As I scramble to complete the final documents for Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, I’ve been thinking about my journey so far. SEI are running an extraordinary competition that awards three winners an equal share of €500,000 in grants and support. I could have waited until the end of the process, until I knew whether I had been successful, before writing this blog. So far, I have reached the final 18. This is the day before I submit my final documents to see if I can progress to the last eight. I chose this moment because it is filled with hope and that has been the driving force in my life for the past five years.
At the end of 2010, in my search for grants, I contacted Headway, who had been supporting me. They put me in touch with Care Alliance, who advised me to contact Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. Despite the volume of entries they receive, I decided to commit my time to filling in their substantial entry form. As a result, I was invited to their Bootcamp.
It was an incredible day. It felt like my first day at university, filled with expectation and excitment. Although I’m usually reserved in a room full of strangers, I knew that we were all there for the same reason. I found myself chatting comfortably with one incredible person after another. I met a woman who had created an app to help autistic children and a man who was running a long-term residential programme for addiction; some people were dedicating themselves to giving children the support they need to begin a fruitful life, while others were offering spiritual comfort to those at the end of their lives. Throughout the day, as we met and explained our projects, I heard one phrase over and over again: “There are so many other people here that deserve to win.”
We are so used to hearing politicians, athletes, game show contestants and many others telling us forcefully: “You should vote for me … I should be the only winner.” Yet, in this room, I stood with 41 people who had given up their lives to enhance the lives of others without promise of reward or recognition. Despite their obvious passion for their own projects, they still had such honest generosity. In the midst of a recession caused by self-seeking money-grabbing, I saw another side of Ireland: a side where individuals quietly and steadfastly work behind the scenes to bring about lasting social change.
We have lived so many centuries since David Hume wrote An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Maybe one day, more people will recognise his foresight and wisdom when he wrote:
‘Upon the whole, then, it seems undeniable that nothing can bestow more merit on any human creature than the sentiment of benevolence in an eminent degree, and that a part, at least of its merit arises from its tendency to promote the interests of our species and bestow happiness on human society’
Added in May 2011:
I now know that I did not make it into the final eight of the Social Impact Programme. While I am disappointed, to say the least, I also feel I have already won prizes beyond valuation.
I attended the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland 2011 Summer Alumni Event last week. From the beginning I was blown away by the speakers, the people I met and the incredible atmosphere.
The speakers and videos were fascinating and Madame Betty Nyagoha, principal of Gatoto Primary School, was beyond inspirational. As I sit here in my comfortable semi in Lucan, I cannot imagine the strength and courage she embodies. She puts everything into perspective. I met several people during the facilitated networking who said they would like to help me with Research & Hope and I heard from them the next day. In addition, our table was given the task of working on our respective problems and we agreed to continue our work by meeting up once a month.
The event provided emotional invigoration, intellectual stimulation and a list of practical steps I can take to move my project forward. I feel privileged to have been included in such company. It was a landmark day for me.
I will enter the competition again next year but, for now, I will keep working with renewed energy.