Social Innovation Study Visit to Ireland
Delegates at the Netwell Centre's '3D Cave', as part of a study visit organised by the Building Change Trust.

Social Innovation Study Visit to Ireland

05 December 2013

As part of its work in Social Innovation, the Building Change Trust is hosting a series of study visits to learn more about this exciting concept.

The Trust is taking 17 social innovation ‘practitioners’ and ‘enablers’ from Northern Ireland community, voluntary and social enterprise, as well as public sector organisations working in various fields to learn from colleagues in the Republic of Ireland and in London.

With Social Innovation being one of the main areas of work for the Trust between now and 2018, they are aiming to explore best practice in social innovation outside Northern Ireland in order to identify ideas and approaches which could be integrated into an action planning process on Social Innovation.

The first visit was for a group of 11 ‘practitioners’ and took place on Monday 2nd December. The first stop was the Netwell Centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology.

The Centre ‘develops new ideas that enhance the quality of life and well-being of older people and those who care for them’ through more integrated community-oriented services, more sustainable home and neighbourhood design, and more age-friendly technologies.

Rodd Bond, Director of the Netwell Centre talked participants through the project’s evolution since the establishment of the centre in 2006.

One of the centre’s initiatives has been the construction of  the state-of-the-art Great Northern Haven apartment complex for older people incorporating a vast array of technological and service innovations aimed at enabling the residents to live independently in their homes for as long as possible.

Participants were able experience this development virtually through the ‘3D Cave’ (pictured) developed by Netwell’s sister organisation, the Centre for Affective Solutions for Ambient Living Awareness (CASALA).

Next the group travelled south to Dublin where they met with representatives of Ashoka Ireland, a branch of the highly respected global movement of social entrepreneurs.

Ashoka identifies and elects a series of ‘fellows’ in each country that are recognised for their pioneering work in any social field.

In addition to providing support to a select group of fellows, they have a more broad-based initiative ‘Everyone a Change-Maker’ which aims at identifying and encouraging ordinary people who are committed to creating social change in their local setting. The aim is to identify 100,000 Irish Change-Makers by 2016 and to bring them together for a major celebration in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Participants also heard about Ashoka’s Change Nation programme which began in 2012 and brought in 50 Ashoka fellows from across the world to work in collaboration with local social entrepreneurs to identify innovative solutions to some of Ireland’s most pressing social problems.

This has sparked off more than 30 initiatives, for example Project Echo which seeks to cut health service waiting lists by creating virtual fora for GPs to boost their skills through regular engagement and learning with hospital consultants in various specialist fields.

Finally the group met for dinner with Barbara O’Connell, CEO of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, where they heard about ABII’s pioneering work in providing flexible and tailor-made services for people with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), enabling them to lead meaningful lives in the community.

The organisation was established in 2001in response to the almost complete absence of post-hospital services for those affected by ABIs.

Paul Braithwaite, who heads up the Trust’s work in Social Innovation said: “All in all the day was a success, the key challenge now will be for the participants to help Building Change Trust translate the lessons learnt into an action plan that delivers effective support for promoting social innovation in the Northern Ireland Community and Voluntary Sector”.