Annual Showcase of Young Social Innovators 2012

Speech by President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins at the Annual Showcase of Young Social Innovators 2012, City West Convention Centre, Wednesday May 9th, 2012

Tá an-áthas orm bheith anseo i bhur measc inniu. Go raibh míle maith agaibh as ucht bhur bhfáilte chaoin agus cneasta.

It is a great pleasure to be here today at the 2012 Young Social Innovators Annual Showcase. I would like to express my thanks to Rachel Collier, Sister Stanislaus, and all the team at Young Social Innovators for their kind invitation to speak at this event. I would also like to particularly welcome all the young participants here today.

This event is built around the students who undertook projects under this initiative. I would like to congratulate all of you, your team leaders, teachers, and indeed your parents, on the exciting projects completed under the Young Social Innovators programme this year.

At the heart of the Young Social Innovators programme is the development of active, creative citizens. And it is active, creative citizens who will lead the transformation of Ireland. As President of Ireland I pay tribute to each one of you that responded so positively to the invitation to stretch and strengthen your leadership potential by becoming involved with this initiative.

I am delighted to see that the Young Social Innovators programme has been growing from strength to strength since it began in 2001 with the aim of developing social awareness and activism amongst young people. Events like this don’t happen by themselves; they require a lot of thought, planning and hard work to bring them about. I congratulate the Young Social Innovators team for their continued commitment to the Annual Showcase; it has been more than successful in achieving its objective. Today you are part of a generation of over 35,000 young people who have invested their creative energies in developing new ideas and initiatives that will help their communities.

The YSI programme provides an opportunity to stand back and take a critical look at the world which we share, and to creatively reflect on ways of improving that world. You, each and every one of you, have the power to make a difference on this, our shared, and very vulnerable planet. It provides an opportunity for you as young people to say “My world matters to me, I can make it a better place, I will make it a better place!”

It is – at face value – somewhat paradoxical, but very hopeful and uplifting, that at a time of economic crisis and of setback in national self-confidence that community based initiatives such as the Young Social Innovators have been getting ever stronger in terms of activity and citizen participation. Young people face an uncertain future, people are hurting from the recession, they are dismayed that the transient artificially-based economic bubble has turned into ashes and they have a righteous anger that various institutions let them down. But, far from being defeated by circumstances they are, for the most part, moving on, getting stuck into what they can do and are good at, not allowing themselves to sink into any disabling cynicism or fatalism.

The conclusions that are being drawn from our present circumstances are much more positive – people all over Ireland are setting about finding a better version of Irishness than the acquisitive individualism that drove the worst aspects of the Celtic Tiger; reaffirming the old decencies in Irish life and drawing on the ethical values that are being forged by talented and energetic people of all generations. They are seeking to renew our Republic so that it does full justice to the values of fairness and participation. In short, they are imagining and creating an Ireland which all of us are proud to help shape, share and happy to bestow to following generations in better condition than we inherited it.

Tá cuma i bhfad níos dearfaí ar thorthaí ár gcúinsí reatha – tá daoine ar fud na hÉireann ag iarraidh leagan níos fearr dár ndúchas Éireannach a bhaint amach in ionad an t-indibhidiúlachas éadálach a bhí ar cheann de na gnéithe is measa a bhain leis an Tíogar Ceilteach; ag cinntiú na sean-traidisiúin a bhaineann le saol na hÉireann agus ag leagadh béim ar na luachanna eiticiúla atá á gcruthú ag daoine éirimiúla agus fuinniúla ó gach glúin. Tá siad ag iarraidh athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar ár bPoblacht chun aidhmeanna maidir le cothrom na féinne agus rannpháirtíocht a chomhlíonadh. I mbeagán focal, samhlaíonn agus cruthaíonn siad Éire a mbeidh muid uilig bródúil as chun é a roinnt agus a bhronnadh ar na glúine atá ag teacht i gcuma níos fearr ná mar a bhfuair muid í.

I am particularly impressed by the four C’s of Young Social Innovators: Caring, Co-operating, Changing and Communicating. You will have learned, I hope valuable life lessons working in your teams: lessons on what kind of team player you are, what kind of leadership skills you will bring to your endeavours and how best to move from a conceptual idea to action. These skills enable you to engage intelligently and critically with your society, to question your leaders, to challenge received wisdoms, to create new solutions, that matter to you and that are relevant and pertinent to a transformed Ireland.

Like anyone who engages in civic activity, you’ll discover that making a difference is not always easy. Your efforts won’t always be appreciated in the way that they should, you won’t always make the big difference you had hoped for. Your best efforts might just help one person. They might just help one small aspect of your community. But those are the efforts that matter the most. It’s through that struggle, and the resilience, the insightfulness and critical capacity that you develop that the difference is made – not just for others, but for you as a citizen. That’s how we discover our strengths and weaknesses and the depths of our possibilities, our compassion and our courage.

The individual decisions that people make in giving their time and skills are really decisions to participate in the future of their community, and they are the essence and foundation of democracy. In these difficult times, in a time when many are pessimistic and cautious, you have chosen to act, to respond, to say ‘yes’ to your communities, to creativity, yes, a resounding yes to your citizenship.

One of the many challenges facing community and voluntary groups today is how to achieve a really diverse involvement of people with their organisations –
a diversity that reflects the nation we live in. I am heartened to see that this event brings together students from a variety of backgrounds with different types of experience thereby enriching our society, our communities, and our civic participation.

I am particularly pleased to see the breath of the projects undertaken, all of them in their own way with the potential to shape and transform a better Ireland. The evidence of the projects on display today gives me great confidence as to the future supply of social activists, community leaders, and indeed Presidents of Ireland over the years ahead!
I hope the fine work which you have put into your projects will encourage your continued development as active citizens caring for, and indeed assisting, others in our society. Our communities and our society cannot succeed unless we all play a role and this showcase will hopefully be the seed that will give you the vision to continue your work for your communities and for society. I am confident that each of you participating this year will take away valuable lessons that will be of benefit to you in years to come. I hope also that the experience will provide some insights into how your own enthusiasm and talents can be a force for good within your communities.

The quality of life in our society, and the ultimate health of our communities, depends on the willingness of people to become involved and active citizens – active on behalf of themselves and their families, their communities and the more vulnerable members of society.

There is a wide range of social and community initiatives operating across Ireland, all of which are only possible because radical new alliances have formed between communities, voluntary agencies, government, and business. I am confident that these alliances can be of even greater benefit into the future. I am confident because the level of professionalism, skill and cooperation that now exists in communities and within the voluntary sector in Ireland has never been greater than it is today.

Modern society faces complex problems that cannot be simply addressed by channelling more funds – important though funding is. They require innovative thinking and flexible responses by all stakeholders at national and local level. But I believe that this is where the vision, the dedication and the tireless efforts of individuals in the community can make a huge difference.

Finally, I would again like to thank everyone involved in the Showcase today. It is a pleasure to be here with you and I wish all of you well with your future endeavours. Given the breadth and quality of the projects and the dedication and enthusiasm of the participants I am confident that you are well equipped to face whatever challenges the future holds.