Ashoka Ireland

Interview with Senior Fellow Jerry White

Green Couch Series: Wisdom from Global Fellows

Source: Celina Hu | The Cavalier Daily

Source: Celina Hu | The Cavalier Daily

Activist and social entrepreneur Jerry White stopped by Ashoka Ireland on a sunny Friday to talk about Irish resilience and his future plans for peace. A Senior Ashoka Fellow, Jerry previously served three years as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, launching the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operation created by former Secretary Hillary Clinton. He co-founded Landmine Survivors Network, later Survivor Corps, which led the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace.

A self-proclaimed “Impact Fundamentalist,” Jerry has made it his life’s work to push for levels of systemic transformation that promote more peace and justice in the world. Though he admits he does not quite know what peace looks like yet, he has always been drawn like a moth to the flame when it comes to conflict mitigation. He shared his current professional projects, why Ireland is special to him, and what it takes for social entrepreneurs to make lasting change.

What is it about Ireland that makes social entrepreneurs thrive here?

Ireland has energy, and a little bit of fight in it, along with good humor and good stories. There’s the literature, the poetry, and the history. I think Ireland, because it has suffered and secretly likes some of its suffering, is a contradiction. That is where creativity comes in, when you have a paradox. The best of times, the worst of times. It’s very difficult but we have our music and we have our poetry and we have our community.

When you detect humor even in darker times, that is a clear hallmark of resilience. Entrepreneurship is about innovative ways for turning problems around. Entrepreneurs make up stories, imagine possibilities. They’re creative, which often comes from suffering and scar tissue, and understanding history. They take risks sometimes for survival’s sake.
I have a bias, since my mother was half Irish and my father was half Irish. Americans think of themselves as pie charts, and that makes me 50% Irish. Ireland was my first international trip when I was 9 years old and I had a lot of firsts here. I milked my first cow, I rode my first horse. I played grass tennis and got eggs out of a hen house. Some girl kissed me for the first time and chased me around with a broom. It was all fun and magic on this island where we spent a whole month.  I also had my first fight with two farm boys. We threw stones at each other while they yelled at us that they couldn’t understand our accents and we yelled at them that we didn’t understand theirs. I think Ireland helped me become an entrepreneur because I took risks here.

You have three jobs right now: Teaching a class on religion and violence at University of Virginia, running the non-profit Global Covenant Partners, and getting a predictive analytics company, Global Impact Strategies, off the ground. How do these intersect?

When I was invited into government four years ago, I thought that it was my time to serve. I was appointed by the Obama administration as a Deputy Assistant Secretary to set up a new Conflict and Stabilization Operation Bureau. This was happening at the time of the Arab spring, the Middle East was falling apart, Putin in Ukraine, Boko Haram in Nigeria. There was no end to the conflicts we were trying to stabilize. My time in government was one of the most entrepreneurial times I faced and I have deep respect for government work.

The social entrepreneurs in Ashoka may not have understood how you can be creative inside government... it was almost like I had gone off and entered a vortex of the U.S. government and there was this “we’ll talk to Jerry when he gets out” feeling. Government was restricting, but not uncreative. We created a new bureau, engaging religious leaders around the world, introducing the use of advanced analytics in the State Department to do predictive analysis to prevent disaster. By the time I left the government, I didn’t want to go to an office in the morning until 8 at night. I wanted to stretch my neck and figure out what my vision for the future was.

How did you refocus and decide your next move?

 A friend told me take out a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself what is your next contribution to the world, your next service, your passion? Where is your energy and thinking moving?  I took out a blank sheet of paper and drew three overlapping circles that were an “.org,” an “.edu,” and a “.com.” I put an “I” in the middle of the diagram, not for me, but for impact. I’m getting older and life has so many problems that if you aren’t going to have impact, you’re just doing projects, programs, and activities that will burn you out without effect.

Global Covenant Partners looks at one of the biggest challenges of our day: preventing and inhibiting religion related violence. It is so urgent because it is the most virulent type of violent cancer spreading fastest in the Middle East and South Asia. We see it not exclusively with ISIS and we see it spreading to Europe with questions of migration and competition among Abrahamic cousins. GCP involves religious leaders, government actors, policy makers, and civil society to do something creatively, almost like a campaign to stop killing in the name of God. What would an inter-religious peace treaty look like? We’re working with an amazing group of leaders around the world on ways to protect narrative, heritage and communities at risk.

The work I am doing with GCP feeds into teaching. I teach about religion, violence, and strategy and how to stop killing in the name of God. We built up a network at UVA that is becoming a hub for this type of problem, looking at data driven research on the science of religion and violence not just interfaith meeting or dialogue.

The third piece is, giStrat, or Global Impact Strategies. GiStrat applies decision science and advanced predictive analytics to the biggest problems of our day like conflict and cooperation, energy and the environment, and health and society. If we could use our own software we’re developing to predict with high speed and high accuracy the dangers we’re facing, we can game out alternative models and strategies and optimize outcomes and bring better futures. I wanted these three jobs to enforce each other and be linked.

Speaking as an expert on conflict mitigation, is there something to be learned from Ireland in terms of their reconciliation process?

Absolutely. Ireland has this experience of sectarian divides and trying to weed through the political as well as the religious. It keeps haunting us to this day, flaring up in current day politics or memories depending on the enabling conditions that bring conflict into the forefront. The people who were involved in the peace process have looked at questions of restorative justice, and they have a lot to teach the rest of the world. No conflict is the same but there are lessons to be learned from the Irish experience. The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, one of our partners in the Global Covenant, has a beautiful space in Wicklow where you can convene people and have difficult conversations. Not just to talk about what happened in Ireland, but to host people from Palestine and Israel and Libya. It comes alive as a place to share meals and build dialogue in what I call “hospitality de-friction.” Speaking on the migration crisis, I believe Ireland has the confidence, resilience, humor, and hospitality in its own DNA to host not just a handful of refugees, but really role model for Europe how to bring people in and work on their English, integrating them into the community. Many other countries are much more afraid and their culture is not helpful in this case.

What is your advice for new social entrepreneurs who want to make a lasting difference in the world?

Realize it’s not about you. You are not Mandela. You are not Mother Teresa. Collective wisdom and leadership, “Mini-delas” coming together for a coalition for impact is the way. It is crucial to balance ego with a passion for change. Know your strength. I know that in an organization, a little of Jerry goes a long way. I don’t need to hire another Jerry. I need to balance with a really strong super analytic, CFO or COO. On a team you want the elements of fire, air, earth, and water. Develop a spiritual discipline for your health and to keep your center and balance. That may be marathons, it may be yoga, silent meditation, or learning to breathe in practice. I thought it was silly when I first started “breathing.” I was so out of shape spiritually; it was like going to the gym for the first time in a long time. I could not sit still for a minute and meditate without grabbing my phone or coffee. Don’t be afraid of inner space and taking care of that space. Pace yourself over time because these issues are enormous and they are demanding.

This post was written by Quincy White, Intern at Ashoka Ireland.

It’s good to be green

Small changes saved big money in a Dublin fire station, showing how green principles make good business sense.

Kilbarrack Fire Station in Dublin 5 is considered to be the first carbon neutral fire station in the world.

Kilbarrack Fire Station in Dublin 5 is considered to be the first carbon neutral fire station in the world.

Being able to boast solid green credentials is no longer just a nice thing for companies to be able to use in marketing campaigns. Environmental consciousness also makes a positive contribution to the bottom line in terms of reduced waste, energy savings, and other cost reductions.

As GreenPlan founder and Ashoka Ireland fellow Neil McCabe puts it: “If you say something can help save the planet, that’s one thing. But if you say it will save money and decarbonise at the same time, it’s a no-brainer for businesses.”

Ashoka is a global organisation which supports social entrepreneurs in the creation of solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing society today. Rather than leave problems like climate change to governments and politicians to solve, Ashoka fellows develop innovative and sustainable responses which deliver real results for people around the world.

“At its best, going green means a commitment to social and ecological sustainability”, says Ashoka Ireland advisory board chair Bride Rosney. “In my experience, Ashoka fellows are all, consciously or not, on a green journey – and they have integrated social and ecological sustainability into their businesses. Some do so in a very direct and comprehensive way, such asMichael Kelly of GIY and Neil McCabe of GreenPlan, but others do so in a less obvious way. For example, Mary Nally of Third Age builds structures that keep older people engaged in their communities and place them as advocates to build communities of healthier older people who are a willing and able part of society. This is social sustainability in action.”

McCabe’s green journey began in 2008 with some major changes in his workplace, Kilbarrack Fire Station. “We lost 50 percent of our crew back then”, he recalls. “They went to a new fire station in Swords. Morale and motivation of the remaining crew went through the floor as a result.”

McCabe decided to do something about it. “I’m a doer”, he says. “I came up with the crazy idea of battery recycling. I put a cardboard box out with a sign on it saying ‘used batteries here’ and we soon had the box filled with batteries. We didn’t have anywhere to put the batteries; there wasn’t even an EU directive covering batteries at the time. I was hiding cardboard boxes full of used batteries around the station. I found I had started something unwittingly.”

Fire station

He began thinking about the financial benefits of recycling and waste reduction. “Within a month we had firefighters using their own cars to bring waste to bring-banks in the area,” he says. “That waste would normally have gone to landfill. I put up a scorecard to keep track of the savings we were making. Within 12 months we had saved €2,064. GreenPlan was the result of having idea after idea. It became a step-by-step process dealing with waste, energy, water, and so on. I developed it into a certifiable approach to sustainability.”

As a result, Kilbarrack became the world’s first carbon neutral fire station in 2012. “One of the things I did after that first year was to crowd-fund €44,000 from my fellow firefighters to set up a start-up company to manufacture thermo-dynamic solar collectors to make hot water for the station from wind and rain. Despite the fact that they are facing east and we are surrounded by trees they are making 80 percent of the hot water for the station generating €6,000 in savings. That gave them a 2.5 year payback.”

As a result, Kilbarrack became the world’s first carbon neutral fire station in 2012. “One of the things I did after that first year was to crowd-fund €44,000 from my fellow firefighters to set up a start-up company to manufacture thermo-dynamic solar collectors to make hot water for the station from wind and rain. Despite the fact that they are facing east and we are surrounded by trees they are making 80 percent of the hot water for the station generating €6,000 in savings. That gave them a 2.5 year payback."

Kilbarrack station has since reduced its energy consumption by 90 per cent, water intake by 92 per cent, gas consumption by 97 per cent. Seventy percent of station waste is recycled and 100 percent of organic waste is composted. By applying the GreenPlan accreditation more widely Dublin Fire Brigade has saved more than €11 million in operation and procurement costs and reduced its energy spend by 44 per cent as of October 2014.

“GreenPlan saves money, reduces carbon emissions, and helps society”, McCabe points out. “It is now out there in the business market and companies are all over it.”

GIY may not have quite the same impact on the bottom line but it is making a very positive contribution to businesses in Ireland and the UK. Founded inWaterford in 2009 by local man Michael Kelly, GIY is a movement of people who grow some of their own food.

“The reason for doing it was to help people reconnect with food and get healthier,” Kelly explains. “It’s not really about self-sufficiency, the aim is to help understand about where food comes from and how it works, to teach people about food empathy.”

GIY works in four main areas – home, school, work, and in the community. It started out with what Kelly describes as “a road to Damascus moment”. “I was in the supermarket one day when I was buying some garlic, looked at the label and saw that it was from China. I decided to grow my own garlic and I was really bad at it. There was no network or group out there to help me so I set up the first GIY group in 2009 as a hobby. Within a year we had 10-12 groups set up in the south-east of the country.”

Social enterprise

It then morphed into a social enterprise. “This year we will support more than 150,000 people in Ireland and the UK to grow their own food for the first time. The challenge for us now is how to meet the demand. We now have an income of €450,000 and employ eight full and part-time staff.”

Entry to the corporate sector came about almost by accident. “Diageo were making changes to the staff garden in St James’s Gate and we came up with the idea of turning it into a food garden. It’s still an aesthetically beautiful place but it is being used to grow food. We started a programme to get people out from behind their desks and learning a life skill. It’s a great leveller between different employees. You get people from all sections and all levels of the organisation mixing together.”

No need for expensive corporate bonding weekends – just get out into the garden.

GIY now offers a service where workplace programmes are designed to meet the specific needs of individual organisations.

“It’s not one size fits all”, Kelly points out. “In some cases we have kits where people can grow food on their desks. In other cases we offer volunteering opportunities for staff to work on community gardens. We work with a lot of different companies including BNY Mellon, Deloitte, and Genzyme and we will start working with Google shortly.”

And the benefits are considerable. “There is lots of research to show that any interaction with nature is a very positive thing,” Kelly says. “There are no downsides to it. The demographics of the people taking part are quite interesting as well – it’s everyone, not just older people. We have found that younger employees are particularly motivated by it.”

The next step for GIY is the development of a food education centre in Waterford.

“This is a €1.4 million project and we are at the final stage of financing for it. We are looking for 20 companies to get involved by investing €10,000 each in it. This is not a donation, we will run programmes for them for three years in return.”


This article was written by Barry McCall in February 2016. Read the original article on

Ashoka takes the entrepreneurial approach to tackling social problems

Ashoka's network of business leaders contribute their skills to improve the lives of millions. 

Ashoka Ireland is headquartered at 23 South William Street, Dublin 2.

Ashoka Ireland is headquartered at 23 South William Street, Dublin 2.

Founded by former McKinsey director Bill Drayton in 1980, Ashoka supports social entrepreneurs around the world in creating sustainable solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems. The entrepreneurs, who become Ashoka Fellows, receive a mix of professional and financial support for their projects.

“Social entrepreneurs are men and women with solutions to some of the world’s most critical social problems”, explains Ashoka Ireland directorSerena Mizzoni. “Rather than leaving societal needs for the government or business sectors alone to address, social entrepreneurs are creating innovative solutions which deliver extraordinary results and improve the lives of millions of people through their own drive and initiative.”

The first Ashoka Fellows were elected in India in 1981 and today Ashoka includes more than 3,000 fellows in 82 countries – 14 of them from Ireland.

“Our mission is to find the most promising, high potential social entrepreneurs, and support them in their vision to transform society at a national and international level”, Mizzoni adds. “Our Irish fellows have business models that are globally unique and a high impact. They are working on areas which range from empowering older people and people with disabilities, treating malnutrition in Africa, providing global free education, to building mass movements of food growers”.

Becoming an Ashoka fellow involves more than just having a good idea, however. There is quite a rigorous appraisal process to get through first. “Our fellows have to prove that they are willing to work on their idea full-time to scale it up, preferably internationally”, she points out. “We take a very business minded approach to the ideas and their prospects for success.”

Once the fellows come through the selection process they are provided with start-up funding – usually in the form of a living wage for the first three years of the project and other funding needed to make the project work. They are also connected with a range of pro bono support services which are provided by Ashoka Ireland partners and members of the Ashoka Support Network.

Engagement plans

The network is made up of over 400 business leaders across the world. Network members are business entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, top executives and consultants. There are currently 24 members in Ireland, each with engagement plans that suit their particular skills, interests and availability. “They engage with fellows in personal meetings and serve on advisory boards for strategic decision-making”, Mizzoni says.

Patrick Coveney is the CEO of Greencore and a member of Ashoka Ireland's Advisory Board

Patrick Coveney is the CEO of Greencore and a member of Ashoka Ireland's Advisory Board

One Irish member of the network is Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney. “I got involved because I knew some of the Ashoka Fellows such asCaroline Casey of Kanchi”, he says. “I got to know Serena Mizzoni through her and I was very impressed by the passion the organisation has for the contribution the fellows can make. I was also impressed by the way the organisation is able to very effectively connect multiple business leaders to support the fellows.”

He has a strong belief in the power of social entrepreneurship. “I think it can make a huge difference to society. Ashoka combines the passion, energy, and enthusiasm of the social entrepreneurs with better business practice and provides resources to help them to succeed.”

Coveney has two involvements with Ashoka. “As part of the support network I make a modest financial contribution and I am available to assist individual social entrepreneurs with advice and assistance from time to time. They often have tremendous enthusiasm but can benefit from some advice in putting a business plan together or on some other aspect of their project and I am happy to sit down with them and talk them through that.

I also sit on the advisory board which is there to support Serena Mizzoni and her team as they take on the business challenges of running Ashoka in areas such as fundraising and supporting the fellows with additional resources such as legal, business or tax advice.”

Venture capitalist and fellow network member Brian Caulfield is another strong believer in the potential of social entrepreneurship. “I have always been interested in the idea of taking an entrepreneurial approach to tackling major social problems”, he says. “I believe there is an incredibly good fit between the two. Entrepreneurs tend to think outside the box and in a very disruptive way. With most social problems a solution will not be found by throwing money at them. In some cases no amount of money will fix the problem. That’s why the entrepreneurial approach is more likely to succeed. Particularly because in many cases it is a community led approach. Rather than expecting some other body or organisation to fix the problem they look for a solution themselves.”

Brian Caulfield is a Partner at Draper Esprit and a member of the Ashoka Support Network

Brian Caulfield is a Partner at Draper Esprit and a member of the Ashoka Support Network

As with all network members Caulfield makes a financial contribution. “Part of my involvement is writing a cheque but I wouldn’t want to over-emphasise that”, he says. “I think about it as an investment in social good rather than profit. I have been extremely lucky in life, I have been able to make money, but no amount of money that you could donate will fix most problems. When I give money I am trying to find ways of leveraging that donation so that it will have a disproportionate impact. I have found two things that can do that – Ashoka and education.”

Solution exchange

He gives an example of an Ashoka project he has given direct help to. “One Ashoka fellow came up with the idea of City Mart”, he says. “The concept is that a lot of social problems encountered by cities have actually been solved sometime, somewhere else in a clever and effective way and those solutions could be replicated in other cities. But there is no exchange or market for these solutions. There could be something which has been done in São Paolo which could be done in Dublin but the city government here has no way of accessing it or knowing about it. Equally, they have no way of advertising their problems and asking if anyone else has come up with a solution to them. I took on a role with them like a non-executive chairperson to help develop the project.”

He encourages others to join the network. “I absolutely would recommend people to get involved in the support network but it has to be something that fits in with your personal ethic and outlook. I would also particularly like to see an increase in the number of women involved. I hosted a lunch recently for successful Irish women and I hope that leads to an increase. One thing I have to say is Ashoka is very good at matching the engagements of the people who get involved with their skills and abilities and taking into account their other commitments.”


This article was written by Barry McCall in October 2015. Read the original article on