Michael Kelly

Ashoka Fellow
Waterford, Ireland
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Michael Kelly was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
Michael is resurrecting the traditional Irish notion of meitheal, a practice that builds a spirit of community by working collectively on individual projects—much like a barn-raising—to exponentially increase the number of people with the skills to grow their own food. Michael is creating a national network of local Grow It Yourself (GIY) groups designed to provide a grassroots, tangible structure to the local food movement and spark new growers by capitalizing on the knowledge of mavens in the area. Through GIY, Michael is expanding meitheal to encompass group learning around food growing, by creating off-line and online knowledge networks of engaged citizens. Michael compares his structure to that of Alcoholics Anonymous, envisioning GIY meetings available everywhere and offering a well-established open community in every town and city. Rather than relying on expensive courses or politically-driven agendas, GIY groups provide a place where neophytes can mingle with master gardeners to learn the tips and tricks of growing food from one another, offering a mechanism to integrate structure into fragmented local food initiatives.

Michael has created a organizational model that facilitates viral spread—his program, offering free monthly meetings consisting of group skill-sharing around gardening, focuses specifically around building community between participants, and works equally well in cities, villages, rural areas, or corporate settings. Committed to wide-scale spread, Michael has structured GIY to be action-oriented and dynamic, eschewing the cost-prohibitive membership model that ossifies many community groups with minutes and motions, and allowing interested parties to set up groups within the structures of existing food organizations or create their own free-standing programs. Tapping into social networking, Michael offers local groups opportunities to connect with others around the country, and has built a structure that allows painless adoption, offering mavens a platform and guiding local champions to launch branches in their own communities. Currently fielding over 60 groups with roughly 5,000 members around Ireland within a year of the program’s inception, he also has interested citizens furthering expansion of the program in three foreign countries.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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