A new survey to mark the showcase of THINKTECH, a €1 million project to grow ideas for a better Ireland, reveals the non-profit sector in Ireland is underestimating the value and benefit of technology in solving social issues.

65% of non-profit leaders in Ireland do not believe technology has a large part to play in tackling homelessness and 63% believe the same of ageing well. This is despite early adopters such as THINKTECH Awardees Space Engagers and The Alone Platform using technology to make a significant impact on both homelessness and Ageing Well at home, respectively.

However, the survey of over 60 non-profit leaders, finds that 40% of respondents said that their organisation was involved in social innovation all the time and a further 30% said sometimes.

Deirdre Mortell, CEO of the Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) said:  “THINKTECH is the first ever fund to support ideas that use technology to solve the critical issues of our time. Therefore it made sense for us to undertake research to better understand the non-profit sector’s current beliefs about the power and potential of technology and social innovation for their important work. The finding that shows 40% of the sector self-identifying their work as a social innovation is very encouraging to us. We want to work with these innovators and help them bring their innovations to scale for maximum benefit to Ireland.

“However the findings also highlight a disconnect between the sector’s perception of technology as a solution to social issues and technology’s potential role in these solutions as demonstrated by early adopters like our four THINKTECH Awardees. 28% of the non-profit sector do not see a role for technology in solving social issues. This makes initiatives like THINKTECH even more important, both to showcase the powerful impact of technology on these critical social issues and to inspire innovators to join our journey. Dublin has a world-class tech industry. We want to see Dublin matching other tech cities like San Francisco or London in developing a world class tech for good community alongside its flourishing tech industry. We call on the tech industry, business, and the non-profit sector to come together and join us on this journey”.

The first fund of its kind in Ireland, THINKTECH, is a collaboration between Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) and Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, together with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government.  The fund supports social enterprises, charities, and other not-for-profits that use technology to make Ireland better and help solve critical social issues in an innovative way.

This week the four winners of THINKTECH showcase their innovations. Each of the social innovations will demonstrate the impact of the THINKTECH programme in helping them grow their enterprises and make a difference to Irish society.

Last September, following an open competition, the fund was distributed among four innovative projects – The Alone Platform, Space Engagers, FoodCloud Hubs and iScoil and over the past five months they have also received other forms of support including mentoring, and professional supports from Google.

Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said: “Ireland needs innovation more than ever, not just to find new solutions but also to bring efficiencies to our systems. Technology-driven social innovations can do both – a win/win for Ireland’s citizens and taxpayers. The THINKTECH projects are great examples of this. The quality of the finalists and the range of issues they address highlights what corporate leadership, Government support and social innovation can achieve when we all work together.”

THINKTECH Awardee’s Showcase Case Studies:

iScoil

iScoil is an online learning community that offers young people a route back into education on their own terms and at their own pace. Ireland sees over 1,000 young people every year drop out of school before their Junior Cert, and studies show that 43% of those are still unemployed one year later.

Daniel, a bright young man from Longford Town, describes his younger self as “acting the blaggard” and insists that he would be in prison now aged 20 were it not for joining the iScoil programme when he was 17. “I had no interest in school and ended up going down the wrong road,” he said, “I was getting into fights for no reason and causing trouble. iScoil gave me a place to go, where I could get something out of it. The boys really encouraged me. They gave me the courage to fail, and try again. When I was down at my lowest, they boosted myself up.”

iScoil is proven to re-divert these young people back into education with nearly all graduates returning to school or undertaking post secondary school educational activity, with subsequent better job prospects.

FoodCloud

Irish based FoodCloud is making an international success of their innovative technology that links charities to food suppliers to cut out wasted food and wasted resources. One of the charities benefitting from FoodCloud is Kare who provide over 500 meals a day to the elderly in Dublin.

“I’ve raised seven kids and now it’s nice to have meals made for me” Nuala an elderly woman from Ballymun says as she sits and enjoys a meal with her friends in her Dublin City Council home. “Before I had this meal service, I would skip meals sometimes and go hungry. It’s not easy for me to stand in front of a cooker anymore because of arthritis in my fingers.”

The Alone Platform

The national charity for older people in Ireland, Alone, is developing a new app-based befriending service to help older people connect with each other and find support to ease loneliness.

“Unfortunately my family live very far away and I don’t have much contact with them,” says Anne in Cork who uses a tech based befriending service supported by Alone’s technology. “That feeling of isolation you have, the volunteers in the befriending service take it away. I look forward to having a little chat every day. When you were a busy person before, that’s very important.”

Space Engagers

Space Engagers is an innovative project that aims to gamify digital space mapping to tackle a number of social issues, homelessness among them.

“I was an alcoholic, staying in hostels if I was lucky or mostly sleeping by the Red Cow interchange. I had nowhere to put my head down,” says Veronica, who is a former rough sleeper in Dublin now re-housed in a previously vacant building. With the help of Space Engagers technology, the Peter McVerry Trust is able to identify unused buildings which they can work towards transforming into homes for homeless people.

“My life was terrible, and they found this derelict place and turned it into a home for me. They say secure your castle and everything else will be ok. My life has completely changed since I got a home, I’m even going back to study”