Skills & Opportunities Fund Award Winner: Innovate Dublin and Their Youth Academy


The last round of the Ulster Bank Skills & Opportunities Fund 2018 is now calling for applications before Friday 21st September. We caught up with Annabelle Conway, Social Innovation Manager, Innovate Dublin, a past winner to find out what the award and funding has meant for their organisation:

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1. What is the background to Innovate Dublin?

A little bit about us - Innovate Dublin is a social enterprise and we believe that real change comes through social innovation, new ideas that work. We help local communities by targeting challenges they face and work with them to develop solutions to those challenges. To do this we work with residents, business, non-profits and third level and provide a supportive environment for the piloting of new social, economic projects and innovations.

Through our engagement with youth organisations and vulnerable youth in North Dublin, it became apparent that lack of self confidence and self-esteem were ongoing challenges for this group (18-24 years old) and that helping them address these issues would enable them to feel better equipped to tackle life challenges, and shape their future and employment opportunities.

As a result, we co-designed (with the youth) our Youth Academy Programme - a 12 week creative onsite and offsite skills programme focused on experiential learning, taking students out of their comfort zones and putting them in situations designed for them to learn from failure and build resilience. The programme develops skills in design thinking and project management as well as relationship building, problem solving and entrepreneurship – facilitating the advancement of transferable skills that are highly prized by employers.

Following participation in the programme the young people move to a level where they are empowered to take meaningful steps towards their future through education, training or employment.

2. What did winning this funding mean for your project? How have you used the funding? 

In 2016 we successfully applied for funding from Ulster Bank’s Skills & Opportunities fund which enabled us to develop and run our first Youth Academy programme in Ballymun. Participants came from several local youth organisations, all were vulnerable and all were unemployed. One of the participating organisations, the Ballymun branch of Youthreach, was so impressed with the results that they asked us to run the programme again specifically for their students.

In late 2017 we were again successful in our application to Ulster Bank’s Skills & Opportunities Fund which enabled us to run the programme in 2018, this time specifically for the local branch of Youthreach. This made it possible for us to develop the prototype programme further, with the aim to fully establish it locally with Youthreach and run it on an annual basis.

Based on its success, Youthreach is now looking to extend the programme to all of Dublin – 9 Youthreach branches in total, over the next three years.

3. What does business achievement in a community setting mean to you?

Everything we do is focussed on helping make life better for communities and the people living in communities. We understand that people are the experts in their own lives and that the best results come from working closely with them to solve the challenges they face. Our Youth Academy Programme encourages youth entrepreneurship and employment thereby reducing the reliance on social welfare support in the long term.

4. What’s the best advice you have ever received for your project?

To really listen to the young people involved in the project, be aware of their challenges and aspirations and ensure that the projects they work on are relevant to them.

5. Any tips for other organisations who want to get similar projects off the ground?

Don’t be afraid to take a risk and above all – involve the user when you are designing the project!

6. Where can people connect with you?

You can check us out at, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About the Skills & Opportunities Fund

Ulster Bank has made available a total of €87,500 in funding to Irish not-for-profit organisations through its Skills & Opportunities Fund. The regional board (with the help of a public vote) will determine the destination of grants of up to €35,000. So, if you’re a not-for-profit organisation and have a project aimed at helping people to help themselves, in the areas of financial capability or enterprise, apply now. The fund is open for further applications until the 21st of September.


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