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“The job is not yet done!” – CEO Q&A with Deirdre Mortell of Rethink Ireland – Business & Finance


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Deirdre Mortell is CEO of Rethink Ireland and is an expert speaker on backing innovation for systems change to make a real difference, solving social problems – topics include equality, mental health and education. Mortell has twenty years’ experience in this area, sometimes by leading and sometimes by contributing in a team setting to delivering high growth or a step-change in impact in Ireland’s leading non-profit organisations.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?  

In my role, the priority is to stimulate corporate and family philanthropy in Ireland in order to back social innovations towards a more just, equal and sustainable Ireland. To do this, we partner with corporate donors to create funds that fall under one of four categories – Education, Green Transition, Health and Equality. The core priority for us here at Rethink Ireland is that each fund provides each organisation that is successful in the application process with cash grants PLUS business supports. This unique venture philanthropy model – the combination of cash grants plus business supports – works to enable growth and drive sustainable advantage for organisations in the vibrant social sector. It is our goal to help strengthen and advance non-profits resulting in scale and, critically, systems change in Ireland.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?  

Firstly, encouraging the corporate and family philanthropies we know to have the confidence to make longer and larger donations, in order to have transformative impact on the issues we all care about in our communities – education, health, equality and the green transition. Thanks to the partners we have had over the past eight years, our impact has been felt so much greater and further than we could ever have dreamed by reaching one million people in our communities.  

Secondly, supporting the social innovations we back to think big, and take smart risks to solve the critical social issues we face in Ireland today. This is about Philanthropy fueling innovation, so while we recently celebrated the milestone of surpassing €109 million raised over eight years and repurposed across social innovation projects, we are focused on the long-term goal of a just, equal and sustainable Ireland, and we are committed to accelerating funding in the next five years to harness the momentum built, to ensure these smart risks are on track to solve the critical social issues we face as a nation. 

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated?  

Challenge and praise in equal measure, and constant reminders of the impact we have on real people’s lives in Ireland. We work with our hearts and our heads here at Rethink Ireland, I value compassion, passion and fun – this is what is at the core of Rethink Ireland leadership. 

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?  

One; building the confidence of philanthropists to talk about their philanthropy, the impact they are proud to have supported, and to encourage others to experience the joy and satisfaction they get from it and two; building public understanding that the definition of success for charities and social enterprises is high impact, and not low overheads. We must build more of a culture of philanthropy in Ireland. The time is now to back big ideas and sustainable solutions; to create the inclusive Ireland we all want to be part of. It is a challenge that we all face. 

What new trends are emerging in your industry?  

For example, the social enterprise sector in Ireland is seeing growth and we are delighted to be part of this through our Funds. This model is critical to leaving behind a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations. 

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?  

I would like to see philanthropic donors relentlessly focused on the impact that their philanthropy makes, encouraging the charities and social enterprises they back to invest in their skills to measure and manage this. If we do this, then with foresight, imagination, and courage, social innovation could solve some of society’s biggest challenges.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?  

COVID19 fundamentally changed the issues we seek to address – youth mental health is severely challenged since COVID, marginalised young people without access to devices lost out on education setting them back relative to their peers, and the rise of the politics of fear has generated fear among newcomers, Travellers, racial and other minorities. Our communities are under stress as we all face into figuring out what climate adaptation means to us at local level. The role of philanthropy in supporting communities to rise to these challenges is more important than ever. 

How do you define success, and what drives you to succeed?  

Success is in every step we make towards equality for everyone in Irish communities activating the transformative impact made by social innovation fuelled by philanthropy. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?  

People don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel. 

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?  

This year we celebrated the milestone of becoming a €109 million fund, and with those funds we have impacted the lives of over one million people in Ireland. Since the beginning of Rethink Ireland (formerly Social innovation Fund Ireland) in 2016, we have built a €109 million social innovation fund, reached over 1 million people, launched 58 funds, backed 448 innovative projects, supported 137,134 learners, created 998 jobs in the non-profit sector and supported 3,309 people into employment. This first one million people reached is just chapter one in our story of the impact social innovation is making. We’re looking forward to writing the next chapter as we continue to Rethink Ireland.

What’s next for your company?  

We are proud to have reached the key milestone of impacting the lives of over 1 million people by raising a €109 million social innovation fund, next is…€200 million – the job is not yet done! We’re excited to imagine an Ireland where we can become a €200 million fund. 

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?  

Top of mind with businesses and families, as a platform to help them achieve their philanthropic impact goals, employee engagement goals and CSR goals. 

What advice would you give to others starting out in business?  

My mother told me that your life partner is your most important partner, not your business partner. She is dead right – Make sure they are up for it too.  

What is the best book you’ve ever read (non-business) and why?  

“Kibogo” by Rwandese writer Scholastique Mukasonga. It’s a series of stories of a single event, told from different perspectives. First, I love stories. More importantly, it illustrates the power of the stories we tell ourselves, and the importance of different narratives which can lead us to very different conclusions about the same story. It’s so relevant to the discussions we are having now about our communities, about identity, about immigration and climate change. All our perspectives are valid, even if we don’t agree. 

What is your favourite hobby and why? 

I took a dry stone wall building course with Common Knowledge, a Rethink Ireland awardee, last November and I plan to build a stone wall this summer. It’s a combination of being outdoors, hard physical work, and creativity. The results of my work are concrete but invisible – building something I can see & touch feels like a great contrast.

What is your mantra for life?  

What would you do if you were not afraid? 


Chris Mee, CEO, EHS International 

Norman Barry,  Managing Director, Insight Private Clients

Kevin McPartlan, CEO, Fuels for Ireland

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