Cork Champions – Cork Foundation Chairperson, Aine Collins


Áine Collins Chairperson of Cork Foundation.
Picture: Darragh Kane

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.

   Mary Galvin, Chairperson Aine Collins and Leah Fleming at the first HackForGood 

 

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.”


Aine Collins, Chairperson Cork Foundation, Colette Quinn, Shine Centre for Autism, Mary Galvin, Leah Flemming and Padraic Vallely, Cork Foundation pictured at the presentation of cheques from the live crowding event where €12,000 was pledged for non profit support from businesses in Cork.
Photo Joleen Cronin

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.

 

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Cork Life Centre – Student Profile William

William had a rocky beginning in mainstream education. He joined the Life Centre in 2014 as a 3rd year student, two years ago. He is eagerly anticipating his return in September. He described his relationship with the centre as “too strong, it is unbelievable – it’s not just another school this is a family. It has changed my life as well as my families.”

In 2008 After budget cuts, the Cork Life Centre lost all funding from the department of education. However, the centre has still managed to grow and continue to help all the students that pass through its doors. “The donations we receive benefit the students and the teachers so much.” Last year William went to Calcutta in India to help street children, an opportunity he may not have had if he had stayed in a mainstream school. “I am so grateful, it is hard to talk about and explain the experience but it has completely changed my outlook on life, the children have so little but are still so grateful for everything they have.”

The 17 year old is determined to sit his leaving certificate and has aspirations about becoming professionally involved with mixed martial arts. At the tender age of 17 William has already won 6 national titles in MMA and Jiu-jitsu and is currently preparing for the World and European Championships next year.

The Cork Life Centre works to provide services to those students who felt distant from the mainstream education system and to give young people across Cork a second chance at succeeding in a school environment. Deputy director Rachel Lucey says “the developments which have been made as a result of the funding from the Cork Foundation have been consistent and have helped to improve the lives of so many young people throughout Cork city and county.” The centre wants to see their students get a step closer to their aspirations and dreams.

 

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Impact of Cork Foundation Funding

 

Students William Cooper, Alan Raymond and Amber O’Callaghan with Don O’Leary, Director
PIC DARRAGH KANE

The Cork Foundation is a unique philanthropic model which is fueled by donations from people who are keen to support social enterprise and community groups who bring about positive social change. It’s designed to help social enterprises to flourish. The funding provided allows these diverse organisations to create jobs and make a positive impact on the local community. The Cork Foundation’s main aim is connecting with Cork network globally to support Cork people locally. They match donors by connecting local and international donors to social enterprise projects in their community. This contribution goes towards creating sustainable jobs in the area, which in turn helps to improve the lives of Cork people and provides a meaningful way to give back.

The partnership with the Cork Life Centre has been a truly rewarding one for all involved. Seeing the impact that the centre has had on young people’s lives is really inspiring. Board member Frank Hannigan says “Everyone at Cork Foundation is blown away by the Cork Life Centre. The ambition and the ability to execute their strategy is motivational.” The Cork Foundation is delighted to play a small part in helping the centre to carry out their important work. It’s all about making a difference and the Cork Life Centre, through their impressive efforts does just that.

Pupils Alan Raymond and Danny O’Keeffe with Don O’Leary, Director and Pádraic Vallely, CEO Cork Foundation
PIC DARRAGH KANE

Established in 2000, the purpose of the Cork Life Centre is to provide education to students who have needed to find an an alternative learning environment outside of mainstream education. Don O’Leary took over the centre in 2006 when there were just 6 students and 5 staff members. At present there are 51 students with 71 volunteers, only three of which are being paid.

The Cork Life Centre was forced to refuse 138 students this year which Don O’Leary, director of the life centre described as one of the most difficult obstacles he has been faced with. After budget cuts in 2008 by the Department of Education all funding from the state ceased. According to Don O’Leary, “while they are still receiving funding from the Christian Brothers, bursaries have decreased despite an increase in students attending the education centre.”

Director Don O’Leary explains that there is “Extremely diverse cohort of young people in the centre who have two things in common – firstly they did not have positive experiences in mainstream schools and secondly their confidence is at an all time low.” Funding is a constant battle for the Cork Life Centre and without an increase in funding and development the numbers of student being refused will continue to rise.

The Cork Life Centre is just one of the very worthy causes that the Cork Foundation helps to fund. Cork Foundation are offering a great opportunity to Cork businesses at home and abroad to invest in social enterprise projects and improve the lives of Cork people by getting involved with Cork Champions Programme. Being a champion is a chance for local people to invest in Cork and to give back to a social enterprise in a responsible and simple way.  Cork Foundation provides the framework for companies to contribute and allows donors to see for themselves the difference their donation can make to their local community.

 

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