Change is in the air and in my bones. I feel it stirring there.
Once again this last week has felt like four. It has been wonderful, intense, challenging and exhilarating. The beautiful sunshine which has been bathing Dublin with unexpected warmth over the last few days has been helping too, for added bounce.
Highlights have been two significant events for me, our fourth Trailblaze which took place in the former Special Criminals Court last Tuesday evening, and the Change Nation event which was organised by Ashoka and culminated in a ‘Festival of Solutions’ with the stunning back drop of Farmleigh House last Saturday.
First off Trailblaze:
Back last October, when the first Trailblaze took place in Dublin Contemporary, little did I think that a few months on we would be packing a courtroom with tales of daring, courage, music and what I can genuinely say, a bit of magic.
Standing in the Judge’s dock to open the evening, an element of surreal washed over me as nearly 200 faces stared back, anticipating. What followed sent shivers down my spine.
There were 12 speakers and two musicians. Each speaker had 6 minutes, and they spoke with raw passion, honesty about why they do what they do and the moments in their life where things clicked or clarified. Represented in the group was an educationalist, an entrepreneur, a film maker, a campainger, a teacher, a cancer survivor, an architect, a play innovator and a writer. To me they were a metaphoric microcosm of what potential and possibilities are alive in Ireland right now. In between it all were the beautiful sounds of Iarla O’Lionard, and the deep folk and often hilarious tunes of Lisa O’Neill, now firmly planted on the audience’s radar.
As a surprise addition, and in keeping with the historic location were we in, we organised Theatre Club to direct a reenactment of Robert Emmet’s famous speech from the dock, which was made on the 19th September 1083, the night before his execution. Watching it I had a huge sense of lineage soar through me. While I don’t claim a deep national pride, preferring instead ‘global citizenship’ and identifying my home in the world as the world, I did have a renewed sense and appreciation for the generations who have stood before me here, laying the very fabric of the streets and buildings, the infrastructure and the institutions, the good and the less so. Something in me connected with the significance of the place and bringing Trailblaze to such venue really did feel like a privilege.
Kathy, myself, Ciara and the rest of the Trailblaze team came away from the evening buzzing. Since then we have been beavering. We’ve plans emerging to take this further. We’ve been invited around the country. We’ll be building a website, pitching for funding, innovating the format and doing the best to keep the soul of this thing that seems to be timely alive. This thing? – essentially a new platform to bring together the best of creative thought, leadership, social entrepreneurship, innovation and artistry and showcase it to a wider audience, on and off line. Yes, it is a little like TED or The Do Lectures, but with an indigenous Irish twist, and what I know is a generous dollop of passion.
We’ll be announcing our next date and line up very shortly. We just need to confirm something with the venue. But we’ll be back, soon.
In the meantime head over to our facebook page and say hello. You’ll find us here.
Next up over the weekend was Ashoka’s Change Nation event, bringing together 50 social innovators from around the globe with the aim of jumpstarting 25 of their solutions in Ireland and gathering commitments from a cross-section of industry leaders in business, the arts, the social sector and philanthropy to help make them happen.
It is a new idea for Ashoka, ambitious and brave, and one they hope to be able to replicate in other countries.
The 3 day event finished on Saturday in the beautiful state-owned Farmleigh House, with a public ‘Festival of Solutions’. About 400 people showed up. Simply put, it was brilliant. It stuck me as significant for a number of reasons.
The informal festival feel meant the those gathered did not feel obliged to sit through tedious talks. It operated much in the same way that open space does- with the law of two feet. If you don’t like something or a conversation, move on and be responsible for your own learning.
I don’t think this event could have happened a few years ago. When starting out to write ‘One Wild Life’ the terminology and thinking behind social entrepreneurship, at least in Ireland, was little known. Looking at the 400 gathered and the press and media coverage that the event attracted, combined with the field building work that Social Entrepreneurs Ireland have been doing in the last few years, the idea is now on the map. This, I believe, is a good thing. Sure, funding models need to evolve, and I believe how we ‘position’ the role of the social entrepreneur needs to evolve too, but I see progress. What struck me as overwhelmingly position was the volume of people attracted to and engaging with the issues facing the country right now. Again the sun helped, but I did feel there was something to celebrate.
On a personal level the event was significant for two different reasons. Looking around at a good chunk of the organising and volunteering team who pulled off the event were a wonderful array of familiar faces who I got to know through Suas.
Coming up to ten years ago, when were were starting off with Suas and I was managing for their volunteer programme, we had the idea of bringing together a group of young social leaders, providing them with an intense opportunity for service, supporting them with leadership and personal development training, and sending them off into the world. Looking around the event, at the faces and the network so throughly engaged and supportive of each other, I had a sense of ‘wow- it worked’. I walked up to Colman Farrell on Saturday, my partner in crime at the time, and we smiled at each other. He was thinking the same thing too. Of couse, Suas can not claim full credit for this- there are a host of other and valuable factors involved, but it was a start and a catalyst. But looking around at the network it was a reminder that sometimes it takes time to really notice the impact of your work. It takes perseverance, commitment and patience. Especially in the field of education, measuring the difference requires a longitudinal approach. The seed can be planted but they may take a generation to grow. And the fruits? Well with the Ashoka event specifically, they are still to be developed. The emphasis of the event was on action. Commitments or pledges were logged and can be tracked here. It’s an interesting move for the social sector in Ireland, an experiment, and one worth watching.
I mentioned the event was significant for two reasons. The second was to do with a circle being completed. When I was setting off on my travels for ‘One Wild Life’, I was fortunate enough to be invited to brunch with Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka. We met in Oxford. He sat me down, and asked me to tell him about my idea and plans, which I did. Following the experience he sent some emails and helped to opened some doors for me. Those few emails enabled so much. They were an endorsement and could be used a leverage. They got me into places I didn’t even know existed. But I had never thanked Bill personally. So after his presentation last Saturday, I walked up to him, handed him a copy of ‘One Wild Life’ and said to him, ‘You helped to make this happen. Thank you’. He was chuffed. I was too. A circle felt completed. Then we both moved on, grins intact, back into the festival of solutions, finding our own way through it all.
(A shout out Kathryn O’Shea, Paul O’Hara and Erin Fornoff behind Ashoka for their work on the Change Nation event- well done!)
Photos of Trailblaze4 event by Samuel Bishop.
Photos of Change Nation event by moi.