The DCU Changemaker Schools Network works with schools to empower young people with the skills and confidence to lead change in their homes, schools and communities. Can you tell us how you first came to be involved and what inspired you to support it?
I first became involved with the Changemaker Schools Network in its early days when it was incubating in Ashoka, an organisation that identifies and supports the world’s leading social entrepreneurs and works to create a world where everyone is a Changemaker.
The network of 15 schools had come together and I was really impressed by the educational leaders involved, such as Fiona Collins, the current Network Coordinator, who was then the principal of a Changemaker school in St Francis Street. Their vision, educational acumen and willingness to do something different in order to change systems and make a difference in early level education was truly groundbreaking.
What I really admired about the Changemaker Schools Network is its dedication to innovation and disrupting the status quo, which I love! It aims to reach every child across Ireland and embed values including empathy, creativity, leadership and teamwork – which are absolutely critical now for students to flourish and lead in the future.
From a previous role with an education foundation, I know educational change takes time, so creating a collaborative platform to share and embed best practices among active educators is the best way to empower educational leaders over time.
What does DCU represent to you as a university, and why did you believe that DCU’s Institute of Education was a good home for the Changemaker Schools Network?
When Ashoka suggested DCU as a possible host for the network, I wasn’t very familiar with the university, having studied in the United States. However, from engaging with DCU, I have come to recognise the university’s deep commitment to innovation in education and its excellent connections with enterprise and industry.
It therefore made sense to embed the programme in the DCU Institute of Education, which is centrally involved in educating the next generation of Irish teachers. In order for Changemaker to scale and maximise its impact, it does need to be in a space where it can influence how school leaders are taught. Walking into a Changemaker school today, the vibrancy and engagement of the students is immediately evident and inspiring. However, the energy of these current students may just be a snapshot in time, unless the programme’s values are embedded in practice within the school, and within the education system more generally … and what better way to do this than through a connection with teacher formation.
What do you hope the long-term impact of your support for the Changemaker Schools Network will be?
In a nation such as Ireland, it is genuinely possible to reach every student and that gives me hope that every primary school will become a Changemaker school. Our world is changing at an unprecedented pace and it is vital for children to embrace these values – they will need to be empathetic, adaptable to change and creative leaders to ensure a sustainable future for humanity and the planet.
I also think that Changemaker is a programme the nation and world need to know more about – I would love to see children from Changemaker schools having more exposure and opportunities to engage with policy makers and leaders in enterprise and wider society.
As founder of WakeUp Capital, a venture impact fund focussed on sustainable and inclusive innovations, your commitment to driving social and environmental change for a better world is clear. What role do you believe universities like DCU could and should play as partners in creating a better world?
At WakeUp Capital, we are looking for disruptive tech enabled innovations to disrupt and evolve legacy industries to be more sustainable and inclusive. Many of the businesses we see come out of universities, which provide an environment where innovation is fostered and solutions can be tested and de-risked. In Europe, it is impressive to see the level of research and collaboration among governments, investors, higher education institutions and enterprise to deliver research that addresses societal and environmental challenges. However, we need to wake up with urgency to scale these ideas.
Are there specific themes or issues that motivate you in terms of your personal philanthropy more generally?
I don’t actually view my philanthropy separately from my business investments. Whether it is a for-profit, non-profit or social enterprise, I seek visionary founders and entrepreneurs with scalable ideas to solve problems that matter. I am looking to support people who challenge systems and maximise their impact in a sustainable way.
Philanthropy is part of our overall financial and life planning. In Ireland, we do need to tell the story of philanthropy more, what it has done and can do, and to encourage people that it is accessible rather than the preserve of billionaires, which most of us are not. We need to remind people that whether they give their time, treasure or talent, even small actions and resources can make a big difference to the issues that matter to them and to the world around them.