Cork Champions – Cork Foundation Chairperson, Aine Collins
Over the next few weeks and months we are going to introduce you to individuals who have really been champions in Cork Businesses. These people will include the members of the board of Cork Foundation. This is an opportunity for you to get to know who they are and what they do for Cork.
The Cork Foundation is an organisation which was established in 2013 as a registered charity. Their objective is to match donors to social enterprises who through this funding, can create sustainable jobs and have a positive impact on local communities. The board works together to help deliver projects and create sustainable jobs in the Social Enterprise sector across Cork City and County.
Áine Collins, a former TD for Cork North West is the Chairperson of the Cork Foundation. She also has her own consulting business called Blueprint Consulting, offering advice and support to medium size companies. Aine was the founder of the Cork Foundation to begin with. Back in 2009 she got the idea when she was mentoring transition year students for Millstreet Community School, which was under the supervision of Jerry Kennelly and run out of Tralee IT, helping them with a project which was all about starting up a new business. It was on a particular day called the blue skies day, which had about 700 17-year-olds in a room and the energy was amazing that businessman Denis O’Brien, one of the speakers talked about the fact that there are 70 million people around the world who call themselves Irish. He also reflected on the fact that as he was building Digicel in the south pacific the work that Irish brothers and sister had done to help develop these counties meant that they were very grateful to Ireland, as some of these counites business and political leaders had been educated by Irish Missionary.
This got her thinking about how best to connect with these Irish people abroad and on what an impact this little country of ours has had on the rest of the world. She says that she felt a shiver down her spine when she heard about what Irish people had contributed to the rest of the world. From then on, she saw this as an untapped resource that no one had done anything about. She started the conversation and realised of course that we have all been affected my immigration and by people leaving our shores. That conversation, as well as getting people around the table is what led to the creation of the Cork Foundation. Cork seemed like the perfect place to start as Aine is from Cork herself and because the largest diaspora in Ireland is also from Cork.
Aine believes that there is a huge benefit in connecting with our diaspora because it gives people who have left Ireland a link to home and an opportunity to give back to their own community. This contribution can be a financial one or it can be through donating their time or simply recognising the impact Ireland has had worldwide. Aine say’s “people who have left Ireland, first, second, third generation, they still see themselves as Irish. There are a lot of people who would like to help but they don’t know how”
Aine sees that connecting with so many people can sometimes be a struggle, as everyone has busy lives but that is the challenge that the foundation faces. Technology is fantastic of course and a great resource but it is also important that there is a real presence both here and abroad, so people know who we are and how they can get involved. It is important that we reach out to people and gather their stories as well as information. Aine says, Irish people abroad see themselves as part of the Irish community and that is a national asset that we’ve never really focused on.”
According to Aine reaching out and helping Social Enterprises to grow in Ireland is also very important for the foundation. It can be a great way of connecting with people in the community. “Social enterprise can solve a lot of our social problems in different communities” she remarks. These enterprises can help to aid the community around us and help it from dying out as we move into a more digital world. We still need social enterprise organisations so that people can socialise, meet and communicate with each other. However, they do need funding and many people aren’t even aware that social enterprises do struggle to survive. That is where the Cork Foundation can step in. We can be the eyes and ears for Irish people at home and abroad, helping to keep their home place vibrant. Aine says, “if you can give people help with investment you can create sustainable jobs and this improves lives”
All the organisations that the Cork Foundation helps to fund have a special place in Aine’s heart. She does however especially mention how proud she is of the work done to help fund the Cork Life Centre as there is a huge need to help young people who have fallen out of the educational system. Aine explains that this organisation has changed many young people’s lives forever as well as their family and their environment. She says, The Cork Life Centre are so passionate and we all know that If we can help people when they are young it has a huge impact on their future”
Setting up the Cork Foundation and developing it is, Aine says has been an incredible passionate journey and would not be possible without the help of so many other people it is a huge achievement to get it thus far. She says it is great to see our number two employee starting and continuing to see the organisation grow. She is immensely proud of the work that the foundation has done so far. She explains that at times it seemed impossible but now she feels confident about the future and where the foundation is headed. Aine says “We are still the only organisation in the country who is focused on building our diaspora and helping social enterprise. It is unique!” She hopes that the Cork Foundation will become a model that others will look at and say we can do this too. Aine wishes to grow the foundation so that it can operate in Europe and Asia in the future, as well as the UK and the US. For now, though she is focused, as are the other members of the board on growing the foundation at home and launching our first network in London in September 2017 as well as making a positive difference to those involved.