May 2011: My first encounter with SEI: seeing Ireland in a new light

My first encounter with SEI: seeing Ireland in a new light

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) runs an extraordinary competition to win funding and support over two years. I started to write this blog when I had reached the final 18 of the competition in 2011 and before I knew whether I would be in the last eight who are all guaranteed a prize. I began to write the day before I submitted my final documents; I chose that moment because it was filled with hope and that has been the driving force in my life for so many years now.

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Boot camp

I had already attended the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Boot camp where I met the SEI team,  39 other hopeful candidates and a selection of past winners. It was an incredible day. It felt like my first day at university, filled with expectation and excitement. 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, another who was 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 talked and explained our projects, I heard one phrase over and over again: “There are so many other people here who deserve to win.”

A different perspective.

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 so many 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. Maybe one day we will all listen to great philosophers like David Hume who knew that kindness and benevolence enhance every life and ‘bestow happiness on human society’ (An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals).

The results of the competition

I now know that I did not make it into the final eight of the Social Impact Programme in 2011. While I was disappointed, to say the least, I also felt that I had already won prizes beyond valuation.

After that I was invited to attend the SEI alumni events. From the beginning I was blown away by the speakers, the people I met and the incredible atmosphere. The events provided emotional invigoration, intellectual stimulation and practical help from the people I met along the way.

When I entered the competition again the following year the outcome was very different. I was awarded the Impact Award, the top prize and it has been life changing.



By Dr. Aviva Cohen, PhD

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