#PowerToCommunities – Our 2018 Highlights

Another year comes to a close in which we had the pleasure and honour to work with some of the most inspiring people across Ireland and Minnesota. We’re looking back at a year full of reasons to be optimistic and would like to share some of these highlights with you.

Maybe you can also share some of your highlights with us? What was your favourite community story or special moment you shared with your community this year? Please let us know here on Facebook. Or else below in the comments.

If you were one of our 2,140 starters this year, let us know what has changed for you during the year and what your plans are looking ahead.

Setting a big goal: 20 million community projects by 2030

Amina Mohammed (UN Deputy Secretary-General) and Paul O'Hara (CEO ChangeX) - 20 Million Community Projects until 2030

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global roadmap and vision to work towards a better future for all. They cover 17 key issue areas, ranging from improving education to ending hunger. We believe that communities have a critical role to play in achieving this vision and this year, we made a commitment to fully align ChangeX with the SDGs. We were delighted to solidify this commitment by meeting with the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed.

Read more:

The Irish Times on the ChangeX ambition

Paul O’Hara on how ChangeX is working towards the SDGs

How we plan to measure progress towards the SDGs

Supporting Ireland’s communities to go plastic-free

One topic that really had a breakthrough this year, in terms of both public consciousness and action, was the issue of single-use plastic. Finally, businesses, governments and individuals took a critical look at their contribution to the huge amount of plastic waste we produce and throw away every day.

On ChangeX, communities took action by starting three different ideas: The Last Plastic Straw, Refill Ireland, and Plastic Free 4 Schools.

Read more: 

Building Plastic-Free Communities across Ireland

The goal of 300 schools going plastic-free before the end of this term

How Refill in Tramore got 50 businesses on board for their Refill campaign in only 7 weeks. (It’s 80 by now!)


The town of Willmar in Minnesota launched 10 new projects from ChangeX

We spent a lot of time in Willmar this year, a town in south-central Minnesota. In partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield, we wanted to work closely with one community in Greater Minnesota to support community leaders starting ideas to make their community an even better place to live. Kicking off with a big launch event, we’ve since seen people take on ideas like Men’s Shed, Cycling Without Age and numerous welcoming initiatives.

Approximately 25 percent of the population in Willmar are immigrants. So, it wasn’t surprising that the community there were particularly interested in ways to connect with neighbours of different cultural backgrounds, getting behind ideas like Welcome Dinners & a multi-cultural Street Feast. 

A beautiful Street Feast to break the Ramadan fast

Abdi, who runs the Willmar Community Integration Center, was the driving force behind a wonderful Street Feast that took place in the middle of town.

The Street Feast was the best event I’ve ever organized. What started as a dream became reality. Muslims and their neighbours enjoyed a meal together. The Willmar of today is totally different than the one of yesterday.

– Abdirahman Ahmed, Street Feast Host

People opening doors to neighbours

This big feast was followed by many smaller home dinners. These beautiful Welcome Dinners are a more personal way to build friendships and understand each other’s way of life at any time of the year.

We had a most wonderful evening together with Lul and her beautiful family!  True friendship was formed and lasting connections made. Here is a picture of Julie and me at the end of the evening saying goodnight to the ladies. Thank you for this opportunity to meet new friends and widen the circle of unity here in Willmar. We have plans to see one another again this weekend and hope to attend upcoming events hosted by the Somali community.

– Nadia Milani Fifita, Welcome Dinner Host

New ways for older people to feel the wind in their hair

Cycling Without Age is one of those ideas you have to experience before fully understanding what it means to people. The rickshaw bikes at the heart of this community project are built to allow older people to enjoy a bike ride, even if they can no longer pedal themselves. Melissa, from the Bethesda Willmar care centre for the elderly, tried out one of these bikes for the first time this summer and, along with Willmar’s Mayor Marv Calvin and a few other Willmar residents, decided to fundraise for five of them.

We are bringing our residents on test rides to see what they think about it and we had one lady who is around 95 refuse to get off the bike. So they just kept switching her partner and kept going around campus. The alternative we have now is to push people in a wheelchair, but you can’t compare it. You really feel the wind in your hair on the bike. 

– Melissa Wentzel, Cycling Without Age starter

Men’s Sheds grow their impact in the US with 12 Sheds

Phil Johnson (on the right in this photo) contacted us two years ago about starting a Men’s Shed in his community in Hopkins, Minnesota. His Shed now has more than 30 members who meet every week and offer their services to the wider community.

Phil has also started to help spread Men’s Sheds across the US and this year has been a bit of a breakthrough year for the movement with national media coverage and growing demand right across the country. 12 Sheds are now up and running, like the Roseville Men’s Shed and a new goal has been set: 500 Sheds in the next few years.

When my wife died  I had not a friend in the world. Now, after finding Men’s Sheds, I have this whole room full of friends!

– Herb, Roseville Men’s Shed

Read more: 

NBC Today reporting from Jim Novak’s Men’s Shed in Michigan 

The Minnesota StarTribune visited Phil and the Hopkins Men’s Shed


Mobilising the remote workforce in Ireland with Grow Remote

These are some of the smiling faces behind an exciting new movement called Grow Remote. There are over 200,000 remote workers in Ireland and most of these people don’t know each other.

Grow Remote aims to uncover and build a full community and ecosystem around remote working, to increase the number of employment opportunities available in local communities across the country.

Within 4 weeks on ChangeX, 42 people signed up to lead a local Grow Remote chapter. We hope this year marked the start of new prosperity for Ireland’s more rural regions by growing the remote workforce community.

Read more:

How Grow Remote started to support local chapters using ChangeX

23 schools in Kerry committed to creating a more inclusive and playful break time for kids

Funded by the Community Foundation for Ireland early this year we reached out to teachers in Kerry who were interested in bringing Playworks to their schools. Playworks is a U.S. innovation improving break time for primary school children, making it more inclusive, playful and active but also introducing ways of solving conflicts and more.

Over the last years and starting in Galway, schools all across Ireland have adapted the Playworks programme, many of them with ChangeX support. 23 schools in Kerry signed up to get the programme started this year and were supported with training and mentorship in getting it going.

We set up Playworks at the start of the school year. We trained the older kids as coaches, and they absolutely love it. They’d come back to class happy after Playworks. They learned new ways of solving conflict and resolving issues and now they use these in their own games also, which has been so valuable.

– Marian Costello, Playworks starter O’Brennan NS


Thank you!

Front: Paul O’Hara, Middle, LR: Niall O’Hara, Dasha Kuts, Niamh McKenna, Katie Smith, Jen Aspengren, Julia Hildebrand, Back: Robson Mafra, Missing: Seán Hanly

We’d like to end this year with a huge Thank You from the whole ChangeX team to all the outstanding social innovators whose ideas we have the privilege to help spread, to everyone who started an idea in their community — and to the many people who helped us contribute to building thriving communities in Ireland, Minnesota and beyond.

Thanks to our board including Sorcha McKenna, Caroline Casey and Michael Kelly who have helped to shape the ChangeX vision since the very beginning. Thanks and warm welcome to Jill Vialet and Faye Drouillard who joined our newly established U.S. board of directors.

Thanks for lots of valuable advice to Brian Caulfield, Mike Lee, Albert Wenger, John O’Farrell, Tim Griffiths and Tom Popple among many others.

Thanks to our pro bono partners who’ve helped us with everything from GDPR compliance to video production to payroll and special shout out this year to A&L Goodbody, Morrison Foerster, bigO, OMD and Andersen Tax.

Our funding partners this year included Blue Cross Blue Shield, AIB and The Community Foundation among others.  They helped us to understand better how we can deliver more impact in communities and forced us to constantly improve our product and services. We are proud of some of the feedback and happy to share an over the top snippet here 😉 

Working with ChangeX was glorious, wonderful, and exciting. There was fantastic energy as the starters flowed in and the ideas came to life. Everyone on our team who was involved loved it.

– Jason Daum, Blue Cross Blue Shield

We are looking forward to next year, working together on giving more power to communities in Ireland, the U.S. and beyond.  2019 needs to be another big year if we want to realise our ambition to support 20 million new community projects by 2030.

If you want to be a part of the ChangeX vision, please write us a note: 

As someone who wants to start ideas in a community write to [email protected]

As a business representative or philanthropist write to [email protected]

As a social entrepreneur who wants to spread an idea write to [email protected]

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