Wicklow social entrepreneur honoured for his work in response to covid-19

A Bray based social entrepreneur – Hugh Brennan – was among eight social entrepreneurs honoured for their innovative and visionary response to the covid-19 pandemic at a special online event hosted yesterday (14.10.20) by Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) – the SEI Gathering 2020.  

Mr Brennan is the co-founder of Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance, a voluntary housing co-operative that builds affordable houses in fully integrated and sustainable communities across Ireland. The demand for affordable housing has increased since the onset of Covid-19. Ó Cualann has responded by scaling up. While construction work had to be paused during lockdown, work has recommenced on 39 homes in Ballymun, Dublin 11 with a further 1,800 in the pipeline across the country.  


Commenting, Mr Brennan said: “Social enterprise is changing the world by degrees and I was delighted to share the Ó Cualann story at the SEI Gathering. The support from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has been the most important support that we have received to date. It is enabling us to build our own internal capacity which in turn gives confidence to Local Authorities and others to work with us, which means that we can replicate and scale the Ó Cualann model all over Ireland.” 

At the SEI Gathering event CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Darren Ryan highlighted that social entrepreneurs have played a key role in responding to the covid-19 crisis and will be needed more than ever as we rebuild our society. 

According to Mr Ryan: “The pandemic has shone a light on the communities that remain most vulnerable and isolated at this time and reminded us about what matters most. It has also shown that individuals around Ireland are willing and ready to step up and act.  

“Social entrepreneurs are society’s problem solvers. They are ordinary people who develop new, innovative ideas to address the social challenges we face and work tirelessly to put them into action. We have already seen examples of this in recent months, as people around the country have developed innovative ways to care for people, combat isolation, and keep our society going through the crisis. We will need a lot more of this as we respond to the evolving situation and continue to tackle the existing social issues. Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is proud to be supporting more social entrepreneurs than ever before in 2020, and we are committed to growing our support and impact in the coming years.”  

Since its foundation in 2004, SEI has supported 374 social entrepreneurs across the country. This year, SEI saw a record number of 245 applications to its programmes. Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance is currently one of SEI’s Scale Partners.  

Other social entrepreneurs recognised at the event were: 

  • Toufik Messabih, founder of Lib and participant on the SEI Ideas Academy 2020. Lib provides free, culturally sensitive counselling to Asylum seekers and refugees across Ireland. Lib responded to the pandemic by facilitating email, video chat and phone counselling sessions for those who preferred to defer face to face individual meetings. 
  • Caitríona Nic Mhuiris, founder of Kinship Care Ireland and participant on the SEI Action Lab 2020. Kinship Care Ireland offers supports, information and advocacy to kinship families and their communities. Kinship care is the full-time parenting of children by relatives or family friends. Since March, Kinship Care Ireland has adapted its supports to bring them online while continuing to advocate for kinship carers at government level.  
  • Caitriona Watters-Crehan, founder of Prepare Me and a participant on the SEI Adapt Programme 2020. Prepare Me creates visual resources for people who have additional needs to have informed experiences in everyday settings. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Prepare Me provided free online picture stories and activities outlining important changes.  
  • Shane McKenna and Killian Redmond, co-founders of DabbledooMusic and SEI Awardees 2016. DabbledooMusic makes music education more accessible, engaging and fun for all, by supporting teachers to teach the primary school curriculum while instilling a life-long love of music. When schools closed due to the pandemic, Shane and Killian were able to quickly offer free materials to parents that were specially designed for the home setting. As a result, they had over 7,000 parents and teachers accessing their content. 
  • David Neville and Pádraic Hogan, co-founders of jumpAgrade and SEI Awardees in 2019. jumpAgrade is working to reduce the education inequality gap by making top-quality tutoring and feedback available to second-level students, regardless of location, ability, or socio-economic background. jumpAgrade saw a 500% increase in demand for its services from 2019 to 2020 due to the pandemic and worked hard to scale both its services and impact.  

The SEI Gathering event also marked a decade of partnership between Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and  DCC plc. The international sales, marketing and support services group provides strategic financial investment and support to SEI. 

Commenting, Chief Executive of DCC plc, Donal Murphy said: “Over the past 10 years of proudly working closely with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, DCC plc has seen first-hand the incredible power of supporting people with ideas to change Ireland. This year has brought unprecedented challenges for the world, but we take heart that there are so many social entrepreneurs out there who are willing to roll up their sleeves and face these issues head on with courage and ingenuity. We are delighted to play our part in supporting them.” 

SEI will launch a national call for applications to its programmes in early 2021. Find out more at socialentrepreneurs.ie.  

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