Ten years ago I set off on a journey across the globe to interview a whole range of social entrepreneurs about their life stories. I wanted to capture their learning, insights, wisdom and stories. Ten years on I’m back on the trail, reconnecting with the interviewees and asking a new batch of questions, wondering where are they now, and what insights or additions would they offer for us today.
While that journey took me all across the globe, it was important to me to begin in Ireland, learning more about social change in my home country and the people who are driving that change. One of those is Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy. Know affectionately as Sr Stan, she is a serial social entrepreneur having founded four organisations: Focus Point (now Focus Ireland), Young Social Innovators, The Sanctuary, and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Sr Stan is a tireless champion of the rights of all, particularly the marginal and the vulnerable all across the globe. She is also the author of many books, most recently on the topics of spirituality, meditation and hope.
What a legend, and what an honour to profile her here once again. Now over to Sr Stan…
How has your path shifted and evolved since I interviewed you for One Wild Life? Where are you now and what are you working on?
When I wrote 10 years ago I was very active in executive responsibilities and in the delivery of services. Within the past year I have moved on from executive responsibilities, but I work in the area of service and human and spiritual relationships. If you are alive I believe you’re better off working.
I have moved away from all executive positions in the four organisations which I founded; Focus Ireland, The Immigrant council of Ireland, Young Social Innovators and the Sanctuary while I am still on the boards and some committees and sub committees and I assist with work on the ground with customers. But I also have moved into mentoring and tutoring people and helping to develop courses and programmes and inductions to support inspire and empower people, especially younger people and particularly people on the front line like social workers, care workers, youth workers and teachers. Basically is passing on what I have learnt myself.
What are some of your highlights of the past 10 years?
Every day has a highlight, it is a questions of being able to see it. During those 10 years there have been numerous highlights particularly highlights in seeing people finding peace, happiness and contentment in their life and seeing people being given hope, for example when I see homeless people offered a home.
In the past 10 years I have travelled. I have been to India where I spent some time in an ashram in a very remote rural part of the south eastern province of Tamil Nadu. I went there to spend some time in meditation, learn more about mediation and deepen my own meditative practices. I have been to Zambia where I introduced the Young Social Innovators there. Young Social Innovators is training young people to be active citizens. I also went on a lecture tour in Australia where I got the opportunity to meet people and see how services are developed there. While there I got the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef and I spent some time at Lady Elliot Island which is the most southern coral cay of the Great Barrier Reef and it was just extraordinary seeing the marine life there, something that I would not have even imagined before.
What have been some of the challenges of the past 10 years? What would you have done differently?
The greatest challenge in the last 10 years was the economic crash and the great suffering it caused for so many people, particularly poor people and it was very challenging to try and give people a sense of hope, a sense of dignity in the midst of appalling circumstances.
Homelessness is now at a national crisis point in Ireland and vulnerable people are not being protected. This is I believe the responsibility of the whole society, the private, the public, the voluntary and community sector. It is something we have every reason to be ashamed of, with families being confined to rooms in hotels because there was no hostels or houses for them. That has been a challenge over the past ten years and it continues to be a challenge. It should never have reached this crisis stage, it reached this crisis stage because successive governments stopped providing social housing. That has to change.
I would like to see our society prioritizing those who suffer on the margins. Lip service about protecting the vulnerable is simply not good enough.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
I would spend more time in my own inner sanctuary, that still place within. I would spend more time in the Sanctuary for example, it has the atmosphere, the ambience and the equipment to help us to listen to the small still voice within which is often little more than a whisper.
I would spend more time retrieving my connection with nature, the wonder, the awe, the mystery and the beauty of nature. I would spend more time envisioning a spirituality that would be inclusive of age, gender, culture and beliefs.
What do you see as some of today’s global challenges and what opportunities do you see?
The great global challenges today is the plight of refugees and migrants. We have a huge responsibility in the developed part of the world to take things seriously and to take more responsibility for this global humanitarian crisis. If we are not part of the solution to these then we are part of the problem. We have already caused the problem, we have caused much of what is happening across the globe to migrants, to displaced people. We can now put somethings right.
Ireland has been largely silent on this humanitarian crisis. In Ireland we have no hard right wing or anti migrant party but there is resistance to migrants. Given our history, only a robust pro migrant argument is responsible politically. We need leadership, we need greater collaboration, we need communication and shared responsibility from all stakeholders in Irish society. We need leadership which needs to be shown by the Department of the Taoiseach, drawing together the private and public and voluntary and community sector, but it needs to be lead by the Taoiseach. The government needs to take personal ownership and give symbolic leadership by travelling to the camps and ensuring it is informed and in a position to create public understanding and support.
We can do it in Ireland, we have a powerful sense of community, it is a natural part of who we are. It is stimulated by various groups in the voluntary and community sector including churches, sporting organisations etc. We need to harness all that.
Here in Ireland we could develop a model response to this crisis. We are a tiny island between the east and the west and the north and the south. We are not a threat to anyone, but we can provide a welcoming place where the world can meet. Hospitality has been always our hallmark. Now we need to be more hospitable than ever. We have a lot to share with the whole world, as a culture we have a lot to give. We should cherish it and offer it. Generosity is the source of all richness. We should work to banish greed and offer what we have and what we are to those hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced.
Over the last 10 year the field of social entrepreneurship has evolved and got better known and supported. What would you say is the next stage of growth for the field and what are some of the main questions or challenges which it faces?
I think social entrepreneurship in the future needs a very clear vision and a very clear value system and realise that social entrepreneurship is primarily about human beings relating to each other. It is not just about fixing things and doing things, if the relationship is not central to the work it is not humanizing, it is not helping people to grow humanly and spiritually and it can actually dehumanize and damage people.
Why do you continue to do what you do? And how do you sustain yourself in the process?
I do so because of an abiding consciousness of the plight of the vulnerable and the dispossessed. Because I would like to see Ireland as a place that values all its citizens equally. A society that would show compassion towards the weak and lonely, that could distill the terrible greed of recent decades. I would like to see a society which protects the vulnerable in a real way by delivering the 5 basic human rights, the right to adequate food, education, healthcare, housing and jobs. I would like to see a society where every single person is protected, a society where its laws and structures will automatically provide for peoples basic needs and basic rights.
I sustain myself by my belief and reliance on God, the God of my life. I sustain myself that I believe that we must face life with as much generosity and love that we can muster and it will return to us. I say that because I believe in the God of love. A God who loves me unconditionally, and his message to us is to grow in love, to open our hearts, to keep our hearts open. When the heart is open we receive and give love all the time but our heart can be closed because of our life experience so we have to work on it. Love generates love, it is not enough just to love, we must become love.
I am inspired by that belief. I am also inspired by the people who get off the ditch and do something about issues, whoever they are. I would like to see people getting more radical as they age, we have less and less to lose as we stand up for human rights and human dignity.
What advice would you share with others setting out on their own entrepreneurial path?
I would say, listen, listen deeply, listen to all the people on the margins they are the people who understand society and how it does and doesn’t work, and listen to yourself, be guided by your own intuition, but be guided also by good factual knowledge. Be guided by evidence.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to see as people get older that they will use their wisdom to help those who are younger. I would like to see a public role for older men and women, we have a lot to offer, we have seen several recessions, we vote and politicians are a bit afraid of us. We should encourage them to involve us more and give us a way of speaking out.
Life is about progressing humanly and spiritually, that is the work of a lifetime. To grow spiritually and humanly is to grow in love. Spirituality is the message of love, it is opening our heart. As older people we can stop caring about what people think about us, we can stop thinking about success. It is an opportunity for expansive thinking. Being older is an opportunity to help people to understand the meaning of active citizenship. It is an opportunity for people to help younger people to have a more robust approach to political and civic life. Dreaming dreams of a better future should not be the prerogative of the young.
Thank you so much Sr Stan for your continued work, inspiration and example to others.
Find out more about St Stan on her website over here.
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