#FridayPhilosophy: Ashoka's Founding Story



Bill Drayton founded Ashoka in 1980, around the idea that the most powerful force for good in the world is the individual social entrepreneur: a person driven by an innovative idea that can help correct an entrenched global problem. At Ashoka, we call these sorts of ideas system-changing, because they permanently alter existing patterns of activity, as opposed to simply adding in minor fixes here or there.

Bill Drayton is the founder and CEO of Ashoka

Bill Drayton is the founder and CEO of Ashoka

Once we realized that social entrepreneurs were the key to making the world a better place, we decided that the most important thing we could do was identify the best of them and help them excel. Our efforts towards this goal--finding and supporting social entrepreneurs--characterized the first stage of our development, sometimes referred to as Ashoka 1.0.

From the beginning, Ashoka has identified and supported these outstanding individuals with ideas for far-reaching social change by electing them to the Ashoka Fellowship. As defined by Ashoka, the social entrepreneur has the same makeup as a business entrepreneur—in attitude, vision, bias for action, and skills—but the social entrepreneur seeks to better the world in a specific way. “Social entrepreneurs, for some reason deep in their personality, know from the time they are little that they are in this world to change it in a fundamental way,” Drayton explained.

Bill Drayton and Ashoka’s Earliest Years

While Bill was an undergraduate at Harvard, he started the Ashoka Table, a discussion group which invited prominent public leaders for off-the-record dinner conversations with inquisitive young students. At Yale law school, he founded Yale Legislative Services, an analytic and drafting service conducted by law students and provided to legislators who lacked their own staff support. As assistant administrator for planning and management at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Carter Administration, Drayton designed and pushed through an array of market-based approaches to environmental regulation, including the now widely disseminated idea of tradable pollution permits to control greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea of creating a global fellowship of social entrepreneurs had been in Drayton’s mind since his college years. While at the EPA and later as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, he began to search actively for nominators and Fellows candidates. Nominators were those who had the knowledge and contacts that could be used to identify the extraordinary individuals whose social ideas Ashoka wanted to encourage and support. The candidates who were ultimately selected as Ashoka Fellows would become part of a global fellowship of their own, a community of social entrepreneurs from all parts of the world.

Before launching this venture, in 1978, Drayton and several supporters visited India, Indonesia, and Venezuela to assess the climate for their enterprise. They interviewed 364 people in a wide range of social fields such as the environment, education, and children’s advocacy. They wanted to ensure that they could develop an independent, systematic approach for identifying high potential candidates, and that they might avoid suspicion that their program was a front for other, clandestine “political” activities. On June 3rd, 1980, the fellowship organization was incorporated in Washington, DC under the name "Society for the International Public Interest." The board of directors of the SIPI consisted of 3 people: Bill Drayton, Julien Phillips, and Bill Carter. 

The organization's first stated mission was to "encourage and assist development of public interest work in developing countries," including:

  1. Assist in the design, testing and development of public interest programs in developing countries.
  2. Disseminate ideas and provide information and advice to public interest groups.
  3. Assist in funding start-up costs of public interest programs in developing countries.
  4. Build bridges between public interest groups in different countries and the international community.

The following year, the organization elected its first Fellow. Four years later Bill Drayton was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (“genius” award), and began to work full-time on building the organization. 

Ashoka: The First Twenty Years

Drayton, then in his mid-thirties, was looking for people with compelling visions who possessed the creativity, savvy, and determination to realize their ideas on a large scale: people who could, in his words, leave their ‘scratch on history.’ As he conceived of it, building an organization that could find these wildflowers and help them grow would be the most highly leveraged approach to social change possible. It would be the single most powerful thing he could do to speed up development and democratization around the globe. 

Drayton believed that the kind of social entrepreneurs he was seeking – passionate, resourceful, system-changing, history-making innovators who could “unbalance” static social, political and economic equations – were extremely rare; perhaps 1 in 10 million.  

The process of becoming a Fellow, therefore, was extremely selective, and began by extensive sourcing from nominators worldwide, particularly in developing countries where problems of poverty and deprivation were often acute.  The organization embraced both ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ roles in social change: supporting the work of individual entrepreneurs and, in doing so, building the broader field of social entrepreneurship.  Accordingly, its mission was to “develop the profession of social entrepreneurship around the world by supporting talented visionaries who chose to devote their lives to solving social problems.”

As the organization developed, it became ever more clear that the organization was not about "public interest work," but about social innovation, and the entrepreneurs that drive it. Accordingly, on June 10, 1987, the Society for the International Public Interest changed its name to Ashoka.

The purpose of the newly renamed organization was also changed, to:

  1. Encourage and assist individuals in making important innovations for the public good in the fields of economic advancement, protection of minorities, assistance to the poor, legal and civil rights, education, protection of the environment, health, and other public service work.
  2. Build an active mutual help fellowship among such public service entrepreneurs, both established and beginning, across all barriers.
  3. Educate national publics about other areas of the world, especially through person-to-person contact. 

And to match this new purpose, Ashoka's activities were listed as:

  1. Help beginning public service entrepreneurs succeed in launching both their innovative ideas and their own longer-term careers.
  2. Provide start-up financial support to these public service entrepreneurs and to offer the assistance of established public service entrepreneurs working in the same or related fields.
  3. Link public service entrepreneurs who are working in different regions of the same country or in different countries altogether, so that they may benefit from each other’s experience.
  4. Support independent public service work generally and to encourage individuals to commit themselves to this work.
  5. Educate the publics of the countries having Affiliated Organizations about each other’s societies by creating direct links between the Affiliated Organizations, the public service entrepreneurs in these countries, and with others associated with the International Society and its Affiliated Organizations. 

Ashoka 2.0: Re-visioning Our Mission

In How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas David Bornstein chronicled much of the good work – and the lessons learned – from Ashoka and its Fellows.  In his discussion of the Fellow selection process, Bornstein examined just what Ashoka evaluators mean by the “knock out test:” what defines a powerfully new and transformative idea.  “Such an idea,” he wrote, “does not arrive in a flash of inspiration.  It takes shape over years in an iterative process of adjustments and readjustments, with new pieces continually being added and others continually being dropped." According to Drayton, “Every day you’re modifying the idea. You’re seeing new opportunities. You’re seeing the nuances of problems. It’s a continuous process." This same process of idea modification and adjustment applied to Ashoka itself, as the organization continually examined ways in which it could advance important social change in systemic and lasting ways. 

By the late 1990s, it was clear that Ashoka had largely achieved one of its primary goals of establishing the field of social entrepreneurship. A number of Ashoka like organizations – Echoing Green, the Skoll and Schwab Foundations, New Profit Inc, Endeavor, the Acumen Fund, and many others – had formed to support the work of promising social entrepreneurs at various stages of their individual and organizational development. Social enterprise programs were now a staple of business and public policy schools in the US and other countries, and a burgeoning cottage industry of researchers and professional service firms – lawyers, consultancies, academics, trade associations – had evolved to study and advance the work of social entrepreneurs.

The fact that Ashoka had helped launch the careers of nearly 3,000 social entrepreneurs and had been, in the words of its President Diana Wells, a critical “engine of the sector” at large begged important “adjustment and readjustment” questions: Was it possible that the potential for advancing social change resided not just in the work of an elite one in 10 million, but perhaps in the efforts of every individual?  Was it possible to imagine a world in which Everyone was a Changemaker?

Ashoka 3.0: Fulfilling the EACH Vision

While in some ways a eureka moment, the Everyone a Changemaker (known at Ashoka as ‘EACH’) vision was as much evolutionary as revolutionary. Drayton and his staff believed that the core work of identifying, electing and supporting extraordinary social entrepreneurs would remain central to Ashoka’s mission. The key was to draw on the inspiration, depth of knowledge and expertise, accumulated experience and collective insights of the Fellows’ work to enable a broader flowering of social change efforts. “We are no longer talking about one in ten million,” explained Stuart Yasgur, one of the organization’s managing directors. “Ashoka aims to engage 80% of the world’s social entrepreneurs.” In order to facilitate an ‘Everyone a Changemaker’ world, Ashoka would need to design new programs and processes to:

  • Continue to support the work of individual social entrepreneurs, who inspire thousands of others to be changemakers
  • Help entrepreneurs work with each other, and with partners in business, government, academia and other influential institutions to draw on and demonstrate the power of collective entrepreneurship
  • Build the right architecture for the sector and for the organization

Want to find out more about our organisation? Visit the global website: www.ashoka.org

Highlights from the 2016 Changemaker Education Summit in Killarney, Co. Kerry

What is our definition of changemaker education? 

"Every young person becoming empowered in a learning ecosystem that is explicitly focused on providing experiences that equip and incline them to make a better world."

From 19th to 22nd of October, we welcomed over 150 changemakers and leaders in education to Killarney, Co. Kerry, for the 2016 Changemaker Education Summit. It was a unique opportunity for European members of the Ashoka Changemaker Schools network to come together with innovators from all over the world, to share ideas for the co-creation and reinvention of education in today's world.

The summit programme included keynote speeches by Dr. Daire Keogh (Deputy President of DCU), Miho Taguma (Senior Policy Analyst OECD), Prof. Tom Collins (Chair of the Governing Bodies of DIT and IT Blanchardstown) and Margret Rasfeld (Ashoka Fellow and founder of School on the Move).

Attendees toured St. Oliver's National School (a member of the Irish Changemaker Schools network) and observed a Roots of Empathy class, based on the ground-breaking method for empathy education developed by Ashoka Fellow Mary Gordon.

We would like to extend a warm thank you to all who attended, and a big thank you to Rory D'Arcy and the school community of St. Oliver's N.S. in Killarney for making everyone feel welcome.

See more photos from the summit on our Facebook Page.

Search the #ChangemakerED Hashtag on TwitTER to see live updates from the Summit.

'Meet the Changemaker Schools' - read Carl O'Brien's article about the Changemaker Schools network in The Irish Times.

Meditation practice brings tranquility and confidence to the school day

By Breda Murray, Principal of Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S.

As educators, it is part of our job to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of children who exhibit signs of stress or disruption. In 2010 we introduced a Meditation Project for the students of Our Lady Immaculate, aged between 4-8. We did this for a few reasons. There was a marked absence of any form of ritual or time where the children were offered an opportunity to sit in silence and contact something beyond the business and challenges of their daily lives. Our children were under a complete barrage of noise and activity with few opportunities to go inside and build the inner resources they so desperately needed. The impact of this was evident in their behaviour, concentration, levels of attention and focus, behavioural disturbances, depression, apathy and general wellbeing. Their emotional and mental resilience was not as robust as it could be as they had many obstacles to overcome and often very little support at home. 

Our school is situated in what is termed a 'DEIS band 1' area, which is a category devised by the Department of Education and Skills in 2005 that refers to areas of significant economic, social and educational disadvantage. Although proud of our community, we recognise that growing up in a challenging and sometimes unstable environment can be taxing for young children.

A drawing by a student of Our Lady Immaculate JNS, submitted as part of their meditation practice feedback

A drawing by a student of Our Lady Immaculate JNS, submitted as part of their meditation practice feedback

After researching different types of meditation, we obtained some practical guidelines and resources for both staff and students, and in time established a meditation room that we decorated with a beautiful mural and simple relaxing furniture. We began slowly with about 7 classes, but within 2 years the whole school was meditating on a regular basis. Classes were facilitated by Steve Gregory, who has been working in this area for over 30 years. He brought a sense of deep calm and focus to the children and school environment as he began to work with parents and children on a weekly basis. Steve would work each week with all class groups modelling the meditation practices that the teachers could then with their own class group as they wanted to.

Parents, care givers, and the wider school community were also offered a weekly class, and soon a variety of people regularly gathered in our parents’ room for meditation. There was also a class for the teachers after school, which we have now extended to teaching staff in all the neighbouring schools.

At the end of the first year, I collected feedback from our students in written, verbal and artistic expression. I wasn't prepared for the depth of response and understanding of meditation the children displayed. They had absorbed and understood the various practices, and were using them throughout their daily lives, not just at school. They used the practices to help them sleep or energise, to release negative feelings, or draw in positive ones. Some children spoke of how the meditation helped them to soothe and reassure their anxieties and stress. Some even referred to feeling the presence of deceased family members while meditating, or seeing colours and images.

Reflections on meditation practice

Reflections on meditation practice

It was a revelation to me and Steve to see how deeply they had related to the whole experience. The children's knowledge and understanding were evidence of their immense capacity to go within themselves and find a deeper sense of being. There were many amazing moments that I heard, read or saw in the feedback as well as during meditation classes I observed, but perhaps the most satisfying thing was the realisation that for these young people meditation was as much a part of their lives as P.E., Music or Reading classes. Meditation had become a practice they drew on when they needed it.

It can be challenging in life to develop a sense of connection or meaning to something other than the present situation - a journey inwards that satisfies and nurtures and is not dependent on anything other for a sense of completeness or joy. If our children contact that even once through this meditation project, it will all have been worth it, as that experiencecan make all the difference.

This blogpost was written by Breda Murray, Principal of Changemaker School Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S. in Darndale, Dublin 17. Visit their website to find out more: www.darndalejnr.ie


How peer mediation empowers children to build self-esteem

By Maeve Corish, Principal of Donabate-Portrane Educate Together National School

Students at Donabate-Portrane Educate Together National School (DPETNS)

Students at Donabate-Portrane Educate Together National School (DPETNS)

As a teacher I have always been fascinated by how differently individual people cope with conflict. Some students find conflict terrifying and avoid it at all costs, others seem to spend their lives moving from one conflict situation to the next and a third group are skilled at resolving conflict and staying on good terms with their classmates.

Since our school opened in 2002, we have endeavored to promote the principles of restorative justice when resolving conflict, and we have strived to place the emphasis on restoring relationships rather than on managing behavior or doling out sanctions and punishments.

When I came across a YouTube clip about Peer Mediation, I felt it would be a great fit for our school. Peer Mediation is a conflict resolution process through which students trained as mediators help other children to resolve conflicts. A number of key values and skills underpin Peer Mediation, including the creation of an ethos of respect and inclusion, advocacy for empowerment and emotional articulacy, and active listening paired with the expression of emotion. I found a training manual by an agency in Northern Ireland called Include Youth and set about training our most senior students (12-year-olds).

Our Peer Mediation service has been up and running in the school since the 2010-2011 academic year. It is a service run for students, by students and it is highly valued by our community. We hosted a number of meetings for parents so that they understood it, and the students learn the process through assembly every year. It has now run for five years and become embedded in school life.

The actual Peer Mediation is a formal process where two trained mediators sit down with two disputants and help them to have a “difficult conversation.” Both sides of the story are heard and summarized. It is absolutely essential that the mediators check how the disputants are feeling. Mediators don’t make decisions or tell the disputants what to do. Instead, they encourage the disputants to brainstorm and problem solve until they reach an agreement that is acceptable to both sides.

I chose to conduct an Action Research project on the impact that Peer Mediation has on the school as the subject of my thesis for my Masters degree in Education. The findings from the research project were overwhelmingly positive. Adults view peer mediation as a great opportunity for students to develop self-esteem and independence. They believe that it promotes maturity, respect, decision making and team building, and they value the programme for its potential for lifelong learning. The main reason the programme is valued by the children themselves is simply because it involves children sorting out problems without adult intervention. Children also value its adherence to restorative justice principles with emphasis on resolving differences rather than exacting punishments.

Principal Maeve Corish (second from left) and the Changemaker Schools team of DPETNS accept their Ashoka CMS Award in 2014

Principal Maeve Corish (second from left) and the Changemaker Schools team of DPETNS accept their Ashoka CMS Award in 2014

Without a doubt, this programme empowers the children and encourages them to be active citizens. It has been extremely effective in shifting the balance of power in the school from the adults towards the children. It fully supports Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, enhancing the voice of the child in matters that affect them.

Introducing a Peer Mediation Programme has been very positive and worthwhile for our school. I hope that the positive findings of my research into this area will convince other educators of the potential that Peer Mediation has, both as a successful method of conflict resolution and as an opportunity to enhance children’s participation and empowerment.

Inclusive education & Renaissance thinking: A conversation with Rory D'Arcy

Rory D'Arcy knows a thing or two about nurturing communities. He has served as the Principal of St. Oliver's National School in Killarney, Co. Kerry, for the past 14 years, and in that time, has seen its student population grow from 410 to over 780. With 45 nationalities, an integrated special needs unit, and over 60 pupils from the Traveller community, it is one of Ireland’s most diverse primary schools, as well as one of the largest. True to its size and shape, St. Oliver’s is a hub for the larger Killarney community, with extracurricular activities filling the halls and buildings of the school every day of the week. A leader in inclusive, empathic education, it was selected as one of the first schools in Ireland to join the Ashoka Changemaker Schools network in 2014.

Rory D'Arcy has been the principal of St. Oliver's NS for 14 years.

Rory D'Arcy has been the principal of St. Oliver's NS for 14 years.

Rory also serves on the Board of Trustees of Muckross House, a historical and educational landmark situated in Killarney National Park, which will host the Changemaker Education European Summit in October 2016. We sat down with Rory in July to learn more about the history of this important institution, as well as his philosophy for the future of education in Killarney, Ireland, and beyond.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you explain a bit about the history of Muckross House and the National Park that surrounds it?

The early history of the house is somewhat dark. The Herbert family, who came from Wales to mine copper in Killarney, built Muckross House in the 1840s during the height of the Irish famine. At the time it must have been so far removed from the devastation that was happening all over the country, particularly in Kerry.

Decades later, William Bowers Bourn II, a wealthy American mining magnate who owned the Empire goldmine in California, bought Muckross House and 10,000 acres of land as a wedding present for his daughter Maud, in 1910. She and her husband arrived at the estate and they found it in a deplorable state, having been uninhabited for 30 or 40 years. Maud set about restoring the cottages; she was very popular [and known for] her kindness. She contracted pneumonia and died, leaving her family heartbroken. Her father, William, was a friend of American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had started the national parks movement in the United States. Bourn decided to gift the whole house and all of the estate to the Irish State for nothing, in 1932, in memory of Maud.

Muckross House is located in Killarney National Park, in County Kerry

Muckross House is located in Killarney National Park, in County Kerry

For 30 years, the State did nothing with Muckross House and it fell into disrepair. In 1962 a Board of Trustees came together and worked in partnership with the State to open it to the public. Currently, the estate of Muckross House, Gardens and Farms are run jointly by the State and by the Board of Trustees, of which I am a member. Today, there are several traditional businesses on the premises, such as the farms, woollen weavers, a bookbinder, a pottery shop and a library. The money that we raise is then reinvested back into Muckross and the Killarney National Park, which surrounds it. 

Tell us a bit about how it links to the community of Killarney and the upcoming European Changemaker Schools Summit.

It’s a very interesting year that the Changemaker Education Summit is coming to Muckross, because of the 100th anniversary of the [Easter Rising, a significant date in the celebration of Irish independence]. The people who led the Rising in general were involved in education on all levels. It’s only right the conference will be looking at what we are doing well and what can we learn from each other in terms of education. The fact that Muckross House was never harmed during [the period of political unrest in Northern Ireland, known as ‘the Troubles’] and it was never attacked speaks to the love that the people of Killarney have for the house.

Muckross can be used to not only enhance the educational lives of the children in Kerry but also on a broader European level. To have a summit like this come to us is really exciting because it fits in with the history. The last private owner, William Bourn, gave the estate away for nothing, because he wanted to see it used for the education of the people of Ireland. It is now being used to mould, shape and influence education across Europe, carrying on his legacy. There’s an old tradition of great thinking in places of great beauty. The Greeks did it always. Beauty should be used as an inspiration.

Killarney is special because has this concentrated spirit of Irishness that it proudly wears, while also showing this international face and changing global dynamic. How does it balance its strong Irish identity with this international movement?

I think there are three interesting things about people from Killarney that make this work. There’s a self confidence, a belief in their own abilities. That comes from producing a product of the highest standard in terms of tourism. The second thing is their practicality. During the 1930s in the last great recession, the people of Killarney built a golf club, a race course and a town hall. They have a can-do attitude. The third thing is they have a genuine interest in people. I think those three elements have made the integration of people from foreign backgrounds easier than it would be in some other rural towns. It would be hugely ironic if a town noted around the world for its welcome wasn’t welcoming to the very people living in the town.

The people who come here come to work. In hotels or factories, there is a practical reason why they are there. The vast majority of people who come to my school, their parents are working [in and around Killarney’s flourishing tourist industry.]

I’d love to hear a little bit about St. Oliver’s and your experience working in the school. Can you give us a sense of how it fits within the larger community of Killarney?

Our school, St. Oliver’s, is the largest of the 8 national schools in Killarney. We have 783 pupils, 54 teachers and 20 classroom assistants. The school is a mixed Catholic school, with children who come to us at the age of 4 or 5, staying with us up until the age of 12 or 13. We also have a community preschool with a further 66 children, so it’s a very busy place.

With 45 nationalities, St. Oliver's NS is one of Ireland's most diverse schools

With 45 nationalities, St. Oliver's NS is one of Ireland's most diverse schools

Our aim is to ensure each child who leaves us is different: each of the pupils we produce is special in their own way. One of my jobs is to make sure that happens. The children experience different forms of teaching, types of teachers with different interests, as they travel up through the school. We also have the largest concentration of children with special needs in the country, with 11 resource teachers employed in school.

People would say there are all types different nationalities represented at the school, but that is something we are quite proud of. I have always put forth the idea that if you come to our school, your child’s friends won’t all be named Sean and Mary, they will be Sari and Ahmed. People associate that with our school and we’re very proud of that. Last year we received a yellow flag for celebrating cultural diversity. We have all sorts of initiatives: music, art and drama days, intercultural days. Everyday when you open the newspaper, it becomes abundantly clear this is the way we should be educating our children.

St. Olivers has a large fish tank in the middle of the school with a different fish for every nationality represented in the school. The students did a gorgeous presentation where they had signs of every language spoken by students in the school. They were sharing stories and doing skits. It really came alive and you can see the changing demographics of Ireland.

There is a progressive agenda that likes to tout the "new face of Ireland” image, and we fit quite neatly into that. But I find that attitude almost prejudicial, because it reduces this rich diversity to a few token nationalities. The children don’t really care that there are 45 nationalities at the school. To them it’s as irrelevant as the color of your hair. Our attitude towards this has evolved. Children are moving ahead of us and we need to follow them in that league. My thinking is moving on in terms of how we perceive and define ourselves.

Students at St. Oliver's NS take part in the on-site farm

Students at St. Oliver's NS take part in the on-site farm

The farm is one of many initiatives to support the local community

The farm is one of many initiatives to support the local community

A teacher who had been teaching in the school for quite a long time came to me after there was a tragedy that had recently happened somewhere in the world. The teacher went in that morning asking the children to pray and three of them went over to the corner and knelt down at the window. Nobody said anything or even batted an eyelid. The teacher came to me and said, “Are we not a Catholic school? Is this allowed?” I said not only is this allowed, this is exactly what I want to see happen. Children’s faith and ethnicity are there to be celebrated, not as a mark of difference. The children really don’t see it.

Can you explain your practice of “educational bartering?”

Our school is open 7 days a week; [the buildings and rooms are occupied even when school isn’t in session.] I use a bartering system because I’m more interested in people’s services than their money. Everything from gymnastic coaches, CoderDojo, occupational therapists—no one gives me money for the use of the school. They give their services. The whole idea of educational barter is a very interesting one because you can get a lot more.

I feel that schools should not just be professionally based, with just children and teachers. We should think of the school as a campus, geographically based. I would like to see occupational therapists and speech therapists on site, community welfare officers, school completion programmes, all based around the school community. In developing such a campus, people get to know each other. A lot of problems can be solved by making connections with people.

Can you tell us about some of the other inclusive practices that you promote within your school?

In relation to people seeking asylum, the Direct Provision  model where we have people waiting for their applications to be processed for a length of time is always something I felt very strongly about. We’ve had people in the system there for up to 10 years waiting for their application to be processed. We’ve always tried to find ways we could support people in that provision as a school community.

Recently I was struck by the power of food. One of our intercultural days some years ago, people prepared food and I watched the way people interacted around food. They were more relaxed, happy, easy. I’m working with KASI, the Kerry Asylum Seekers Initiative, and we opened a restaurant staffed by volunteers and members of the community who are seeking asylum. The restaurant feeds 75 people a day, at 4 Euro for a meal. The menus are fantastic and it gives people an opportunity to meet the children, to be part of the school community.

At the summit, there will be lots of space for sharing ideas with other Changemaker Principals. This fits into a larger European conversation about how to integrate asylum seekers and refugees. That often comes up in conversations with Changemaker Schools Principals. They are dynamic thinkers who are never just satisfied with an innovative curriculum. They think beyond that to what the school could become.

Exactly. At the moment, in this country we are fascinated by business models being applied to schools, but the truth is that businesses could learn a lot from schools. It should be a symbiotic relationship where we learn from one another. It’s important to see the big picture and not be pigeonholed. I shouldn’t see myself as the principal of a school and just that. 

I am also very conscious of the wonderful work of our teachers in welcoming children and helping each child celebrate their unique talents, heritage and potential. I do believe there is a need for more Renaissance thinking among educators. I come from a generation where everybody is a something: “If you’re a teacher you teach, if you’re an artist, you’re an artist - but don’t confuse the two.” People are put in a box. By contrast, people like Ashoka Fellows are really Renaissance thinkers. They look at applying their skills to whatever area has a need.

Find out more about St. Oliver's on their website: www.stoliversns.ie

The Changemaker Schools network now includes over 250 schools in 32 countries! Meet the schools on the website: www.changemakerschools.org