Children’s Play the Irish Way

Playworks Founder Jill Vialet’s week in Ireland on the power of social entrepreneurship

I’m just back from a really extraordinary week in Ireland as a part of Ashoka Ireland’s Change Nation. Ashoka brought together 50 social entrepreneurs from around the world and created a framework for us to learn about Ireland, meet with local leaders, learn from one another, and ultimately to try and figure out if our respective solutions might be of use to Ireland during a period of tremendous change.

Ireland, is a small country – only 4.6 million people live in the Republic of Ireland (same populations size as Boston), with another 1.8 million in Northern Ireland. Like the US, they had a major economic boom starting in the mid-nineties and a subsequent bust in 2007 that makes ours look like a cake walk.

Change Nation afforded me the opportunity to meet with some of the highest level influencers in the country.  I met their Prime Minister, the Ministers of Children and Education (yes, they have both) and many, many more. I saw the most inspiring demonstration of leadership that I have seen in a long time. There was a shared acknowledgment that the solutions were out there, and that things will only change through partnership and effectively marshaling collective will. It reminded me of  what I see on the playground every day – the awareness kids possess that while we may not have the ideal conditions or the right equipment, if you’re willing to play with me, we’ve got a game.

In exchange for commitments from the Minister of Children to support the project and the head of the teacher’s unions to work with us Playworks has committed to exploring the possibility of sending staff to do trainings and provide technical support for students in teachers’ colleges. Adding a cross-border aspect, we will also explore working with the staff from Ulster to figure out a Boston-Belfast exchange.

Finally, it bears noting that while I think the Playworks approach may have something great to offer kids and schools in Ireland, I also came away with a really profound sense that we have so much to learn from Ireland (and, of course, from the rest of the world). I could not help but notice that teachers in the Irish schools were treated with more respect – both in schools and out in the larger world – than their US counterparts. And there was an open discussion going on that the boom had created an emphasis on the individual that had lead them down a wrong path, and that a return to an emphasis on teamwork was going to be essential to making the necessary changes. I am excited to be a part of whatever Change Nation builds and hope that it is just the first of many such gatherings around the world. And I am excited for the opportunity that I believe this represents for Playworks – a chance for our staff to be a part of something bigger, and to bring back lessons and understanding that help the US become the best place in the world for our children.

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