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Could these 9 ideas change Ireland for the better?

We often think that we have to wait for the system to change things – but we don’t, argues SEI’s Darren Ryan.

“DO YOU HAVE the next big idea to change Ireland?”

This was the question we asked people across Ireland earlier this year. Hundreds of people replied, from every corner of the country. The ideas that came back were incredible.

We often think that we have to wait for the system to change things. But there are people all over the country who have innovative ideas to solve Ireland’s social problems and they have the drive and determination to put these ideas into action.

These people are entrepreneurs. But not in the traditional sense. Instead of having an idea to make a profit, they have an idea to create a social change, to make life better for people and to create a better society.

At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we select the best entrepreneurs with the best ideas and give them funding and support to make that idea a reality.

Some of the previous Social Entrepreneurs Ireland winners have been FoodCloud – an app developed by Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward which matches retailers who have too much food with charities that have too little; and the Irish Men’s Sheds Association founded by John Evoy which has had a huge impact in combating isolation and suicide among men in Ireland.

Like Dragon’s Den, we filter through the applications, interview the entrepreneurs and finally, after a thorough and in-depth selection process we have found the top nine ideas to change Ireland for 2016 and the entrepreneurs behind them.

And they are…

A Lust for Life – Niall Breslin and Susan Quirke

Sometimes an idea arrives at just the right time, when people need it most and when a country is really ready to embrace it. For Ireland, this idea is A Lust for Life. There are hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are experiencing or have experienced a mental health issue. This can be very lonely. It can also be daunting and overwhelming.

21/01/2016. Bressie - Wellbeing and Mental Health. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

A Lust for Life aims to bring people together, to show solidarity in doing activities together, like a run or a cycle. They are creating strong communities so no one has to feel alone, no matter what they are going through.

A Lust for Life has also created a platform where experts can give advice and people can talk about the mental health issues they are experiencing. A Lust for Life is a national wellbeing movement utilising a holistic approach to promote positive mental health, suicide prevention and physical health. Through the media and grassroots advocacy A Lust for Life aims to change the way we talk about and treat mental health issues in Ireland.

Lakers- Meeting Special Needs – Claire Brady

Lakers is changing people’s lives in a big way. It is an idea that is set to take off across the country. The idea behind Lakers is to create a place where people of all age groups with different intellectual disabilities can participate in a wide range of sporting, social, recreational, and developmental activities.

Lakers asks its members what activities they would like to take part in and facilitates the various interests of its members. Lakers also provides a strong, supportive network for parents and families of its members. If you have an intellectual disability in Ireland sometimes the choice of activities that you can take part in can be very limited.

This has a huge effect on the quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Lakers is changing people’s lives by giving them diversity and choice and creating an environment where people can thrive and reach their full potential.

ReCreate – Dara Connolly

Many businesses have surplus materials at the end of the day, which are often sent to landfill. Meanwhile, many communities around Ireland cannot afford art materials, which can be very expensive. ReCreate is a fantastic idea which bridges this gap. ReCreate salvages materials from businesses, like Avoca handweavers or Bewleys and makes art materials out of them.

Recreate Ireland / YouTube

They have created a Warehouse of Wonders which is full of incredible materials. They hold workshops and invite groups and schools from disadvantaged communities to join in the workshops or avail of art supplies. ReCreate’s mission is to be an inclusive social enterprise by inspiring curiosity, creativity and care for the environment by supporting businesses nationwide to divert materials from landfill. This is a very special project and a trip to the Warehouse of Wonders is a must for children and adults alike.

Buddy Bench Ireland – Sam Synnott and Judith Ashton

Buddy Bench Ireland is a simple but wonderful idea – to put a colourful bench in school yards around Ireland. The aim is to encourage children to use the bench to talk to each other about their feelings.


This is coupled with a programme they have developed, which aims to teach children how to express their emotions and talk about how they are feeling. This has mental health benefits and creates a supportive and communicative environment for children from a very young age.

It is surprising how many young children experience anxiety issues and don’t know how to express what they’re going through. Sam and Judith’s vision is to have a buddy bench in every school in the country. This could make all the difference to the mental health of the next generation.

CyberSafeIreland – Alex Cooney and Cliona Curley

One third of internet users are children. This may surprise you. What may surprise you even more is what these children are doing online. Many parents worry about children being on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But what they may not realise is that there are a whole host of other apps and websites that children are accessing that parents don’t even know exist.

One in five children has come into contact with a stranger online and many of the dangers of the internet like cyberbullying and grooming are very real concerns when children are growing up with the internet as part of their daily lives. And yet, there’s no national strategy to help parents and teachers to deal with this issue.

CyberSafeIreland works with children, talking to them about the apps and websites they are using. They then advise parents, teachers and children about how kids can be stronger, smarter and safer online. This idea is timely and will help our society to adapt to a fast-changing world.

DabbledooMusic – Shane McKenna and Killian Redmond

Many primary school teachers don’t know how to read music, and yet they are supposed to teach it in the classroom. Remember this?

melodica 2 w3asel w3asel

This can be daunting and often means that teachers avoid teaching the subject as they’re not confident about it themselves. The reality is, because of this, a lot of children around the country are missing out on music education and the joy and skills that come with it. DabbledooMusic has the solution.

By creating a programme that uses colours in place of musical notation, they are making teaching and learning music more accessible, engaging, and fun for teachers and students. If you’ve never played music in your life, you’ll be playing a polka in a matter of minutes! Check it out.

Mobility Mojo – Noelle Daly and Stephen Cluskey

For many people with mobility issues- whether they are in wheelchairs, are elderly, or pushing a pram or buggy, accessibility is a major issue. And yet, it can be incredibly difficult to find any reliable information about whether hotels, bars, restaurants or tourist sites are accessible.

This makes life very difficult for more than 600,000 people affected by reduced mobility in Ireland and their friends and families too. Mobility Mojo is an exciting new app which aims to solve this.

It’s like ‘TripAdvisor’ for those with mobility issues. Developed by Noelle and Stephen, who are both wheelchair users themselves, it is a platform for people to give live reviews on transport routes, public buildings, tourist attractions and accommodation.

Their mission is to create a barrier-free travel environment for people with limited mobility and make Ireland the most accessible destination. It’s one of those ideas you just can’t believe doesn’t exist already.

Problem Gambling Ireland – Barry Grant

With the tap of a phone these days you can lose your paycheck, your rent money, your relationships, your job. This is because gambling is so easy to do on your mobile phone. For people who are addicted to gambling this is a major problem.

Barry is an addiction counsellor and witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of problem gambling – from mental health issues to family breakdown to crime committed to support addiction.

Problem Gambling Ireland is an independent resource dedicated to reducing gambling related harm through preventative education, awareness-raising of gambling addiction and lobbying for statutory regulation of the gambling industry.

Its mission is to provide an independent suite of supports, resources and referral pathways for problem gamblers and their families. This idea is tackling a complicated issue in a real and meaningful way.

Step Out Ireland – Francis Cleary 

One in eight people in Ireland suffer from social anxiety disorder. That means probably one of your friends or family may go through this at some point in their lives. It is a very isolating and overwhelming condition which can make friendships, relationships and even keeping down a job very difficult.

It can also lead to substance abuse and other mental health issues. Francis Cleary was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder at the age of 27. He knew he had to do something to help people who were going through the same problem.

He founded Step Out Ireland which creates a welcoming and safe space for people with social anxiety disorder to meet and talk with one another. Its aim is to facilitate meaningful connection so that social confidence and a sense of belonging can be fostered. Step Out Ireland hosts facilitated meetings in locations around Ireland and is already changing lives across the country.

So far Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has supported over 200 big ideas which are having an enormous impact on lives across Ireland. Stay tuned to see how these ideas grow and scale over the coming years. And keep a look out for our call out in March as we look for more people to Think Big, Act Now and Change Ireland. 

Darren Ryan is CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland

More: Two Irish outfits that want to fix our food-wasting habits are going global

Read: Ireland is the 15th best country in the world to be a young person – survey

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