Sparking Impact across Ireland at the National Ploughing Championships

Six Awardees of the €550,000 Ignite Fund were officially announced at the National Ploughing Championships.

17th September 2019: Social Innovation Fund Ireland, in partnership with the Department of
Rural and Community Development and a number of private philanthropic donors, are today delighted to announce the six Awardees of the €550,000 Ignite Fund. At a special event at the 2019 National Ploughing Championships, the six inspiring projects were officially announced by Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development,
Seán Canney, also in attendance.

The Ignite Fund is a €550,000 fund created by Social Innovation Fund Ireland in partnership with several private philanthropists and the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Department of Rural and Community Development provides match funding for all philanthropic funds raised by Social Innovation Fund Ireland from the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Awardees are spread across four separate categories under the themes of ‘Empowering Families’, ‘Youth Resilience’, ‘Harnessing Ability’ and ‘Music to Impact’.

‘Empowering Families’ Awardees

● Community & Family Services (Northside Family Resource Centre Co. Limerick)
Northside FRC’s Community & Family Services works with children and their parents to reduce the impact of trauma, often compounded by external factors like poverty. The work will be greatly enhanced by the Ignite Fund through the recruitment of a Theraplay Therapist who will support parents to take control of their own parenting, reducing dependency on agencies and becoming their child’s ‘therapist’.

● TLC Kidz (Barnardos Dublin)
Barnardos supports children whose well-being is under threat, by working with them, their families and their communities. TLC Kidz is a 12-week group evidence-informed programme for children and mothers in recovery from domestic abuse, delivered by Barnardos.

Youth Resilience Awardee
Supported by Ralph & Maureen Parkes and W2 Foundation

● The Shona Project: Online Community, Co Waterford
The Shona Project aims to educate, empower and inspire today’s Irish girls to become tomorrow’s strong, confident and curious young women. To complement their school’s programmes, they will build an online, interactive platform that provides girls with information, advice and a sense of community.

Harnessing Ability Awardee
Supported by Ralph & Maureen Parkes and W2 Foundation

● Step Ahead (Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, Dublin/Cork)
The Step Ahead Project is a free of charge vocational assessment service that addresses the challenge of returning to paid employment or training for brain injury survivors.

Music to Impact Awardees

● Le Chéile (Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin)
Le Chéile is led by the Royal Irish Academy of Music in partnership with Ulster University. The project develops music ensembles for young people with disabilities using Assistive Music Technology.

St. Agnes’ Community Centre for Music and the Arts, Dublin
St Agnes’ Community Centre for Music and the Arts (CCMA) is an intergenerational centre that is embedded in the Crumlin community and offers affordable access to high- quality arts Programmes. It is an intergenerational, grassroots project that aims to bring all members of the community together to enjoy affordable music classes and other music and arts activities.

Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, Seán Canney TD said ‘’It makes me very proud that my Department, through the Dormant Accounts Funds, supports Social Innovation Fund Ireland in the great work they do. I am delighted to be here today to announce the six Awardees of their Ignite Fund. The initiatives each of these projects are developing are truly amazing and it’s wonderful to see them receive the recognition at today’s ceremony.”

Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Social Innovation Fund Ireland said: “Today’s Awardees come from a wide range of backgrounds and sectors in Irish society but they all have one thing in common, they’re creating meaningful social impact in communities right across the country. From supporting children and mothers recovering from domestic abuse to creating music ensembles for young people with disabilities, each of our Awardees are already carrying out incredibly important work. With the support of the Ignite Fund, we intend to help them achieve even greater things in the months and years ahead. I’d also like to thank our philanthropic donors for all their support to date and this fund would be nothing without them.”

Ralph & Maureen Parkes, philanthropists, and donors to the Ignite Fund said: “We are
delighted to support Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s Ignite Fund, especially the Youth Resilience and Harnessing Ability Awards. Each project and charity are unique in their own way and each are demonstrating a clearly positive social impact on the fabric of Irish life. Our Ignite Awardee’s who come from across Ireland, are already carrying out incredible work and, with the help of this Fund, we look forward to witnessing the great things they go on to achieve.”

Social Innovation Fund Ireland welcomes the launch of National Strategy on Social Enterprise

Social Innovation Fund Ireland welcomes the launch of National Strategy on Social Enterprise

Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) today welcomed the launch of a national strategy on social enterprise launched by Minister Michael Ring, TD, today.

“Social Innovation is having an impact in every county across Ireland and is providing solutions to many critical societal needs. They are also creating valuable employment. Since our establishment three years ago we have supported over 64 social innovations, located in every county in Ireland. In 2018 our Awardees created 97 new jobs and tackled issues in Education, Healthcare, Socioeconomic disadvantage, Gender Inequality and Social Exclusion. The strength of social innovation is that they are often responding to a need in their own community, that with the right funding and supports, could be expanded to other counties across Ireland. This national strategy is important if the untapped potential of this sector is to be realised. And we welcome the Government’s continued commitment to creating the environment in which social innovation can flourish and the supports they need to expand and grow”, she said.

Social Innovation Fund Ireland is Ireland’s largest funder of social innovation in Ireland with a fund of over €28 million. Established three years ago to support social innovations to scale and help accelerate the solving of Ireland’s critical social issues, funding is secured from corporates, foundations, SMEs, families and individuals and matched funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development from the Dormant Funds Account. SIFI supports social innovations to successfully deliver new approaches to meet social needs more effectively and sustainably than those currently available. 

Click here to read the full strategy. For more information on our response and our Social Enterprise Development Fund contact:


Innovation in Education: Gamechanger Dialogue 8-10th May 2019


By Michael Barron

“This gathering of key stakeholders and innovators was unique in both its approach and outcome. The event encouraged and supported broad information sharing and deep collaboration as well as out of the box thinking that I feel could yield real outcomes to benefit student access” –participant

On the stunning West Coast of Ireland between May 8 – 10th we were delighted to bring together an extraordinary group of 70 education innovators and leaders to address urgent issues and to support change in our education system.

We had an inspiring few days at the Burren College of Art, in beautiful Co Clare. Our aim was to create a respectful and creative dialogue for Ireland between education innovators,  policymakers and exceptional individuals who work across the system every day in order to address urgent problems in the existing education system.

The Gamechanger Dialogue was created in partnership with The Teaching Council of Ireland, The National Association for Principals and Deputy Principals and Trinity College Dublin – deeply credible stakeholders with long histories of supporting positive developments in the system.

Participants included representatives from The Department of Education and Skills, The Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla, The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Education and Training Board Ireland, The National Youth Council of Ireland and The National Council for Special Education

Social Innovation Fund Ireland funds a number of pioneering projects in the Education sector, which have developed some exciting insights into enhancing learning opportunities for a wide range of students in both in-school and out-of-school settings. Throughout the three days, these projects presented their work and the context for wider conversations about approaches to inclusive education.

“The opportunity to interact with colleagues from the education spectrum is invaluable. The use of the cluster groups provided an opportunity to develop ideas into actions to be explored.” – Participant

Most of our time together was spent in three thematic cluster groups, which engaged in particular areas of work to foster a more inclusive education system. These were:

  1. .‘Pathways and Inclusion’ (Establishing and supporting viable pathways to and through Basic, Further and Higher Education for people from marginalised communities).
  2. ‘Getting to College’ (Improving progression rates from under-served communities, Junior and Senior Cycle Reforms, integrated working across Departments and new partnerships).
  3. Alternative Education’ (Giving appropriate priority to young people not in mainstream schools, building on models that work and exploring the potential for funding to follow the young person)

Throughout the three days participants worked creatively in these groups to deeply consider issues which are ‘stuck’ in our education system. They moved on to identifying potential area ‘acupuncture points’ and ways to move forward together in these areas.

So what happened?

The value of collaboration should never be underestimated, this event gave me such motivation as I understood that so many others shared the same goals and values” – Participant.

On the first day, we heard about education policy change from international perspectives.

Mark Fuster, Education Policy Analyst from the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) spoke about the need for schools to work together with social services and local communities to make sure interventions are developed to address the underlying causes of poverty and marginalisation, as well as the physical and mental health needs of students and their opportunities for structured learning beyond formal learning time. Here Marc emphasised the need to bring together students, schools and their communities and spoke of the complexity of education systems – whereby the same intervention doesn’t work in every context and hence the need to offer different support alternatives in different national contexts.

Anastasia Crickley – Former Chairperson of UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and founder of Pavee Point, spoke of the problem with discussing educational ‘disadvantage’ and proposed that we place greater emphasis on education as a human right. In her talk, Anastasia highlighted Ireland’s obligations to provide education  – drawing on international treaties and also highlighting the Sustainable Development Goals. She also spoke about the need to see education as ‘life-long’, an approach which would better support learners to enter and exit the system in response to the reality of their lives. She emphasisedalso spoke of the need for greater parity of esteem between policymakers, teachers, learners, families and communities – a theme which emerged throughout the event.

Michael Salvatori is the Registrar and CEO of the Ontario School of Teachers. He spoke about transforming the education system in Ontario through a number of phases. These include teacher wellbeing, focusing on mental health (including addiction) across the school system and celebrating diversity. Ontario has introduced an innovative teacher education module that incorporates contextual knowledge, health, indigenous communities, transitions, diversity and collaborative school culture.


We also heard from Professor Pat Dolan, Dr Cormac Forkan and Dr Tanja Kovacic from the National University of Ireland Galway, who presented early findings of an evaluation of Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s Education Fund and awardees. The researchers emphasised that they are taking an ‘Emancipatory Research’ approach, where the focus is on making the research user-friendly, producing usable knowledge and evidence. Key messages from the research with awardees to date include 1. Alternative ways of learning are being used effectively; 2. Mentorship is key – particularly by those who have had similar experience; 3. The focus is on personal development skills; 4. Caring and supportive relationships with staff and other participants is a key; 5. Projects act as sanctuaries for learners.

On the final day participants worked with facilitators to develop a series of 14 action points and plans to be brought forward from the Game Changer Dialogue.  In identifying these actions, participants highlighted a vision for inclusion in the area, the challenges faced and the structure or vehicle needed to deliver the change. They also established who the relevant stakeholders are and committed to working together further to realise the change. These 14 action points will form the basis of the forthcoming Gamechanger Dialogue Action Report, which in turn will be used to develop further actions.

We will leave the final words to participants at the event, who said the following:

“This event enabled a much needed discussion about crucial societal topic by bringing together all key actors in the area of education. Respect, dialogue and appreciation for other people’s views and experiences were key drivers of this event. Walking the Burren, discussing and thinking made this event special!”

“The Gamechanger event provided a real opportunity to feel and witness the passion that exists in our country to do the best we possibly can for every single person within our education system; pupil, learner, teacher and policy maker alike”.

“The Gamechanger Dialogue in education event was exactly as it promised – an opportunity to change the dialogue in education . “leave no one behind” was a stand out comment for me from the 3 days and an aspiration that with the will and cross sectorial support is very possible”.

“The event and location gave us the time and space to step out of our respective corners of education, have a meaningful dialogue about what positive change is needed and take the first steps together before leaving. It was hugely encouraging”.

“An enlightening handful of days, the game changer dialogue delivers on the experience of facing the difficult truths of the education system head on”.

Ireland Welcomes a New Mná na hÉireann – Women of Ireland Fund

Ireland Welcomes a New Mná na hÉireann – Women of Ireland Fund










Social Innovation Fund Ireland, in partnership with Bank of America and the Department of Rural and Community Development, are today pleased to announce the Mná na hÉireann, Women of Ireland Fund. The new fund, which is the first of its kind in Ireland has been established to support charitable and social enterprise organisations that seek to enhance the economic mobility of women, by investing in organisations that provide training, upskilling, education and other services directly to disadvantaged women.

According to figures from the Central Statistics Office Ireland, the gender participation gap in the Irish labour market is one of the widest in Europe, compared to other EU-15 countries. The female labour force participation rate is 14% lower than their male counterparts, despite women making up more than half of third level graduates in Ireland.

In addition to grant funding, successful organisations will receive a place on an Accelerator Programme, which includes bespoke training from experts across the private, non-profit and public sector. Employees from the bank will also provide mentoring and further tailored training to the successful organisations. The Programme is specifically designed to equip charities and social enterprises with the skills to expand their business knowledge, drive growth and strengthen their impact across Ireland.

Launching the new ‘Mná na hÉireann, Women of Ireland’ Fund, The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “I believe diversity and equality in the workplace lead to better results for employers and businesses and the clients or communities they serve. I am really pleased to see Bank of America collaborating with Social Innovation Fund to provide training and upskilling to women experiencing disadvantage. The €1.8 million fund has the potential to create a lasting impact and transform the lives of the women involved and add value to our society. This initiative also complements the work being done by Government to reduce the gender pay gap in Ireland and ensure greater representation of women across all sectors of Irish society.”

Bank of America has a longstanding commitment to improving economic mobility by building strong communities. The bank is working to effect positive change and sustainable growth through a variety of local and global initiatives across Ireland, including partnerships with Music Generation, South Dublin County Partnership and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.

Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, Seán Canney TD said, “The Department of Rural and Community Development is delighted to be a partner of this initiative. Every euro that is donated in private philanthropy to Social Innovation Fund Ireland is matched by the Department through the Dormant Accounts Fund. With this approach, we are helping to support charities and social enterprises to maximise their impact across Ireland.’’

Anne Finucane, Chairman, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Europe and Vice Chairman, Bank of America, said: “Fostering sustainable growth, economic mobility and social progress within the communities in which we operate is at the heart of our business. This new fund aims to support organisations which provide women with the tools needed to gain sustainable employment. We are pleased to be partnering with Social Innovation Fund Ireland and The Irish Government to achieve this goal.”

Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Social Innovation Fund Ireland said: “Our aim is to support women who find it hard to access the labour market into decent and sustainable work by supporting relevant organisations to empower women by improving their skills, enabling them to seek higher quality, more challenging, and more fulfilling long-term employment.

“With the establishment of this pioneering fund and working closely with Bank of America and the Department of Rural and Community Development, we aim to empower 1,000 women to find and secure sustained employment over the course of three years.’’

Organisations wishing to apply to the Mná na hÉireann, Women of Ireland Fund can find details on the Social Innovation Fund website with the application period open from today until 18 April 2019.

Record-breaking €10M Fund Rewards

Projects Improving Lives for Young People In Ireland

10th December 2018: Social Innovation Fund Ireland, today announced the winners of 2018 Youth Fund.

Worth €10 million, the Youth Fund is the largest Social Innovation Fund to date. The Fund is made up of 50% private philanthropic funding, self-raised by 15 Awardees. The other half comes from Government, through the Department of Rural and Community Development from the Dormant Accounts Fund.

The 2018 Youth Fund, includes the Youth Education Fund and Youth Mental Health Fund and was designed to support projects addressing the most prevalent issues facing young people in Ireland.

The Awardees each receive a multi-year grant and will also be granted a place on Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s ‘Game-Changer’ Programme which includes training, capacity building and participation in a three year academic evaluation. Proving and improving their impact, these projects have strong potential to be replicated across Ireland with a view to creating a community of innovators who have the collective ability to create systemic change.

Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Social Innovation Fund Ireland said: “Firstly, I’d like to congratulate all of today’s Awardees. Each one of the projects awarded today are helping change the lives of children and young people in Ireland and being able to support them with these new funds is fantastic.

“For the younger generations of Ireland, education and mental health are closely intertwined and supporting individuals who struggle in one of these areas will inherently support them in the other. We all know that if we struggle at school, we feel bad; and if we struggle with our mental health, we can’t learn. We were blown away by the breadth of work each of the awardees is undertaking and we can’t wait to support them to deepen and spread their impact over the next 3 years.’’

Terence O’Rourke, Board Director, Social Innovation Fund Ireland said: “Today’s awardees are a fantastic depiction of the amazing work non-profit organisations are carrying out across the country on a daily basis. There is everything from music-based projects to help young people deal with anxiety to projects promoting the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education for future career opportunities.

“All of these projects are making a real difference in supporting young people in Ireland to achieve their very best and I’m proud to play a part in it.”

Social Innovation Fund Ireland are Hiring!

At just 4 years old, we have launched 14 Funds and supported 61 organisations to date. Since our first year of operations, we’ve partnered with companies such as Google, Medtronic, Mason Hayes & Curran, and IPB Insurance,  as well as SME’s, trusts, families and individuals. In 2017, we saw our income increase five-fold and our grant expenditure increase eight-fold.

We have recently strengthened our Board through 2 new appointments. We are now looking for driven people to join as we build a world-class organisation that will create the world’s best eco-system for social innovation – right here in Ireland. 

We are seeking to hire for a new range of roles including:

Recruiting these roles will enable us to lead the way and deepen the impact of our growing portfolio of awardees.

FoodCloud aims to double impact over next 3 years following new investment from AIB and Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s Growth Fund

Social Enterprise FoodCloud will aim to double its impact over the next three years after securing significant investment from AIB, with part matched Government funding through Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI).

Over the next three years, AIB has committed to investing €500,000 per annum in FoodCloud. This will be further supported by financial and non-financial supports to the value of €330,000 per annum for 3 years from SIFI’s new Growth Fund which has been established by the Department of Rural and Community Development from the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Growth Fund invests in established organisations that have completed one of Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s programmes and are ready to secure significant growth capital to achieve significant scale and deepen their impact.

Founded in 2013 by Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, FoodCloud is the first company to receive investment from the new SIFI Growth Fund. The funding will be used to invest in the further development of FoodCloud’s bespoke technology platform, the expansion of FoodCloud Hubs and the development of new services to support the redistribution of surplus food.

After a period of very fast growth over the last 5 years, this funding will allow FoodCloud to invest in future proofing of their bespoke retailer technology in Ireland, building a resilient tech solution that can support the projected growth in 2018-2020. The funding will also support the expansion of FoodCloud Hubs to deliver an improved service to both charity and Food Industry partners.

Seán Canney, T.D, Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, said: “FoodCloud is a wonderful example of the impact of social enterprise in Ireland. A simple concept to match retailers with surplus food and charities has seen some 40 million meals distributed to date. Food donations provide essential support to charities by enabling them to save money on their food bills, in some instances up to 80%, which they instead can redirect to improving their services to the people they support. I am delighted that my Department, through Social Innovation Fund Ireland, can part-match AIB’s significant investment, which will help FoodCloud broaden its reach and deepen its impact.”
Iseult Ward, Co-CEO, FoodCloud said: “The investment from AIB and SIFI through the new Growth Fund is transformational for our company. The multi-year partnership gives us security and certainty in relation to our fundraising income, allowing us to take a longer-term view, focusing on activating our plans for future growth, to realise our targets as set out in our strategic plan and freeing up the resources that would previously focused on fundraising alone.

We’ve ambitious targets for the future aiming for a 100% increase in food rescued, leading to a 100% reduction CO2 emission and an increase in beneficiaries to approximately 130,000 people across Ireland.”

Jim O’Keefe, Head of Financial Solutions Group, AIB said: “We are always looking for new ways to back Irish businesses and organisations that are making a difference for communities across Ireland, and have recently launched a nationwide community investment programme, focused on the social themes of Youth and Education and Innovative Social Entrepreneurship. We’re delighted to partner with Social Innovation Fund Ireland and its new Growth Fund and to back its first awardee, FoodCloud, to not only continue their fantastic work but also help them expand and evolve as an organisation that’s having real impact in Irish society.”

Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) said: “Through the THINKTECH Fund with Google in 2017, we worked with FoodCloud to clarify its strategy, define its challenges, and set out its strategic plan for the coming years. With the support of the Growth Fund, FoodCloud will be able to fully realise their impact targets as set out in their strategic plan. We’re looking forward to working with FoodCloud again in helping them achieve transformative change for food charities and organisations across the country and bring their social enterprise to the next level of impact and viability.’’

Separately, AIB has announced that it is directly investing €100,000 into FoodCloud as well as establishing an employee volunteering programme for FoodCloud as a result. AIB’s 10,000 staff in communities across the country will have the chance to volunteer with FoodCloud. AIB is tapping into its branch network to help drive charity awareness and recruitment for FoodCloud. The partnership will also help drive a direct increase in food donations to charities by creating an awareness of FoodCloud’s work within the Irish Food Manufacturing sector

Proved your pilot? Good now FOCuS

Proved your pilot? Good now FOCuS

Eoghan Ryan, Social Impact Manager, Social Innovation Fund Ireland 

In my last article, I identified the importance of doing something about that big idea you have, but doing it with some form of solid foundation. Easy right? In the second half of 2018, Social Innovation Fund Ireland are supporting 33 organisations on our six-month Accelerator. Some are mature organisations looking to scale and some are early stage organisations piloting new ideas, but we’ve found a common approach ensures all are moving forward on the same straight-ish line to their ideality (thanks to Karl Aherne for that analogy). This approach is synopsised as assess, plan, do (‘measure, do again’ will be the subject of my next article) and I’ve created a simplified tool to help you first assess your organisation’s current stage of development. I call it – Start with FOCuS!

Start with Five Key Areas and draw your FOCuS Wheel

Let me start by saying there are loads of tools like this and I’m not proclaiming this is a silver bullet. The FOCuS Wheel is based on a common coaching tool – Wheel of Life – that gets you thinking about where you are strong and where you need to work on across your organisation. This tool challenges you to assess five key areas – Fundraising, Operations, Communications, u-The Leader, and Social Impact capacity – by asking some fundamental questions about the stage of development in each area. By filling in the quadrants of your wheel you should have a clearer picture of where your organisation is strong and areas that require attention.

I believe a wheel is a nice metaphor for any business – profit or non-profit. Consider the following barely believable scenario; a sturdy, evenly-balanced tricycle will get you to the Tour de France finish line better than the large, rickety racer. Sometimes the racer wins a stage but over the course of the Tour it breaks down multiple times ensuring the tricycle wins in the end! What I’m trying to articulate here is that the more you assess in the beginning, the more robust your plan, the greater your ultimate impact even though it may seem like it takes a bit longer.

What do I do now and how do I prioritise?

After you have completed the exercise you’re going to have a largely uneven looking wheel. Don’t panic, it’s always like this. You’ll also have a to-do list as long as your arm. So where should you start? Consider the paraphrased words of the successful JP Morgan – ‘I start my day with a long list of to-dos. Then I circle the three activities that I believe will give me the highest pay-off. If I only do these three things well, it’s been a good day’. Use your wheel to prioritise what needs to get done. I’m not suggesting you need to drop everything to improve the shallow parts of your wheel but giving them more of your time is a start. Spend time thinking about how you can improve those areas, jot some actions down and prioritise their completion. Be sure to track their progress and celebrate when they’ve been ticked off.

Don’t forget about the ‘u’

In the craziness of trying to balance your wheel, it’s easy to forget about yourself as a leader. Don’t! You are the driving force of what you’re trying to achieve and you need to ensure you’re burning petrol not oil in your engine. Ensure you spend time looking after yourself and keeping yourself full of energy and ideas. At the end of the day, you’re the person driving the organisation towards its vision. You are its prized commodity which needs to be at its best at all times. Take time out to strategise, work on yourself and implement innovative ideas. This will ultimately lead to a more balanced, supported organisation that exceeds its targets and maximises its impact.


Can THINKTECH be the catalyst for Ireland’s Tech for Good eco-system?

Can THINKTECH be the catalyst for Ireland’s Tech for Good ecosystem?

Eoghan Ryan, Social Impact Manager, Social Innovation Fund Ireland 

Technology at the heart of social innovation was what first attracted me to Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) back in 2016. I liked the idea of tackling social issues and spreading the solutions quickly. In the last decade technology has proved a key enabler to scaling social innovations as best demonstrated by Khan Academy in Education, and closer to home – Coderdojo. However, my overall impression was that Coderdojos were more the exception than the rule and adopting technology innovations were rare in Ireland’s social sector. It begged me to ask the question – how is it that vibrant Tech for Good ecosystems existed side by side with strong technology hubs in San Francisco and London, yet the same could not be said for Dublin? Was it an innately cultural thing, or simply a matter of joining the dots better?

In 2016 Google Ireland, together with SIFI, took the brave initiative to stimulate Ireland’s first €1 million Tech for Good Fund – THINKTECH. We were tasked with testing the Irish market to find the best technology-based innovations and back them with a combination of cash grants, business supports and a bespoke accelerator programme. I like to describe this venture philanthropic model as ‘making the money go further’ much like a venture capital fund would monitor/enhance a technology investment.

The search for tested ideas taught us two things: One – there was a significant pipeline of technology-based solutions across the country and; Two – there were a number of people with ideas looking for that first bit of start-up funding. By the end of the search and due diligence process, three main THINKTECH winners were chosen that spanned the Education (iScoil), Ageing (ALONE), and Food waste (FoodCloud) sectors. These organisations were awarded €220,000 to be spent on further technology development and a range of business supports across a twelve-month period. They were also awarded a place on a bespoke six-month accelerator. Diagnostics were firstly completed and the cash grants were tied to performance milestone triggers to ensure each organisation worked at a pace akin to a venture capital investment.

Conversations, stories and joined up thinking

Before the Accelerator commenced I was intrigued as to how our programme compared with international equivalents. Did our design differ from other non-profit or for-profit accelerators? I partnered and visited accelerators in San Francisco and London to share ideas and gain insights where applicable. I was encouraged to learn that Ireland’s pipeline of ideas and robust investment model compared favourably. So the question still remained – why was Dublin/Ireland so far behind other Tech for Good movements?

One of the key similarities between all of our accelerators was the focus on storytelling. Throughout the THINKTECH Accelerator each winner worked tirelessly on building up a ‘warchest’ of stories and numbers. Whether it’s a coffee meeting with one person, presenting to a boardroom of directors, or speaking at a conference, it’s important to be able to convey your vision, technology and social impact in a way that engages with the audience. As an ecosystem maybe we’re not joining up our thinking sufficiently, mapping the sector, creating a compelling narrative that everyone – from budding innovators to funders – can get excited about. Maybe we’re not telling the right story, to the right people, in the right way?

Building the narrative

On the technology conference circuit, I consistently hear the narrative that Ireland is the perfect ‘testbed’ for innovation. Small enough to test ideas quickly, but big enough to adequately validate them. A critical mass of knowledge and expertise is met with the critical mass of people and capital to package innovations and ship them off to the rest of the world. If it’s good enough for day to day innovation then there’s a compelling argument that it’s good enough for social innovation!

Add inspiring lead innovators (Iseult Ward of FoodCloud being a shining example) to the mix and the holy trinity of people, knowledge and capital should provide for a world-class ecosystem that supports social innovation. So if we build a compelling narrative, champion the amazing innovators, provide access to a model/knowledge, what’s the elephant in the room that’s still needed?

The final piece of the Jigsaw

Capital (or funding) is always the word on innovators lips as if it’s the secret sauce that ensures success. Over the last decade, a number of sizeable Government initiatives and philanthropic donations have been dedicated to tackling social issues with sometimes moderate or no success. The case for the right amount of investment at the right stage of development is something both the Tech for Good & social sectors needs to champion to attract a new, smarter capital market.

One of the ways to attract this new capital market is to tell the story of THINKTECH’s investment in Tech for Good. SIFI’s Accelerator programme has armed FoodCloud, ALONE and iScoil with the technology, organisational capacity and strategic plans for efficient and sustainable growth.

In 2017 FoodCloud’s new technology has facilitated the increase of their food partners and charities by over 150% thus increasing food rescued month on month. By 2020 they aim to rescue 36 million meals annually. That’s a big dent in the 1 million tonnes we waste annually in Ireland.

ALONE have almost doubled the number of older people supported to 1,500 and their technology has facilitated them to support another 1,500 older people previously unreachable. By 2022 they aim to support 36,000 older people across Ireland to age at home – that’s one-third of the population deemed suitable to avail of their assistive technologies.


Ireland’s Tech for Good ecosystem has the potential to be world class but a number of things need to first align. We need to consistently back technology-based innovations with start-up funding. Many of these will fail and that’s OK. The successful innovations also require support in the form of expert mentors to iterate and validate their solutions making them ready for the next stage. These validated innovations then need further capital and support to maximise their impact and scale across Ireland. This roadmap needs to be clearly communicated across the country to ensure the ecosystem is always interconnected. And lastly, we need to consistently tell the success stories of technology-based innovations solving social issues in Ireland.

The call to action is there for Ireland’s indigenous or multinational technology companies to partner with the Irish Government through SIFI’s match fund and back early/growth stage innovations over a period of three years. Backing this pipeline and championing the ensuing success stories will create an organic capital market for further investment long into the next decade placing Ireland’s Tech for Good ecosystem side by side with its international counterparts.

Contact or to find out more about how you can partner with us. 

Don’t just talk about your idea, do something about it!

Don’t just talk about your idea, do something about it!

Eoghan Ryan Social Impact Manager at Social Innovation Fund Ireland

In late 2013 I returned home after six years in Australia and the first thing I did was to take a walk around my native city of Cork. I was shocked by the widespread dereliction and vacancy across many of its main streets. I developed an idea and was going to do something about it. I sent emails to Councillors, chewed the ear off my parents and anyone else who would listen. Fast forward five months and I was still talking about it! The best advice I ever received was ‘Eoghan I’m sick of listening to you, you just need to pick a site and start’. This was the humble beginning of Reimagine Cork. Four years later we’ve completed over forty artistic installations across the city and are scaling our idea into other Cork County towns.

In my day job with Social Innovation Fund Ireland, we back non-profit organisations with growth capital and supports so they can scale across Ireland and maximise impact. But what about the innovators with ideas only? We’ve started to invest in ideas only through SOUP Dublin, but there’s always more people who need support/guidance on how to get their idea up and running. Recent Catalyst events prove there’s a pipeline of ideas but the ‘how’ to get started can be daunting. In the absence of an obvious social innovation hub for people with ideas (refer to my previous article), what should people do to ensure their idea is at least piloted and all that energy doesn’t dissipate? The below are the three tips I’d share with anyone looking to get their idea off the ground.

Find a mentor you trust

The person who told me to shut up and pilot the Reimagine Cork concept immediately became my mentor. I trusted their judgement and used it as a compass. Whether you’re conceptualising an idea or delivering your solution day to day, you always need someone to soundboard off to ensure you’re heading on the right path. Finding a mentor who knows when to listen and when to advise is a powerful asset that can often save you heading down multiple rabbit holes!

Build a team and pilot your idea

Whilst it’s important to pilot your idea quickly, if I had my time over again I’d have built a more rounded team from the start. Matching diversely skilled people from your network to a solution that aims to tackle societal issues is more appealing than you think. Assess where you are not personally strong, map out the roles you need for a tight, well-rounded team and start recruiting. As soon as you have your team, pilot your idea.

Measure, iterate and go again

You’ll never get everything right the first time around and quite frankly there’s never a perfect time to start (maybe you haven’t built that perfect team yet). Pick a date to launch your pilot and stick to it. On a warm summer’s evening in 2014, we piloted Reimagine Cork by cleaning graffiti off traffic signs on North Main Street. People stared at us, some passed smart remarks, but most were appreciative of what we were trying to do. We measured the reaction of shopkeepers and passersby,  tweaked a few things and went again.

The old Samuel Beckett phrase resonates with me when I think back about those first few pilot sessions – “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Often it’s the lessons we learn from failing at the beginning that help us better develop ideas and turn them into robust solutions that leave a lasting impact on our society.