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”.

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.


Should I Apply to the Resilient Communities Fund?

Thinking about applying for our Resilient Communities Fund but not sure whether your project would be a good fit? It’s a fair question – obviously these kinds of applications can be quite time consuming, and we know how busy you all are! Unfortunately we don’t have a way at this time of knowing whether you’ll win (where did we put that crystal ball…), but hopefully this will help you work towards your own understanding of whether it’s worth your time to apply.

To begin, take a good look at the fund page, particularly at the kind of projects we are looking for, the fund criteria, and the eligibility guidelines. If you meet our eligibility standards and can show us through your application that your project fits well within all of our standard criteria, that is a really good start. From there, the more advantageous criteria you can demonstrate, the better your chances of success will be. Finally, remember that your chances of winning will also ultimately depend on the content and quality of the other applications we receive – and we expect there will be some high-quality, well-established projects in that stack.


While most of the advantageous criteria listed is pretty straightforward, we have had a few questions on “projects that can demonstrate economic, social and environmental impacts.” So what does that mean? Well, we like to view the social, the environmental, and the economic aspects as the three “pillars” holding up community resilience. While your project doesn’t have to address all three pillars in order to be considered, you should weigh in how many pillars you do have, and how strong they are, when thinking about whether you should apply. How would your project compare to others that are able to demonstrate two or even three pillars?

Pillars of Community Resilience








Here are some international examples to give you a sense of how we would categorise projects in terms of pillars:

Social & Environmental


Environmental & Economic

Worn Again

Economic & Social

Pomegranate KitchenHireup

Environmental, Social & Economic

FoodCycleLittle Yellow BirdLittle Blue Towels


Hopefully that was helpful (and didn’t leave you feeling more confused). If you have more questions please get in touch at – we’re always happy to chat things through with you.

Application woes

Been staring blankly at your application form for ages, wondering what on earth it is we’re asking you to write? You are not alone! While we do try our hardest to be clear (I promise), this is no easy task to accomplish considering all the information we need from you. It doesn’t help that the same language tends to be used across granting organisations, but with different meanings – leaving us all with headaches in the end.











With that in mind, to try and give you a better understanding of what it is we mean when we use certain terms, we’ve done you up a little glossary here, and a case study showing the glossary words in action here.

Scared by the video portion of the application? Don’t be! We are honestly not looking for the next great film here; we just want to get a richer, more personal sense of who you are and what you’re doing. We know not everyone has done something like this before, so we’ve made you a five step guide to uploading video here, along with a sample video here, so you can get a better sense of what we’re asking of you.

Finally, bearing in mind that we here at SIFI have now read over 400(!) applications, we have some general pointers for you to keep in mind when you’re applying for any of our funds.

  • Go through the information & criteria on the page of the fund you’re applying for before you start
  • Answer the questions asked with clear, concise language
  • Keep the fund criteria in mind when answering the questions
  • Keep to the word count
  • Avoid copy-pasting answers from your website or previous applications (it shows!)
  • Answer questions on behalf of your project, not the applying organisation (where different)
  • Use research or pilot results to explain why your solution is needed
  • Use facts and figures
  • Use examples to further explain your answers
  • Cite your sources when using outside research*

*Citations are helpful when you’re making a claim, such as “98% of all dogs are illiterate.” Where did you get that figure from? Don’t assume that information you know will already be known by us. We don’t require any particular format for citations, linking to the article or paper the information is pulled from is perfect.

Still feeling confused? That’s okay! Get in touch with us at and we will do our best to help.


Education for all: Catalysing change through Education Innovation

Education for All: Catalysing change through Educational Innovation

TCD conference, 6th October 2017

By Deirdre Mortell and Martina Von Richter

Deirdre speaking at Trinity Access 21

What do we want?

Education for all – inclusive, high standards, and ready for life!

Education that helps us to create the Ireland we want to live and work in – prosperous, healthy, and with strong sustainable communities with heart.

What do we need to do to get there? 

We need to build a movement of 21st century educational pioneers. These are the innovators that we rely on to show Ireland what is possible, but even more important, HOW to build it.

That’s you.

The movement needs support

• Peer network

• Expertise and inputs

• Proof of impact (over time)

• Visibility to spread the word.

We need to remember that education is not just a system with robots in it churning out an economy BUT it’s made up of and focused on young people who ONLY DO THIS ONCE. So we need to look after them. Bring well-being much closer to the core of the system – mental & physical health. Resilience is a skill, not a talent, it’s a skill that we can all learn, and a muscle that we can strengthen with use.

We have a long way to go but we have some assets to help us along the way.

Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s Education Fund has set out to support some of the innovators in Education. We will announce 10 projects on October 24th that we believe use innovative approaches to tackle educational disadvantage (in the very broad sense – including through mental health issues, intellectual disability, as well as poverty or disadvantage).We will provide them with the tools they need to grow and spread their approaches over the next 3 years.

What holds back innovations from spreading?

MONEY. DATA that proves SOCIAL IMPACT. The fact that nobody knows about them. Help when problems hit – as they always do.

We will offer them:

  • Grants that enable them to reach more people
  • World class external evaluation that will ensure that they are collecting the right data so that they can demonstrate the impact of their work to funders, parents, communities.
  • A peer problem solving network – something like what you have here today.


    We believe that great ideas with the right tools and the right leaders can make transformative change. And supporting those leaders  – is what we will be doing.

    In the end it is about people… it is about you. 

Local Problems, Global Issues – SDGs and you.

What are the SDG’s Anyway?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also known as the Global Goals, are a set of 17 interconnected goals aimed at making the world a healthier, cleaner, and more equitable place for everyone. Spearheaded by the United Nations and unanimously adopted by the UN’s 193 Member States in 2015, the SDGs are a call to action for governments, civil society, the private sector, and ordinary citizens to create and implement sustainable solutions of any size for the world’s biggest problems.The SDG agenda covers everything from socio-economic to governance to environmental issues, with each goal encompassing its own range of targets.

Why are the SDG’s important for our Animate Application?

The SDGs are unique as they contain the first set of targets for Global Health to incorporate both developing and developed countries. The SDGs empower and call on every citizen to make the change they want to see. Both Social Innovation Fund Ireland and Medtronic believe that communities around Ireland are coming up with innovative solutions to the issues facing them locally. There is no reason these solutions cannot scale up or contribute to larger solutions to global health issues and inequalities. So while the SDGs have a global view, addressing issues on a local level first can facilitate growth and impact both nationally and internationally.

How do I relate my project to the SDGs?

For our Animate 2017 Healthy Community Awards, we are looking for your project’s alignment with any of the targets falling within SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being).  Here’s a few examples of the kinds of projects and ideas we’re looking for and how they correspond to SDG 3 targets:  

  • TrimTots (SDG 3.d: risk reduction)

UK social enterprise TrimTots is a healthy lifestyle programme targeting preschool children and their families for the prevention and treatment of obesity. The community based intervention utilises nutrition, art, music, and cooking to establish healthy dietary and activity patterns for the whole family.  

  • Ninja Riders –  (SDG 3.6: reduction deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents)  

Ninja Riders is Currently being piloted in Milan, it engages young people in participative communities through a set of gamified digital tools. This digital innovation identifies young driver attitudes and behaviour to promote behavioural change, resulting in safer roads for everyone.

  • Seniorpreneurs (SDG 3.4: promotion of mental health and well-being)

SeniorPreneurs   is an organisation based in Australia designed to encourage senior entrepreneurship through the use of networking, training, and business coaching. Senior entrepreneurs enjoy a wide range of benefits shown to increase their quality of life resulting in improved mental health and well-being.


Start with ‘Measurement’ in mind

Eoghan Stack & Deirdre Mortell at Day 1 of THINKTECH Accelerator

On January 5th, Day 1 of the THINKTECH Accelerator, our Awardees hit the reset button. A new year meant being open to new thinking. Everyone had committed to a number of technology based milestones to be completed by June so the pressure was on. Helen McBreen of Atlantic Bridge Ventures set the tone for the voyage that lay ahead with key learnings from her days leading the NDRC Accelerators – “think-plan-do” & “always be learning”.

We often charge head first into projects but the simplicity of having a well developed plan that’s rooted in simple milestones with measurable metrics can be a defining task that sets you up best for success.

Pick a metric and set SMART goals

The day continued with a technology planning workshop run by Alex French, successful technology consultant of Bitbuzz & FrockAdvisor. Again the core messaging was clear and consistent;

  • Plan your technology project into sequential tasks (For example an app, Tinder for Towns, where people swipe left/right against proposed ideas for your city)
  • Nominate what you’re testing for and define what success looks like (People like ‘street swipe’ functionality)
  • Pick a metric that best measures the success you want to achieve (90% positive user scores from test period)

The commitment to measurement isn’t just the collection of data, but drives an organisation’s vision, plan and goal setting. It also allows organisations to stop and ask ‘are we using the right metric and do we need to change’.

Avoid the trap of saying ‘I wish I had measured that’

The day concluded with a focused fundraising talk from Eoghan Stack of the DCU Ryan Academy, and Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s CEO, Deirdre Mortell. As CEO of the One Foundation, which spent €85 million over 10 years funding a number of non-profit organisations solving social issues, she always placed an early focus on social impact. Questions like the below focused organisations to start thinking immediately about social impact;

  • What does success look like in 10 years? and,
  • What would you need to measure now to ensure you got there

When defining success there’s often a need to track both direct and indirect social impact. For an example of direct impact, an ageing organisation may measure the number of older people supported by volunteers &/or app technology. An indirect impact example may involve a change in attitude towards older people living at home longer. There are clear differences in ownership of impact from the above examples but to measure one and not the other (often the indirect) would be a disservice to the impact your organisation is influencing.

No time like the present!

So lesson 1 from the Accelerator was crystal clear. Whether it’s project planning, technology development or social impact, the importance of selecting SMART metrics and committing to consistent measurement can prove crucial to telling the story of your organisation’s success.

By Eoghan Ryan, THINKTECH Fund Manager

What is Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s Education Fund?

Ireland is renowned for having one of the most highly educated workforces in Europe. Yet, the education system that delivers this is not without its faults, leading to regular media debates about whether it fit for purpose for the 21st century. It is clear that some groups of students are just not able to succeed in the system as it is currently designed, as the specific challenges that some students face are just not catered for – whether by design or due to lack of resources. These challenges may include socio – economic circumstances, physical or mental health issues, or a variety of other reasons that may impede someone from thriving in the education system when they are in competition with other students.

Social Innovation Fund Ireland’s Education Fund recognises that while these challenges exist, communities and organisations around Ireland have identified innovative solutions to address these issues. Whether these solutions are school-based programmes, out-of-school programmes, or run by third level institutions, these projects are aligned in promoting educational advancement and creating a culture where educational disadvantage should not hinder educational opportunities. With our Education Fund, we intend to support these solutions to grow and impact as many people as possible.

Some examples of the kinds of solutions we are looking for are listed below:

  • Academic Assistance & Guidance: “College Possible” in Minnesota, USA provides academic support in disadvantaged schools throughout ACT and SAT test preparation, provides academic assistance, financial aid consulting, guidance in the college transition and support to college degree attainment.
  • “Peer Support and Creating Supportive Environment”,  College Advisory Corps in North Carolina, USA positions first generation graduates from low-income or under-represented second level schools as College advisors, creating an awareness of the cultural possibility of education.
  • Apprentices or Training: Other projects may concentrate on assisting students, who are not academically focused, on achieving accredited skills through apprenticeships and training courses.  

Interested in applying to our Education Fund? A few points to note…

It is not a requirement to offer QQI level 6 accreditation as part of your solution, but you must be able to demonstrate that your work acts as a bridge or pathway to this accreditation.

The education fund is open to all projects that use pro-active intervention with second level students to keep them on the Education ladder.

You can find more information, the detailed criteria, and how to apply on our website here:


Aisling Redmond

Social Innovation Fund Ireland