In a fascinating new interview, Kerryman Eamon Stack ex former priest, Garvaghy Rd peace activist and social entrepreneur reveals how he changed course to found Europe’s largest IT charity consultancy, Enclude.
Eamon Stack is a former Jesuit priest from Tralee, Co. Kerry who has worked tirelessly for peace and justice work in Ireland and overseas. He is also the founder of Enclude, the largest IT charity consultancy in Europe.
In a deeply personal and revealing interview on my Love and Courage podcast, Eamon talks about his early interest in social justice, his passion for technology as a tool for change, and the adventurous life he has lived so far, which includes serving as a priest on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown during the height of the troubles, and helping to lead the Make Poverty History movement in 2005, bringing over 20,000 people together to march for economic justice.
Eamon’s father, Austin Stack (a former Kerry County Council Manager) was the founding father of Kerry Airport, and on leaving school in rural Kerry, Eamon followed in the family’s enterprising footsteps, going to Dublin to study Computer Engineering at Trinity College with two other local lads. When he arrived, though, he found himself shocked by the divisions he saw in the inner city.
“I was appalled to find myself there, as a young, privileged student, only hundreds of meters from people who were chronically poor. Like, a poor you would have expected in the so called Third World – but you were seeing it in Dublin.”
This experience led him to get involved with the St. Vincent DePaul Society and deepended his commitment to solving some of the social problems he was witnessing.
“I found the message most coherent in the Jesuits, at the time. Particularly Peter McVerry, who is still a very inspiring figure. So, I was drawn towards the Jesuits, and I joined in ’83.”
After a full decade of training, Eamon was sent on his first full-time posting in 1993, to the Jesuit community in Portadown. There he worked in community development as part of the Drumcree Community Centre on the Garvaghy Road, where the annual Orange parades through his new community posed particular problems.
The parades and the controversy surrounding them were to take Eamon, who was by then approaching his mid thirties, right to the heart of a story that was to make global headlines. In 2005, with the situation on a knife-edge, Eamon supported the community to show peaceful resistance to the Orange marches, including with a powerful sit-down protest. It was after this protest that Ian Paisly and David Trimble marched hand-in-hand into Portadown.
“There was a very serious stand-off in Drumcree – there was massive rallies of up to 20,000 people on a hill about 2 miles away from where we were. Eventually mediators were brought in. And we figured that there was serious danger of loss of life, so we decided to step off the road that year. So, that was a very difficult decision for the Catholic community – but there was unity in that. And we just got off the road, and stood with our backs to the Orangemen as they silently walked down the road early one morning.”
“There was an extraordinary moment from 2007, where we couldn’t go to Mass ourselves. So, you had this extraordinary, ironic situation: in order to facilitate the Orangemen to go to a church service at the end of our estate, and walk through the middle of it, they had banned us from going to Mass. So, we held mass in front of the British personnel carriers – and it was a good moment of protest, of simple protest.”
In the years after his work on the Garvaghy Rd, Eamon spent time in Mexico, where he says the problems in Portadown were very much put into perspective.
Returning from there to Ireland to work in a faith and justice project for young adults, he began to become disillusioned with the church. Eventually, most of his peers ended up leaving the Jesuits, and Eamon felt it was his time to do the same. “I was kind of left companionless and lonely, and uncomfortable in my life.”
Eamon was now in his early 40s, and it took a few years for him to find his feet again – but he says work with the Debt and Development Coalition and Make Poverty History helped restore his confidence. Eventually, his background in social justice campaigning, combined with his early training as an engineer, led him to the Centre for Non Profit Management in Trinity College, to explore how technology can be harnessed for social change.
Conversations he had there with Paddy McGuinness from Concern, and a meeting with SAP technologist Ciaran Hayden, ultimately led to the creation in 2006 of Enclude,an organisation that would blaze a trail for technology use by charities.
“At the minute, we are managing to channel about €7 million Euro worth of technology donations to Irish charities, every year. And then, we have to develop the capacity to use the IT. Commercial consultants are very expensive for charities – and commercial consultants don’t understand the business processes.
“So what we needed to create, ourselves, was a charity consulting capacity. So, we’ve built up a team of 21 people – many consultants who have come from the commercial world, who are willing to take a 50% or 60% cut in their salaries to change their work, to work with charities.”
Enclude’s main focus is on helping charities to implement solutions that help them do their work better. “It’s about alignment of the great, donated technology with best practice in service delivery. And we, as charities, understand what best practice is. If you want to know how to do a homeless service, then you ask Depaul. Or in addiction services, again – people delivering those services, in every corner of Ireland, know how to do their business.”
“What’s missing is the ability to say: “Well, how can you align the technology with that, to help their referrals, help their assessment of clients, help their care planning? And that leads to defining better outcomes.”
“And the technology, then, can contribute to a circle of learning,, where charities get good, structured information about what they do, they can reflect on that and say: ‘We can do it even better.”’
“So, the key idea of the project is about contributing to that learning process. It’s very much about integrating information and process stuff with the best tech, to deliver effective solutions for people.
“I’m utterly inspired by these people. And I sometimes just name it as ‘blessing.”’ I’ve done very little. Except, maybe, create a room for those people to walk into, and create connections whereby they can match their extraordinary expertise and compassion with the needs of others who are out there on the coalface, delivering services in domestic violence, or homelessness, or addiction. And it’s a great joy in my life, to see that happen.”
More information on Enclude, including discounted software and access to $10,000 per month of free Google Ads for Irish charities, at www.enclude.ie
You can listen to Eamon’s full interview for free by subscribing to Love and Courage, using the podcast app on your phone or through Soundcloud. More information at www.loveandcourage.org