Michael Kelly – Food Grower – Social Entrepreneur
One day, Michael Kelly found himself in a supermarket in Ireland, gazing at a bulb of garlic imported from China. This bulb of garlic, and the realisation that 90% of Ireland’s food was imported from abroad, led him to set up social enterprise GIY (Grow it Yourself). A social enterprise, GIY has grown from a local gardening group to a global social movement.
A Global Social Movement
GIY’s mission is to educate and enable people to grow their own food, helping to rebuild a sustainable food system. Alongside a cafe and education centre, GIY’s TV series on RTE and Amazon Prime, ‘Grow Cook Eat’, is helping to spread their message globally.
Conor had the privilege of talking to Michael on the Self Makers Show; here are some of his key insights.
The Importance of the Company’s Mission
GIY aims to create ‘food empathy’, giving people ‘a better connection with food’ and ‘a better understanding of how food works’. As a result, they will become empowered to make ‘healthier and more sustainable choices in their own lives’.
Michael therefore highlighted the importance of keeping this founding mission central to everything the organisation does, even whilst scaling up. So, GIY take an ‘etch-a-sketch approach’ to their community groups, allowing people to define membership however they want, in order to ‘keep it as accessible and open as possible’.
Although this is ‘a slightly scary, risky approach’, in terms of intellectual property, it all comes back to GIY’s original mission. ‘It’s ultimately way more successful in terms of getting people growing, which is the reason we’re doing it’.
Handing over Control in a Social Enterprise
Michael then discussed the ‘mistakes and challenges’ that arose throughout his career from employee to side hustler to employer. Specifically, he emphasised the unique journey that a founder of a social enterprise has to go on.
‘There’s a sort of giving over control at some point that has to happen as part of creating that structure as a social enterprise. You effectively give control to the voluntary board of directors who could fire me potentially tomorrow, if they’re not happy!’
Take the Leap
Finally, Michael’s advice to others thinking of starting a social enterprise was to ‘just go for it’.
‘It’s a big leap into the unknown, but it’s such a privilege to get to work on something you’re passionate about…So if you have that opportunity ever, just grab it with both hands.’
Catch the full interview below to find out more about Michael’s fascinating career journey.
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