A chief architect of the citizen sector in Ireland, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy (“Sister Stan”) is now guiding her fourth national organization, Young Social Innovators, which has engaged tens of thousands of Irish young people in becoming changemakers.
The New Idea
Beginning as a nun in County Kilkenny, Sister Stan established a new local model of social services called “caring communities” which became a nation-wide best practice, mobilizing local communities and parishes to take ownership over those in need, from the disabled to the elderly. Through her work building this alternative approach to social service, she began to see the potential of youth involvement in social change, which sparked efforts to coordinate the field through her second country-wide organization, the National Federation of Youth Clubs.
Sister Stan’s work with “caring communities” revealed great gaps in social services, especially among homeless citizens. She began working and living with the homeless population, learning their needs and researching the scope of the problem. As a result, she established Focus Ireland to offer a support network and a multitude of other services, which grew into the largest voluntary organization in Ireland to combat homelessness and has come to define the field nationally. Later she created Social Innovations Ireland, an early venture fund for social change organizations, from which merged two additional national organizations, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Young Social Innovators.
Young Social Innovators, her latest venture is engaging teenagers to instill values, practices, and skills of active citizenship, social entrepreneurship, and volunteerism, and activating those students to help change the culture of the Irish school system by integrating social issues throughout curriculum. With her co-founder, Sister Stan supports young people at several stages —from social enterprises to project capacity-building to professional development. YSI, which has tens of thousands of alumni students nationwide, builds teams of students who pick a social issue and design innovative project solutions, which feed into regional and national gatherings that highlight their work, build a community of social justice advocates, and position the citizen sector as a viable career option for young people. Concurrent with this effort, Sister Stan is working to build a social consciousness, from environmentalism to human rights and beyond—into Ireland’s national education policy.