Who We Are
Meet the team
Fergus Finlay has recently retired after 13 years as CEO of Barnardos, Ireland’s largest children’s charity. For around twenty years prior to that he was employed as Senior Adviser to the Labour Party, serving in three Governments and working for the Party in opposition. He was one of the drafters of the Downing Street Declaration and was centrally involved in the election of President Mary Robinson in 1990. He also served for three years as a Director of Wilson Hartnell Public Relations. He is the author of four best-selling books.
He has been a life-long campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities, and is currently chair of a government task force to implement a comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. For ten years he has also worked as Chair of the Dolphin House Regeneration Board, which is overseeing one of the largest regenerations in the city. He is also Chair of Lakers in Bray, a highly successful club and service provider for young people and adults with an intellectual disability, and is now being rebuilt after a serious fire. He broadcasts regularly on radio and television, and contributes a weekly column to the Irish Examiner. Fergus Finlay was awarded a Human Rights Award by the French Embassy in Dublin in 2013 to recognise the work of Barnardos with Ireland’s children. He was also honoured by UCC as an Outstanding Alumnus in 2016.
Brendan Whelan is the CEO of the Social Finance Foundation, having worked on its establishment in 2006/7. The Foundation is the parent company of Microfinance Ireland.
Prior to working in the Foundation, Brendan worked as General Manager, IT, Operations and HR in Bank of Ireland. A graduate in Commerce from University College Dublin and a graduate in Management Studies from Stanford University, California. He is a Fellow of Institute of Bankers in Ireland.
He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Ireland and Chairman of the Board of Directors of St. Catherine’s Association in Wicklow, which provides services to children with intellectual disabilities.
Lorraine Corcoran is founder of Afanite, a business which bridges the gap between social, for-profit and public sectors. Afanite was formed in 2012 while completing a Masters in International Relations in Dublin City University with a focus on social enterprise.
Prior to Afanite, Lorraine had a career spanning strategic, operational, credit and customer facing roles in Financial Services. She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin with a B.A. Mod. in Economics and Geography and a Masters in Literature.
Lorraine is Chair of the Department of Finance Credit Union Advisory Committee and is also a member of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation Corporate Social Responsibility Forum.
John Kearns is Chief Executive of Partas, a social enterprise with over 60 staff, working to foster entrepreneurship, business training and social economy since 1984. Partas operates four Enterprise Centres and a micro-loan fund and conducts research on a national and EU level into many areas of social and economic policy, particularly self-employment and social entrepreneurship. Partas has also developed a range of innovative new projects such as Ireland’s first social enterprise brewery (Priory Brewing), artisan food hub (The County Fare) and a new co-working hub (The Edge).
John has been a member of the ‘Social Enterprise Task Force’ in Ireland and is the Irish representative on the expert advisory group to the European Commission on Social Enterprise. He has also worked with partners throughout Europe on developing their social enterprise policies and practices.
As an entrepreneur in the music business, John had been responsible for some of the most successful recording and live events in Ireland. He holds an MBA in Entrepreneurship and is an alumnus of the Irish Institute at Boston College.
John P. Murphy
John P. Murphy is the CEO of Speedpak Group.
John has extensive experience across business, social enterprise and local development companies. He began his career in education and later moved to the private sector where he held business development roles with Coca Cola HBC Ireland and Bass Brewers. John has led Speedpak Group since 2003 during which time the Company has evolved significantly and won numerous awards for social entrepreneurship, including Arthur Guinness Fund Award (2010), The Ireland Funds Flagship Awards (2017) and Social Innovation Fund Ireland Education Award (2018).
There are 2 key strands to his role - building commercial business and profitability and attracting investment to deliver on the company’s social mission - to transform the lives of unemployed people through industry-led work experience and training. John is on the Board of Management Coláiste Dhúlaigh College of Further Education ETB. He holds a BA, H Dip. in Education (UCD) and an MSc. in Education & Training Management (DCU).
Karen Leigh is the CEO and founder of Sensational Kids. She is an award-winning Social Entrepreneur who is passionate about Social Enterprise as well as making a difference to the lives of children with additional needs. Inspired by her vision of a better future for children with additional needs, Karen has led Sensational Kids from foundation in 2007, directly impacting the lives of over 6,800+ children from all over Ireland to date. Karen has completed the Social Enterprise & Governance Programme at the DCU Ryan Academy and has a Diploma in Management and Employee Relations from the National College of Ireland.
Karen is a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Impact Award Winner (2014), Network Ireland Social Enterprise Businesswoman of the Year Awardee (2017), Best Social Enterprise CEO of the Year – Republic of Ireland, awarded by The Female CEO Excellence Awards (2017) and Irish Tatler Social Entrepreneur of the Year (2018). Under Karen’s leadership Sensational Kids has won several awards including GSK Ireland Impact Award (2016), The Ireland Funds Flagship Awardee (2018), and Social Innovation Fund Ireland; Social Enterprise Development Fund (2018)
Darren Ryan is the VP and Director of Ireland at The Ireland Funds. The Ireland Funds is a global philanthropic network established in 1976 to promote and support peace, culture and charity throughout the island of Ireland, and Irish-related causes around the world. With chapters in 12 countries, The Ireland Funds has raised over $600 million for non-profit organisations in Ireland and Irish causes around the world, benefiting more than 3,200 different organisations with both financial and non-financial support.
Darren previously held the role of CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI), a non-profit organisation that supports people to solve social problems. He is a Director at Philanthropy Ireland and a Council Member of Dublin Chamber of Commerce. He previously served as Chair of The Soar Foundation and as the Dublin Ambassador to the Sandbox Network, a global network of entrepreneurs.
Dr Senan Cooke, Co-founder of Dunhill Rural Enterprises Ltd. Senan is a retired lecturer of DCU as well as a master craftsman and manager of Education and Training in Waterford Crystal. He has been instrumental in the establishment of 7 social enterprise startups in Dunhill/ Copper Coast area of Co. Waterford in 1990-2020. Senan has published two books; “The Enterprising Community” (2018) and “The History of GAA in Kilmacow” (1884-2010). He has served in a variety of roles as a player /official in the GAA. Appointed to ”Expert Group on Future Skills Needs” (2000-2004), “Commission for Economic Development for Rural Areas” (2012-2015). His doctorate thesis deals with “The Challenge of Educational Disadvantage in a Knowledge Economy”. Senan holds a first-class honours MSc In Education and Training from DCU. Based on extensive research has a profound belief in the creative and innovative capacity of social enterprise sector, to lead the social and economic regeneration of rural and urban communities, countrywide.
Padraig Casey is CEO of Ballyhoura Development CLG, a community led, local development company operating across north east Cork and east Limerick with a vision for empowered and inclusive communities and a diversified economy. Padraig believes that sustainable, locally led, development requires the active participation of communities in developing responses to their key challenges and Ballyhoura Development focus on building the capacity of communities, individuals and business to design and implement long term integrated strategies for their area. Padraig has completed a Masters in International Tourism and a Degree in Hotel and Catering Management. He is on the Board of Directors of Ballyhoura Food Centre Hospital, Ballyhoura Food Centre Mitchelstown and Croom Community Enterprise Centre all of which provide enterprise incubation space to start up and developing rural based entrepreneurs and businesses.
Michelle is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and holds a Degree in HR & Accounting, a diploma in Spinal Maintenance, NCEF and a number of other qualifications. She is a former international athlete and has over 15 years’ experience leading top-tier organisations from a human capital perspective, including supporting a number of high-profile start-ups such as Twitter, Blizzard Entertainment, Beats by Dre*, B&Q (Kingfisher Group) & Tyco/Johnson Controls.
Páraig, a former Career Civil Servant who has served overseas, is a dedicated and committed Coach, Mentor, Strategist, Policy formulator, Diplomat and Keynote Speaker with extensive experience in team formation and developing people, policies and organisations.
He has broad experience of business across the island of Ireland and the EU having set up Intertradeireland and served as Ireland's representative on the EU's Trade Policy Committee and chaired the EU intellectual Property Group at the Diplomatic Conference on Copyright and Performers rights. He has processed several pieces of primary and secondary legislation and has been deeply involved in European Programmes and the rollout of PMDS, coaching and mentoring in a range of government departments and bodies, establishing a coaching a mentoring programme in the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation. Has Chaired groups during 6 Irish Presidencies of the EU and set up the Ireland /US R&D partnership. Has served on the Boards of the NSAI, HSA, MFI and the European Space Agency.
Des is a Board Member and Hon. Treasurer of the Aisling Project – a Ballymun based children’s charity that supports school-going children in their education and after school care.
Des has wide-ranging experience in several not-for-Profit organisations, holding several senior honourary positions.
Prior to joining SERI, Des held several senior positions in Bank of Ireland and worked in Industry as a Financial Controller.
During the Covid crisis, he supported 3 business start-up businesses on a pro-bono advisory/support capacity.
Des is a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Chartered Certified Accounts (ACCA) and a past President of ACCA Ireland.