#FridayPhilosophy: What is a changemaker?

A remarkable thing happened last week at the United States Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia: Bill Clinton chose to encapsulate Hillary’s public service career with one description: "She is the best darn changemaker I have ever known." News outlets around the world carried headlines about the speech, with some wondering, what is a changemaker?

For us at Ashoka—a network that has been dedicated to building an "Everyone A Changemaker" world for more than a decade—it’s an exciting moment to witness changemaking become part of our collective consciousness. And it's even better when it prompts a debate about who might qualify as the most effective changemaker. But the moment comes with trepidation, too. It’s imperative that the term doesn’t become partisan. The complexity of societal challenges are too great for any one party to lay claim to an identity as uplifting as changemaker.

Changemakers are school children in Haiti creating new traffic safety systems, American truckers preventing human trafficking, and Nobel Peace Prize winnersbringing banking to Bangladesh and fighting for child rights in India. They can come from anywhere in the world, they can come from any sector, and most importantly, they can have any political leaning. 

So if we shouldn’t gauge a changemaker by their shade of blue or red, what qualities do they exhibit? Three qualities stand out:

1. CHANGEMAKERS ARE TENACIOUS ABOUT THE GREATER GOOD

They use a deep-rooted sense of empathy for others, identify a specific problem or opportunity to tackle, and give themselves permission to do something about it. But it doesn’t stop there. Changemakers are relentless. Picture a child who wants to recycle plastic to protect local wildlife. By doing so, she has taken her first steps in changemaking. But when recycling becomes commonplace, she’ll graduate to the next major challenge in managing resources (a scenario that is already becoming true in some places). 

2. CHANGEMAKERS LEAVE THE PARACHUTE AT HOME

Changemakers cannot just parachute into a community as an outsider who has come to save the day. They must be personally connected to the issue they want to solve. Take the example of Khalid al-Khudair, a social entrepreneur who focuses on creating jobs for women in Saudi Arabia. He is passionate about women’s empowerment in the Middle East not as a theoretical development professional from abroad, but as someone born and raised within Saudi Arabia, and having witnessed the struggle of his sisters search for employment firsthand.

Further, changemaking is not just the domain of a privileged few. People seen as being "in need" often create and drive their own solutions, many addressing the most pressing issues of our time. For example, street children in India are running their own helpline to quickly reach other children in distress, women in Nigeria are incorporating technology to build wealth beyond subsistence farming, and ex-gang members are leading efforts to reduce gun violence by more than 75% in American inner cities or mentoring other youth for tech careers in South Africa.

3. CHANGEMAKERS BUST THE "LONE HERO" MYTH

Not every changemaker launches their own startup. Sometimes it is the changemaker within an existing institution that’s most powerful. For instance, a cell-phone company employee worked to help informal businesses in slum areas function by giving them mailing addresses through mobile phones, or a pharmaceutical company employee began working on cheap, accurate, paper-based diagnostic kits for anemia after a family friend died without being diagnosed. Known as social "intrapreneurs," these are people—like many of us—who understand the mechanics of their own firms and are in a great position to innovate for the greater good.

We live in a rapidly transforming, increasingly interconnected world. The size and complexity of global challenges needs changemakers of every shape and size. And while the Clintons were among the first politicians to publicly embrace the association, our country—and our future—depends upon changemakers across the political spectrum.

As Engineers Without Borders founder and inspiring changemaker George Roter says, "Everyone has changemaking in their DNA; it’s just a matter of unlocking it."


Reem Rahman is the director of the Ashoka Changemakers Learning Lab and coauthor of recently published report: "More than Simply 'Doing Good': Defining Changemaker."

Kris Herbst is the chief editor on the Ashoka Framework Change Team. 

Tim Scheu is the director of engagement management at Ashoka Changemakers.

This article originally appeared on Fast Company.

Helping students find their voice

By Siobhán Fitzgerald, Principal of Eglish National School

Students take part in the 'LET's Stand' programme at Eglish NS

Students take part in the 'LET's Stand' programme at Eglish NS

Approximately 70% of our students come from the Travelling community and 30% of our students have been assessed as having a special education need. Very proud of the demographic make-up of our school, we actively foster and create a safe, supportive environment in which all of our students feel cherished, stimulated and proud to be the best version of themselves. For us, it's about mutual respect.

We see a huge opportunity, through nurturing all our students’ self-worth and self-confidence, to challenge any existing prejudices in society and move beyond them. We aim to empower our students to be ‘Changemakers’, role models for their brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbours. Through encouraging creativity, we help every child find their passion and interest and develop it. This year our students wrote, produced and acted in their own Irish play. By making and selling their own crafts at our annual ‘Bring and Buy’ Sale, entrepreneurial skills are developed.
We celebrate diversity in all its forms, always reinforcing that ‘We are all more alike than different.’ 

Through self-evaluation, oral language was identified as most in need of attention. With one third of students assessed as having a speech and language difficulty, another big dilemma was the apparent reticence of students from the Travelling community to share information about their backgrounds. We were concerned also about how much time many students seemed to spend passively on technology in their free time, to the apparent detriment of their communication skills. Here lay the challenge and here lay the opportunity.  

Students practice public speaking in the yard at Eglish NS

Students practice public speaking in the yard at Eglish NS

We are a small school with a big vision, a vision of all our children communicating clearly and confidently, expressing coherently their thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams, listening empathically to one another, developing keen skills of evaluation. We believe in using technology as the tremendous tool that it is to enhance presentations but at the same time, not being mastered by technology. 
 
Using the ‘LET’s Stand’ (Listen, Evaluate, Talk, Stand) programme we encourage, enable and empower students to stand and present in front of an audience a minimum of 10 times a year, every year of their primary school education. Each child speaks on topics relevant to their lives, all the while developing, step-by-step specific public speaking skills. Peer and teacher feedback and evaluation is positive and specific. We get excited about topics that excite our students. 

‘LET’s Stand’ targets the development of children’s oral language, confidence and public speaking skills at a time when they themselves most want to talk. This also feeds into the development of positive mental health practices. History boasts plenty of examples of great orators who have changed the world by standing up and speaking out. We are creating confident, communicatively competent orators for the future. Positive, powerful and passionate advocates for themselves and their communities.

Students at Eglish NS

Students at Eglish NS

Encouraging our students to talk has been easy because they want to be heard. Creating the safe, supportive environment in which this can happen is slightly more difficult. By spending time initially on clearly outlining and explaining the simple, respectful rules for ‘Listening’, ‘Evaluating’ and ‘Speaking’, the rest more easily falls into place. Discrete oral language time can be used for student presentations while many projects are easily linked to other curriculum subjects. Assigning preparation of oral projects for homework is a great way of getting the parents and extended family involved, promoting further increased communication and sharing of stories and culture at home. It’s homework that is not confined to being completed around the table.

Our staff conscientiously model the skills we aim to develop in our students. We actively listen to them. Working as a team, individual members of staff take the lead in their preferred areas of interest and create real opportunities for students to do the same. We realise that not simply teaching, we are moulding the young minds of rural Ireland, cultivating confident, clearly communicating leaders who can and will change the world for the good of us all. 

Yardtime at GETNS: A change for the better

By John Farrell, Principal at Galway Educate Together National School, a Changemaker School

It niggled at me for over twenty years of teaching. The little voice whispering in the back of my mind, “The yard….the yard…what about the yard?” The voice would say, “Why do we work so hard every day to have happy, positive, supportive classrooms but when the bell rings it’s ‘Off you go now kids, and remember, play nicely!’?” 

Maybe it’s because most children play nicely most of the time that adults think the yard is just another one of life’s classrooms. “It toughened us up. It didn’t do us any harm. We can’t wrap them in cotton wool. Sure they’ll get over it, eventually.”

But will they?

What about that boy walking the kerb alone, looking at his feet? Or the girl on the bench glancing wishfully at the others skipping and chanting and laughing? Or the goalie in the soccer game – his team are winning – why does he look so sad? See the girl that’s “it” in the tag game? She’s so red in the face. She hasn’t caught anyone and everyone knows she won’t, including her. There’s ages left before the bell rings and her ordeal finishes, for today.

Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you the yard is where the big behaviour problems are. It’s the part of the school day when children get into trouble for doing things they would never dream of doing in class. Teachers will tell you the huge amount of time they spend sorting out the problems after yard. We had a name for it in our school – “Post Yard Trauma.” Children were upset for getting in trouble, being excluded, fighting with their friends and so on. What was meant to be a fun time for all was, for a significant number of children, anything but.

It was a troubling constant of school life and despite periodic attempts to change we were becoming resigned to living with it. Yard is yard we thought, we can only do our best.

Then the flyer came in the post!

In October 2013, Galway Education Centre offered training in something called Playworks. Playworks was founded in 1996 in the U.S.A. by Jill Vialet and now runs programmes in over 20 US states. Their aim is to create a place for every kid on the playground to feel included, be active, and build valuable social and emotional skills. 

The blurb described many of the yard issues and then four words leapt out at me “We can change this.” I immediately applied and thankfully our school was selected to have two Playworks trainers spend a week in the school introducing the programme to the staff and pupils. 

What a week that was! 

The trainers, David and Tara, arrived with not much more than some chalk, a stack of cones, a few balls and a seemingly endless store of fun, active, inclusive games. They had some nifty strategies for keeping children involved as well as bundles of the wonderful warm enthusiasm that Americans are so well known for. Within a couple of days you could see the difference. Teachers were reporting that Post Yard Trauma had practically disappeared. Children were coming back into class more ready to learn. Those children normally on the fringes were playing and laughing with their classmates. The atmosphere was changing before our eyes and not just in the yard but in the classrooms and throughout the school community.

The underlying principles of fun, positivity and inclusion create the atmosphere. With Playworks the yard goes from a chaotic free-for-all environment to one that is semi-structured. Simple “core games” run in the same place in the same way every day. The games are quick so there’s no hanging around waiting. Rules are basic and infringements are met with redirection rather than punishment and exclusion. Conflict is sorted by the simple game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. “Put-downs” or negative interactions are replaced with “High Fives” and positive ones. Junior Coaches (student volunteers) run the games, not as referees but rather as facilitators that keep the games focussed on the underlying principles. Adults in the yard go from passive supervisors to active role models, joining in the games, building rapport with the children and supporting the Junior Coaches. Many of the strategies can be used in classrooms throughout the school day, thereby supporting and growing the culture.

There were plenty of tough days, however. When David and Tara left we struggled to keep the momentum going. They had shown us the promised land but it was only a glimpse. Implementing the structure and organisation, the planning and development, the training and support required for Playworks to last was a big challenge for us. With the immense effort of a member of staff (Thank you Michelle!) and the goodwill of all the rest of the team we kept it going through that school year. In the summer of 2014 another Playworks trainer came from the US to give a summer in-service course for teachers and several of our staff attended. During the 2014/15 school year we dedicated a number of our staff meetings to figuring how to make it work for us. We defined roles, made staff teams and played the games together. Day by day the aspiration was becoming the reality.

By June 2015 we were confident enough to invite over 30 principals and teachers from all over Ireland to come and have a look at our yard. The feedback from those attending was incredible and several went away fired up to begin changing their own school yards. In November 2015 we ran an introduction course over three nights called “Yardtime @ GETNS” and 25 teachers attended. As most of these schools are in the Galway area we are now building a local network to give support to each other. In February 2016 we were invited to give an introduction to schools in Carlow and were amazed to see another 30 teachers from all over the Southeast out on a Saturday, geared up and enthused about transforming their yards. This term we plan to run a “Thank You Junior Coaches!” day where we invite all the schools who’ve made a start to bring the Junior Coaches together for a day of fun, friendship and figuring out how to make our yards even better. Our plan is to continue developing our own school programme while sharing our experience and offering our support to other interested schools. 

The possibilities for a Playworks yard are endless. More than anything it is a journey towards developing better human relationships through fun and play. To begin the only requirement is a willingness to look at your school and ask “What about the yard?”

Go to http://getns.weebly.com/yard-time.html to see a short video on some of the elements of Yardtime @GETNS. 

 

Empowering diverse voices in STEM: Inspirefest conference lives up to its name

How many tech conferences place diversity and inclusion at the heart of their programme?

Last week, Dublin’s Inspirefest - “a unique international festival of technology, science, design and the arts” - brought a packed, two-day schedule of keynote speeches, talks and panels to Ireland’s ‘Silicon Docks.’ With a lineup of over 70% female founders, creators, coders, venture capitalists and leaders, Inspirefest managed turned the traditional 9:1 male-to-female tech conference ratio on its head, and lived up to its mission.

Ashoka Fellow Jamila Abass (founder of M-Farm) addresses an audience of over 1,500 at Inspirefest

Ashoka Fellow Jamila Abass (founder of M-Farm) addresses an audience of over 1,500 at Inspirefest

Speaking to The Irish Times in advance of the festival, founder Ann O’Dea cited the social benefits of challenging traditional spaces and workplaces. “It just so happens that men and women tend to have quite different backgrounds but it’s the same thing with people of different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, you name it. Often their circles are a little bit different and you just end up with a conversation that’s a little bit richer,” she said.

In a welcoming address on June 30th, An Taoiseach, the Prime Minister Enda Kenny, praised O’Dea’s commitment to celebrating STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills and jobs, citing that, “the world needs curiosity, understanding, innovation and knowledge. A scientifically-educated society is essential to solving the challenges we face now and in the future.” He also extolled the crucial importance of diverse perspectives in tackling social challenges, saying that, “if we can for an instant see the world through others’ eyes, we have the opportunity to change things.”

Ashoka Fellow Alex Bernadotte (founder of Beyond12) speaks at Inspirefest

Ashoka Fellow Alex Bernadotte (founder of Beyond12) speaks at Inspirefest

Much of Inspirefest’s programme highlighted companies and leaders from the STEM sectors, with a mix of executives from major global companies joining founders from smaller startups, to provide insights on trends. Judith Williams, (Dropbox), gave an electrifying talk on the economic benefits of a diverse workforce, while Claire Calmejane, (Lloyds Bank) emphasised the importance of innovative thinking in the financial sector. Ashoka Fellow and founder of the Kenya-based tech company M-Farm, Jamila Abass, described how her mobile app helps farmers across Africa access new markets, share information on price transparency, and collaborate together via a simple tech platform. Scientist and founder of Nuritas, Nora Khaldi, spoke about the challenges and rewards of running a business in a sector “with very few women.”

Other speakers shared perspectives from the intersection at which STEM, social enterprise and the arts collide. Ashoka Fellow and founder of Beyond 12, Alexandra Bernadotte, told the story of how, “born in the wrong zip code to achieve higher education,” her experience of gaining two degrees motivated her to build a data-driven tech platform that empowers first-generation college students to complete their degrees, creating a more inclusive education system and workforce. Blogger and academic Sinead Burke shared her story of forging a path in the fashion world: She founded fashion website Minnie Melange to document the ‘sartorial challenge’ of finding fashionable outfits for her 3’5” frame, and with it, has created a community of diverse voices, fashion-lovers and activists alike.

Blogger Sinead Burke (Minnie Melange) tells her story at Inspirefest

Blogger Sinead Burke (Minnie Melange) tells her story at Inspirefest

Many more examples of Inspirefest’s stellar programme can be found in Silicon Republic’s coverage of the conference, and one need only glance through the live social media feeds (follow #Inspirefest on Twitter and Facebook) to see that the conference left many audience members not only inspired, but actively motivated, by the stories, role models and ideas that were shared at Inspirefest.

Ultra-earlybird tickets for Inspirefest 2017 are now available at www.inspirefest.comRead special feature profiles on Ashoka Fellow & Inspirefest speakers Alexandra Bernadotte and Jamila Abass on Silicon Republic.

Fellow Selection Process: An Interview with Erin Fornoff

In the lead-up to the latest Ashoka Fellow Selection Panel, now underway in Dublin, Search Lead Erin Fornoff took some time out of her day to talk about her role at Ashoka Ireland. Erin has a talent for getting social entrepreneurs to open up, with a keen eye for potential Fellows and a low tolerance for inauthenticity.
 
Prior to setting her course for Dublin, Erin worked with Ashoka in Washington D.C., stepping away to join the 2008 Obama campaign. After President Obama won, Erin joined Ashoka’s relatively new Ireland office to manage Venture (the countrywide search for the best and brightest new Fellows) across Ireland and for the Scandinavian countries.
 
Erin also works with the CEO and team in the US to recruit senior-level people to run global programmes. As she says with humour, “I find people for jobs that are significantly more qualified than I am.”
 
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

What makes you good at scouting the right kind of talent?
 

Practice gives you an eye for these things. In the case of the Scandinavian Director, we interviewed 90 people. I used to be intimidated when interviewing, say, someone who was CEO of an enterprise in 80 countries or assessing someone for a job who could essentially buy and sell me. But if you arrive and they talk down to you or treat you like a little girl, that’s useful information and very telling.
 
I’m sort of “non-threatening,” so people open up to me and say things to me that they wouldn’t say otherwise. I also think as an American here, you can get away with asking questions that maybe Irish people wouldn’t ask.
 
New Fellow candidates are coming to panel this week, what do they go through during the selection process?
 

The Fellowship programme began when the Ashoka CEO and Founder, Bill Drayton, saw a pattern throughout history. He saw shifts beyond geopolitics, war, etc., where an individual came up with a new idea and pushed it forward with the innovation and impatience of an entrepreneur. They ran with it until a whole field was different, like Maria Montessori or Florence Nightingale. He saw this as an actual personality type. If you can find the people with the really creative ideas, give them resources and support, and then get the hell out of their way, you facilitate social change.
 
We find Fellows through a sweep with a nominator network that consists of leaders in the field, existing Fellows and social entrepreneurs, foundations, journalists, and so on. The best nominators are usually other social entrepreneurs because they recognise people doing great, game-changing work. We then delve deeper and discover if the person nominated is the founder of their organisation. The nice thing about being a founder is the flexibility that goes along with that role; you can pivot and adapt and grow your idea however you want. We research if this is truly an original idea, and if this idea is something the founder is really committed to or if it is a side project.
 
We start doing interviews to understand this candidate’s motivation and background. We want to know how they solve problems, and we want to know the scope and complexity of their project. Are they looking at this in an international impact context? Are they creative with strong self-definition? Do they feel that they are the person who can change the world with this idea? Can they answer those kinds of questions clearly? We check references, ask the candidate to fill out an extensive application, document the process thoroughly, and if everything checks out, the candidate goes to panel.

What are some red flags that develop in the interviewing stage?
 

If they are misrepresenting their work and telling you what you want to hear. If they are really motivated by money or being in the press. If there is no interest or curiosity in expanding. They need to think about what is the biggest impact they could possibly have.
 
We would get candidates sometimes who would say, “We had 5 media hits on the BBC, we had an article in the Guardian, and we had this celebrity in favour of our organisation.” I would ask in response, “Okay … but what is the measurable impact? How many refugee families have you reconnected through this online platform?” The answer will be none, but they are getting a lot of traction in the media. That is not important if the idea is not working and actually helping people. That’s an element of the ethical fibre we search for.
 
Can you describe the panel?
 
The panel involves a second opinion reviewer, usually a high-level senior entrepreneur from a different continent who conducts a very intensive 3-hour interview. Often the Fellows find this pretty life changing, as it is rare for someone to sit down and ask you to tell them about your life for 3 hours. Part of what happens is candidates start to see a thread through their life and recognize themselves in a different way.
 
The interview is also about pushing the candidate’s ambition. They will, at the very least, leave with a much bigger sense of what is possible. If the second op goes well, they go to the panel which consists of three or four 1-hour interviews back-to-back by business and social entrepreneurs. All of those people come to a consensus after hours of deliberation and then we send it all to the global board.

Erin Fornoff (fourth from L to R) with the Ashoka Ireland Fellows, ASN Members, and team.

Erin Fornoff (fourth from L to R) with the Ashoka Ireland Fellows, ASN Members, and team.

After interviewing more than 100 fellows, what would you say are some of the traits they share?
 

I’ve worked with Fellows all around the world and whether it’s a Zimbabwean princess, a 9-foot-tall Stockholm professor, or someone working in the River Basin in rural Peru, they have a similar way of approaching problems and breaking down barriers.
 
Fellows share an abiding passion and a gleam in their eye when they talk about their project. They talk about solving a problem in some creative way like it was a fun challenge. That’s how they are. I remember an interview with Ashoka Global Academy member Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for being a leader in micro-credit lending. He described how in Bangladesh, banks wouldn’t lend to people without collateral. When asked how he was able to overcome that issue, he said, “We just changed the law and then we could start the project.” That’s a huge thing to accomplish but you treat it like it’s nothing.
 
What stands out about an Irish Fellow?
 
They are less willing to talk about themselves. That’s true personality-wise for Irish people in general, I think. In the US it wouldn’t be unusual for someone to describe themselves as “a world-class entrepreneur and visionary.” In my experience, an Irish person would rather gnaw off their own arm before they would ever say something like that [laughs].
 
Has there been an experience putting a Fellow to panel that has changed your life in any way?
 

Working with one Fellow, Mark Johnson. I didn’t take him through his interviews but I worked with him to expand his work in Ireland. He is an ex-offender and was a homeless heroin addict in London’s West End. He started this group called User Voice that works to get prisoners’ voice into policy. His programme for finding jobs for ex-offenders uses entrepreneurial avenues because, according to Mark, often if you do not have problems with authority before going to prison, you definitely do by the time you get out. He found it’s better for ex-offenders to be their own boss.
 
I was just blown away by him because he showed such radical compassion and focused on the people who were the hardest to love. He was so deeply empathetic to the most difficult people, with such a sense of humour about it. I found his approach so moving, that I am moved thinking about it even now. I find Fellows endlessly inspiring, and working with them further opens my eyes to the world.

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

Celebrating Inspirefest Fellows: Jamila Abass & Alex Bernadotte

Running from 30 June to 2 July, Inspirefest is an international festival of technology, science, design and the arts, which places diversity and inclusion at its heart. Incredible global thought leaders in tech and innovation will gather for two full days for inspiring talks and discussion. Ashoka Fellows Jamila Abass and Alex Bernadotte will be speaking at Inspirefest this summer in Dublin, as passionate sci-tech professionals.

Inspired by her childhood experiences in small-scale farming, Jamila Abass felt compelled to address the daily challenges faced by Kenyan farmers using her entrepreneurial and technical skills in a meaningful way. Jamila built M-Farm, a technology platform that links farmers to markets and creates an ecosystem of knowledge exchange, aggregation, and opportunity. This creates a path out of poverty for these farmers, enabling them to meet the growing demands for produce across the region.

A few winning runs at local business plan competitions, many accolades in the international press, and several years later, M-Farm is poised to spread far beyond its current membership and transform the lives of thousands of small farmers.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Alex Bernadotte spent her early childhood in Haiti in the care of her grandmother, after her parents immigrated to the US in the hope of making a better life for her and her younger sister. Her grandmother ingrained in her the notion that the path to paying back her parents’ sacrifice lay in education.

Alex founded Beyond 12 to increase the number of low-income students who successfully graduate from colleges and join the workforce. Beyond 12 creates technology applications that enable data sharing between students, high schools and colleges. Alex was recently profiled in the Silicon Republic about the Beyond 12 approach to offering information, connections and mentoring to students.

Jamila and Alex are just two examples of many entrepreneurs leveraging technology for societal change. Irish Ashoka Fellows Mary Nally, James Whelton and Mike Feerick are bringing digital skills to the young, the old, and the marginalised, further illustrating the positive impact of changemaking technology.

Care about the future of science, tech, diversity and inclusion? Book your tickets now for access to fresh perspectives on leadership and innovation and make incredible connections with like-minded professionals. Be on the lookout for the latest installment in our #TechForGood series with Silicon Republic. 

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

Fellow Field Day: Exploring Technology with Third Age

Third Age is a national voluntary organisation that recognises and celebrates older people as a diverse group with different needs, abilities, backgrounds and experiences. Third Age has a deserved reputation for innovation, and through a variety of national programmes, such as the Senior Helpline, and Fáilte Isteach, demonstrates the value of older people remaining engaged and contributing in their own community for as long as possible.

Part of meeting the challenges of ageing in Ireland, is tackling technology. To address this problem. Mary Nally, social entrepreneur and founder of Third Age, regularly hosts workshops to teach technology skills at their national headquarters in Summerhill, Co. Meath. It is her philosophy that older people should not be excluded from society simply because they did not have the opportunity to use computers as young people. “Older people haven’t embraced technology in a lot of cases. We want to take the fear out of computing and create a classroom setting. We are all learning, so if you have a fear let’s address it.” The purpose of the workshop was exactly as Mary said: to encourage older people to who have a “fear” of computers to connect and embrace the positives associated with technology, like communicating with loved ones abroad. 

We want to take the fear out of computing and create a classroom setting.”

Early in May, two special guests were invited to join the group of Third Age tech workshop group: Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, legendary GAA commentator, and Lord David Puttnam, renowned film director and current Digital Champion for Ireland. In an intimate, town hall setting, they discussed common fears, like accidentally pressing a button and losing hours of work, and the learning curve that comes with each new device. The group also extolled the many benefits of technology, such as Skyping with family members overseas, the convenience of shopping online, and using GPS to avoid getting lost.

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh demonstrated how to use his laptop, calling it “the best investment I ever made, to be able to communicate in an instant.” Lord David Puttnam encouraged participants to “stop worrying about what you did have. Technology is moving so fast and there is always a new set of rules. The only thing constant is change.” He also cautioned that, “the sentence, 'I can’t be bothered' is the most dangerous mindset to adopt." Mary Nally introduced a similar guiding principle that her organisation follows: “At Third Age we are not allowed to say ‘I can’t do this.’ We aren’t afraid of a challenge and know that we can learn so much if we embrace it.” 

Young people have all the information they need right at their fingertips to ensure they have the necessary skills in an increasingly competitive world. Everyone must ask, why should this older generation be left behind and denied opportunities? As Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh said, “This time next year may we all find ourselves alive and well here looking forward to the next brand of computer.”

A film crew for Lord David Puttnam’s 4-part documentary series for RTE recorded the event. The series’ working title is “Ireland's Digital Futures” and it’s set to air in October 2016. 

Find out more about Third Age: www.thirdageireland.ie

Follow Third Age on Twitter: @ThirdAgeIreland 

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