From the Foundation of the State to Youth Mental Health, Philanthropy Remains Core to Our Nationhood: Rethink Ireland welcomes the new National Philanthropy Policy

By Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Rethink Ireland

Photo of Joe O'Brien, Minister of State with Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Rethink Ireland. Both holding copies of the National Philanthropy Policy 2024-2028
Minister Joe O'Brien with Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Rethink Ireland at the launch of Ireland’s first National Philanthropy Policy 2024-2028 in the RDS in Dublin. Picture credit; Damien Eagers /Julien Behal Photography

Ireland’s first National Philanthropy Policy was launched by Minister of State Joe O’Brien on December 13th. It feels significant to officially acknowledge for the first time in Ireland’s history the value that philanthropy brings to communities throughout the country every single day.

As the Minister said, “It feels good to be able to do something to push philanthropy on today”. 

Rethink Ireland wholeheartedly welcomes this new policy and we are proud to have served on several of the advisory committees that led to its formation. 

Bairbre Nic Aongusa, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Rural and Community Development reflected, “I have seen the benefits of collaborating with philanthropists to crack the many complex issues we face as a country.” She announced her intention to use the policy as a framework to engage with other departments on the potential to collaborate with philanthropy to achieve mutual goals. Many years ago, Bairbre worked in the Department of Mental Health, as Jigsaw got going from “interesting but risky innovation”, backed by ONE Foundation and the Department of Health (Atlantic Philanthropies joined the group later), to “effective and impactful innovation” as young people took up its mental health supports, and most came out feeling better. This was a groundbreaking philanthropy-government collaboration that ultimately scaled to become the national model for youth mental health services in Ireland. Jigsaw is an excellent example of the powerful impact that Philanthropy-Government collaboration on social innovation can yield. 

Bairbre noted, “The Department has provided match funding to Rethink Ireland since 2015, with the effect that it has created 54 Funds and supported 2,700 people into jobs since then.”
We have built a €96 million Fund through match funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development (and some other departments too) provided to philanthropy which we have raised from multinational and Irish companies, individuals and families. 

Still, young people continue to face challenges to their mental health. At the policy launch, Ruadhán Ó Críodáin of ShoutOut reminded us that school is the time when young people need to feel safe and strong, but often LGBTQI+ young people feel quite the opposite. ShoutOut was formed by a group of volunteers who did not feel safe or strong in school and wanted to ensure that the next generation did not have this experience. He explained that Rethink Ireland’s Headstart Fund has provided ShoutOut with its first ever multi-annual funding commitment, enabling it to plan and grow. 

HeadStart Fund is a groundbreaking initiative focused on addressing the mental health challenges faced by young people in Ireland bringing together Zurich Ireland, Z Zurich Foundation, and the HSE, providing €1.5 Million each over 3 years. HeadStart has committed funding to 10 community based social innovations like ShoutOut. In three years, the HeadStart Fund envisions not only transforming the lives of thousands of young people but also catalysing a shift in how society approaches youth mental health.

Ruadhán Ó Críodáin speaking at the launch of Ireland's new National Philanthropy Policy
Ruadhán Ó Críodáin, Executive Director of ShoutOut, speaking at the launch of Ireland's first National Philanthropy Policy 2024-2028 in the RDS in Dublin. Picture credit; Damien Eagers /Julien Behal Photography

Philanthropy begins and ends with donors – the people who decide that they want to give away their hard earned money rather than spend it on themselves, their family or put it in the bank.

James Murphy of Lifes2good Foundation, a family foundation based in the west of Ireland told us, “I have to say I have enjoyed success in business, but I have found that I enjoy giving

just as much. It’s good for the soul.  So as a philanthropist, I am prepared to get involved in edgy projects that will make a real difference and stimulate the change that is so necessary. Lifes2good Foundation does not take money from the public, it does not take any funding from the government, so we are not beholden to anyone. We can be flexible in our approach to funding, and we can afford to take risks in order to succeed and make an impact.”

He sounded a note of warning, “If the wealthy want to be appreciated they need to become more involved in philanthropic causes. There is significant wealth in Ireland. A tiny fraction of this wealth goes into philanthropy. There is potential for so much more to be done if it is encouraged and marketed in the right way. In many cases high net worth individuals are willing to give something back, but they are often not sure how best to do that.”

On the potential for partnership between government and philanthropy, he said, “This approach is always going to be attractive to entrepreneurial philanthropists like myself. We have developed this model in a number of our programmes including the model that has been most successfully implemented… our Active* Consent programme in Galway University. That programme now has Lifes2good Foundation funding, Department of Higher Education funding, Rethink Ireland funding and, most recently, Department of Justice funding. That is real collaboration between philanthropy and government.”

Rethink Ireland welcomes the commitments to Government match funding to stimulate philanthropy further, to Government-Philanthropy collaborations, and to capacity building of partners in these collaborations to enable them to start and thrive.

Philanthropy has played a core role in developing this country, from the foundation of The Abbey Theatre and ESRI to the development of youth mental health programmes.

Our great national challenges of climate resilience, building social cohesion and strengthening equality, and ever closer relationships between North & South, will all call on the risk-taking nature of philanthropy to help take on these challenges.