Press Releases

'What social enterprise can do for you'

December 13, 2014
Release Date: 
December 13, 2014

An Irish Times special report on social entrepreneurship highlights the work of Ashoka Fellows in Ireland

On 13th December, the Irish Times published a series of articles on social enterprise and innovation in their print and online issues. The article series revisited an Irish Times special report, Blueprint for a Smarter Society (published 26th October 2013) asking writers to imagine a future of "engaged citizens in a smart society and not just alienated workers in a smart economy."

December's article series included 'What social enterprise can do for you,' which examined the concept of social entrepreneurs as "people who show that by thinking and acting in a different way, communities can be improved." Written by Barry Flinn, the article highlighted the work of two social entrepreneurs working in Ireland: Thorkil Sonne, Founder of Specialisterne, a recruitment company for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum, and Neil McCabe, a fireman from Dublin who has turned Kilbarrack fire station into the first carbon-negative station in the world through his sustainability model, the Green Plan.

Another featured article, 'Solving the biggest social problems requires a willingness to fail,' spoke with social entrepreneurs Krystian Fikert, Founder of mental health centre MyMind, and Emma Murphy, Founder of the Turning Institute, about the challenges that many social enterprises face during the start-up phase. According to Fikert, several near-failures taught him valuable lessons about how to achieve growth and - crucially - how to successfully apply for funding: "Don't try to expand too quickly... Ask questions. Don't be afraid to look for help."

Thorkil Sonne, Neil McCabe and Krystian Fikert are Ashoka Fellows working in Ireland.

Firefighter David Walsh at Kilbarrack fire station in Dublin, where his colleague Neil McCabe introduced 40 micro wind turbines to produce all the electricity it needed. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

All of the articles can be accessed online for free. Visit the Irish Times website to read the articles in full.

Irish Students are the first outside of the USA to experience Playworks Phenomenon!

October 22, 2013
Release Date: 
October 22, 2013

An exciting new chapter begins for some very lucky children and their teachers in Galway, Ireland today! The life changing Playworks programme will be introduced to the country for the very first time in a playground in Newcastle in the heart of the city of Galway this morning. This programme which has brought joy, security, peace and understanding to thousands of school playgrounds across the United States will today take its first steps outside of the US with the help of The Galway Education Centre, under the direction of the visionary Bernard Kirk and in partnership with Ashoka Ireland through their Change Nation initiative.

The children of The Educate Together School in Newcastle and their teachers will begin a week long period of training and fun, by the end of which they will be true practitioners and benefactors of this useful and simple tool which makes the lunch time break a thing never to be dreaded in the school time schedule again. The programme involves the introduction of a more structured approach to playing in the school yard. Methods are employed by the supervising teachers and the students to insure fair-play is taking place where inclusion, honour, honesty and respect are a given. As part of the programme, each participating school is also given play equipment and a playbook outlining new ways of playing "old school" games as well as completely new games that promote healthy play and inclusion during break.

Playworks was first introduced in the United States in 1996 when Jill Vialet, after speaking with a principal became increasingly aware of the unhappy and sometimes unsafe nature of play which was happening at playtime in the school yard. Jill saw an opportunity to change this and make it a positive and productive time for all kids and so Playworks was born.

Speaking at the launch, Ciaran Cannon, Minister for Training & Skills at the Department of Education said;

“I am delighted that Galway Education Centre is involved in bringing another Change Nation project to the schools in Galway. These are global projects which will have a profound and lasting effect in improving the lives of our young people.”

Bernard Kirk, Director of The Galway Education Centre echoed these sentiments saying;  

“We spend a lot of time working on serious educational projects with students in both primary and second level schools in this country. To work in partnership with Ashoka Ireland and add a programme like Playworks to this portfolio is wonderful for us. Playworks will provide the basis for learning which is necessary for further child development, allowing children to explore their imaginations, to connect with other people and to grow physically, emotionally and socially.”

This pilot is being undertaken as part of Change Nation, an initiative of Ashoka Ireland, which is seeking to spread these innovations and build a culture of change making in Ireland. Director of Ashoka Ireland Serena Mizzoni commented;

"Play is such an important way to build empathy and creativity in children, and foster collaboration and leadership. These are all skills that will be hugely important for children as they grow up in a rapidly changing world."    

The Galway Education Centre is a leading centre for further professional development for teachers which has in the past number of years been responsible for running programmes such as FIRST LEGO League and The CREST Awards here in Ireland. The centre has also introduced additional educational programmes such as Jump Maths and is the regional centre for the Confucius Centre in Ireland. Change Nation is a growing movement connecting change makers from around Ireland with the world's leading social entrepreneurs, to launch and spread proven innovations.

For further press information, photography or to arrange an interview please email Siobhán at Spotlight Communications:

Ashoka's Changemaker Schools Featured in the Irish Times

President of Dublin City University (DCU) Brian MacCraith joined educators, social entrepreneurs and leaders from across sectors on Friday October 17th to launch Ireland’s 'Changemaker Schools' network, a global movement of schools dedicated to teaching new skills for the 21st century, such as empathy, creativity, teamwork and leadership. Five Irish primary schools from Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Armagh became the first on the island of Ireland to join 100 other schools across the US, Europe and Africa to be recognised for their wide variety of innovative approaches - from using yoga to improve behaviour to letting children manage school farms, among many other initiatives.

Established by Ashoka, Changemaker Schools is designed to connect innovative schools around the world and support them in inspiring other schools to empower students to be changemakers. The initiative is the extension of a longstanding Ashoka programme at third level called Changemaker Campuses. This network of universities, dedicated to catalysing social innovation in higher education, includes Brown, Cornell and Duke University in the US where it originated. DCU became the first European university to join the group in 2013, and President MacCraith welcomed the move to bring primary schools into the network:

"The world is changing rapidly, and as a Changemaker Campus we believe that the next generations will need the adaptable skills and self-belief to take advantage of new opportunities to solve some of the major problems society will face. The Changemaker Schools network including primary, and soon secondary, level gives us a unique opportunity to work across all levels of education with a common goal in mind."

Schools within the network are supported to connect with innovative social entrepreneurs, collaborate with one another, and create initiatives to share best practices with other schools. Changemaker Schools has been inspired by Ashoka’s history of identifying and investing in over 3,000 social entrepreneurs, Ashoka Fellows, since 1981. These social entrepreneurs have devised new solutions to some of the world’s biggest social, economic and environmental challenges, with many giving rise to major global trends and movements.

Ashoka Fellows working with young people in Ireland include James Whelton, Founder of CoderDojo, and Canadian Mary Gordon, Founder of Roots of Empathy, which is managed locally by Barnardos.

Director of Ashoka Ireland, Serena Mizzoni, noted:

"From working with social entrepreneurs in education, we have seen that many organisations and schools are empowering young people to be changemakers, through inspired teaching and by giving children the opportunity to lead from an early age. By uniting a network of these kinds of schools, our aim is to showcase the best practice of ‘changemaker education’, and to inspire a new way of thinking on how young people grow up."


Following the launch, the Irish Times published two pieces on Ashoka's Changemaker Schools in Ireland - read them here:

'Empathy, creativity and teamwork - the future of Irish education?' Irish Times, Saturday 18th October online edition

'Creating "change makers" in the Irish school system' Irish Times, Tuesday 11th November print & online editions.