Paul O’Hara, founder of Change Nation in Ireland and Director of Ashoka (Europe)


Our government has understandably made job creation the number one priority with An Taoiseach’s related vision to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business by 2016.  It’s an ambitious vision, but not one that resonates with the majority of people in Ireland.  We need a powerful new vision for Ireland – a vision that unites us all with purpose in a common direction. A vision that is inspiring and bold, that fuels our imagination and ambition. In 2022, Ireland will celebrate 100 years as a free state – a historic landmark to build towards. To build on the vision of An Taoiseach and to progress a conversation, here is a suggested evolution ‘Ireland at 100: The best place to live on earth’.

In ten years, we can make Ireland the best place to live on earth – a place where all people will flourish.  To get there, we need every Irish citizen involved – we need shared ownership and responsibility.  We need authentic leadership – leadership we respect and intuitively trust, whose motivation is in the right place. So many people are or want to be involved in rebuilding our nation – we have to reorganize to take full advantage of this opportunity.  People get involved and stay involved because it gives purpose, it’s challenging, it’s satisfying, and it’s fun – and for a growing number, helping others is central to their wellbeing.  If Ireland is to flourish in the face of mounting challenges and an increasingly competitive global economy, we need more citizens thinking and acting as changemakers – this is our most critical opportunity.

In his powerful acceptance speech at Dublin Castle in October last year, President Michael D. Higgins spoke of his great responsibility in taking the presidential pledge – a pledge to dedicate the best of his abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland.  I believe this is an example of a pledge that many citizens of Ireland could and would accept.  We debate at length our rights as citizens, but too rarely our responsibilities. Should all citizens not be challenged to take such a pledge on a voluntary basis? Why not invite all citizens to dedicate the best of their abilities to making Ireland the best place to live on earth?  It reframes our role as citizens – mobilizing and uniting us in a powerful way toward a shared vision while leaving plenty of space for the independence we also crave.

To achieve this vision, we also need and can get the commitment of the best people in the world to work with us in building this nation. We need to think beyond diaspora, to the world’s most talented changemakers.  We are one of the most hospitable and best-loved nations in the world – let’s think like we are 7 billion people and leverage this goodwill to build a nation that can be a beacon for the rest of the world.  We have proven we can both cultivate and attract the worlds leading business and social entrepreneurs, authentic political leaders, the great artists and thinkers, our diaspora, and the world’s media. There are few other nations that can do this. Imagine pulling these strands together and getting all this talent focused on and committed to making Ireland the best place to live on earth. When we ask with bold vision and authenticity, they will come!

To achieve this vision, we can and should move to more rounded definitions of success.  Society at all levels has evolved to define success primarily in economic terms – gross domestic product, organisational profitability and personal wealth. These one-dimensional metrics of success have driven much of the dysfunctional behavior that leads to our economic collapse.

Wellbeing indices are popping all over the world as a more effective way to measure our societies progress. CambridgeUniversity identifies ten features that define our wellbeing: competence, emotional stability, engagement, meaning, optimism, positive emotion, positive relationships, resilience, self-esteem and vitality. Surely the wellbeing of our people is a more important metric than gross domestic product?  Once we settle on the metrics for the success of our society, we need a clear and credible roadmap that we can all buy into. We need to know, in lights, how we are progressing towards our vision.

I was once of the view that government should lead this agenda, but given the fire fighting pressures and voting cycle, I’m increasingly of the view that government cannot do this alone – this needs to be a collaborative effort by citizens from across sectors.  So my parting question to you is this – what will you do to change our nation? The big challenges, including unemployment, inequality, an aging population, unsustainable public services and climate change require nothing less than radical innovation. Each challenge is both local and international in scope and represents tremendous opportunity for innovation, meaningful job creation, enhanced population wellbeing and economic growth. Where can you have an impact?  For inspiration, I invite you to explore a selection of proven solutions to Ireland’s challenges at  Remember – it takes skill and commitment over time to make ideas a reality. Do this for yourself or for those who need support in your community. It takes courage to be a changemaker, but it is time to be fearless and there can be no failure in trying to make your community a better place to live.



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