from Medtronic, Twitter and Oakfield Trust.
The need to act and adapt quickly gave rise to innovative solutions, suggests Mortell. “We could see just how many of the organisations we support, which are involved in community work, were being incredibly creative at either continuing to offer their services, or adapting their services so they could make sure that people who needed them were still getting them,” she says.
More than 480 applicants applied in the first wave of funding, which is now being decided. “Reading and considering the Innovate Together applications in the first round has been an incredibly inspiring experience,” says Mortell. “Just to see the level of innovation and the incredible commitment by community-based organisations to keep on going is amazing.”
As well as offering a cash grant to awardees, Rethink Ireland offers business support and training
As an organisation, Rethink Ireland has focused on providing funding for education, youth mental health, and social enterprises in the past. The Innovate Together Fund continues to widen the scope, and applicants for the first wave of funding had diverse backgrounds.
“We had an application from the Irish Island Marine Resource Organisation,” says Mortell. “This is a cooperative of small scale fishers which are based on Ireland's offshore islands, off Donegal, Mayo, Galway, and Cork. With access to offshore islands closed during the lockdown, their markets have collapsed due to the pandemic so many people are now living off the Covid-19 payment.
“Essentially what they're looking at is to adapt a model developed to help small scale fisheries in South Africa. This is an app that enables them to log their daily catch and connect to buyers. The end result is a traceable product with a system that gives more empowerment to the fishers, that is ecologically responsible, and also socially fair.”
Another example of innovation in community-based care is from Care after Prison, which offers a peer mentoring program, allowing people who have been incarcerated to train up and offers support and guidance to those in prison. “The idea is to support the person on their transition out of prison and back into the community,” says Mortell. “They are getting help from someone who has lived through that transition themselves.”
“Up until now that training was always done face-to-face, but the organisation has taken the training online in order to keep the service running. Online peer mentoring training is pretty unique, and on top of that they have also been awarded City & Guilds accreditation. As a development in the service this is phenomenal, because it is simple but it is incredibly impactful and innovative, and it came about as a result of how to adapt to the pandemic,” she says.
As well as offering a cash grant to awardees, Rethink Ireland offers business support and training to ensure that projects make the biggest potential impact. “Providing the funding is part of the picture,” says Mortell, “but we also have an Accelerator Programme that provides skills and training, and collective learning opportunities for the successful Awardees.”
Calling for donations
A key priority of Rethink Ireland is to continue working with corporate partners and philanthropists in order to grow the Innovate Together Fund. “I'm very aware that many companies in the early stages of the pandemic were focused on how this would impact their business and their customers, because they needed to look at their own stability and resilience first,” says Mortell.
“Now we are hearing from companies that have gotten that under control, and are looking for ways to help out with the community impact of Covid-19 around the country. For organisations in this position, we want to point out that our fund is still open for donations. It is endorsed by the Government, we have a rigorous selection process, and there are other opportunities for further CSR involvement as well. So come and talk to us, we can help you with that.”
“The level of commitment to community and innovation that we have seen warms my heart,” she adds. “The support of the corporate and philanthropic community will really help recognise that hard work, and allow it to be impactful.”
Programme in focus: Here Comes the Girls
Developed by Westmeath Community Development, and supported by Rethink Ireland, Bank of America and the Department of Rural and Community Development, Here Comes the Girls is a course-based programme designed to remove the barriers which can both prevent and discourage some females from taking part in training and upskilling. Childcare costs, lack of transport, uncertainty and lack of prior training and/or work experience can all be barriers.
In mid-March, as the pandemic took hold, it became clear that a response to the Covid-19 situation needed to be developed. Westmeath Community Development knew they needed to move courses online and they also realised that by allowing individuals to be upskilled, they could transfer their existing skillset to the healthcare industry to allow them to work as a healthcare assistant.
By early April, a new online course had begun with 35 participants on board. 30 females and 10 males are now taking part in the course, and 25 per cent have already progressed to employment in local nursing homes, hospitals and community healthcare settings. Intake for the course is ongoing for anyone interested in working as a healthcare assistant.