Mary-Kate Portley is currently studying Law and French in University College Cork, is a mentor with Slingshot Academy and is also President of Junior Chamber International (JCI) Cork.
When did you take part in YSI and what was your project about?
I took part in YSI in 2009 with a project called “Make Self-Defence Common Sense” which aimed to increase awareness of personal safety in our society. We targeted primary and secondary schools as well as third level institutions of Cork City. We created an information pack and lesson plan for primary school students which was distributed, along with a DVD made by the students describing everyday situations where personal safety may be threatened. In our Secondary School, Mount Mercy College in Cork, we held a self-defence class where students were taught basic self-defence moves, how to avoid dangerous situations and what to do in the event of an attack. University College Cork (UCC) circulated an e-mail during Raise and Give (RAG) week which gave studetns our “Top 5 Tips for Staying Safe” and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) also ciculated the e-mail and allowed us to flyer our tips on campus.
What impact did your project have on your local (or the wider) community?
The project targeted students across a very broad age range and brought to light the importance of being aware of your surroundings. The greatest impact the YSI project made was an increased awareness across the community of issues surrounding personal safety. It highlighted that threats to personal safety can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of age, and that there is a lack of knowledge in the community on how to deal with such situations. The project spurred a discussion on creating a self-defence module in the school that would be available to all classes.
What impact did taking part in YSI have on you?
YSI was a compulsory module at my school, and I believe this is a testament to how important social innovation is for students and teachers alike. This module was the first time we saw project management and deadlines, we had to employ teambuilding skills and work together to achieve a common goal. The project symbolised to all of us that we are able to find solutions to our own problems in society. It taught us how to ineract with our community, engage in feedback and tailor a social solution to the community to fit their demands. YSI embodies active citizenship. It creates team players and leaders. It develops soft skills that the current curriculum does not address and sets the foundation for building the tools necessary to develop a solution- driven generation.
How has your YSI experience influenced the person you are today?
Taking part in YSI was a pivotal experience for me and is most definitely a key factor in making me the person I am today. It taught me about a solution-based approach, how being an active and engaged citizen can solve many of our community’s problems. I became engaged in change, and relaised that I can make an impact and I can make a differencce. YSI was the start of a very long career of vounteering , self-development and impact.
I use the skills YSI taught me every single day. As President of Junior Chamber International (JCI) Cork, I run a non-profit voluntary organisaiton which provides development opportunities for young people, so that they can bring psoitive change to local communities. It has quite similar aims to YSI, but it is for young people in their 20’s and 30’s. We use the Active Citizenship Framework to locate problems in society and then work together across all sectors and with partners to develop sustainable solutions. Globally, we have 200,000 members across 160 countries. We also train young people in leadership, public speaking, project management and other soft skills and encourage them to engage in personal development, because by improving ourselves and our local commmunity we can improve the world!
I am currently in my last semester of a Law and French Degree in UCC. YSI had shown me in secondary school how fulfilling it is to work with fellow students to achieve common goals. I took this with me to University where I became involved in Societes, sitting on the Executive Committee of the UCC Law Society, acting as a representative for the Students Union and helping first year students integreate into college life as a Peer Support Leader.
YSI also encouraged me to keep questioning the world around me, and to constantly seek solutions. I wrote a letter to President Micheal D.Higgins in 2012 where I expressed my concern for the lack of political education at Leaving Cert. level. I then began a journey working with Ministers and Special Interest Groups to contribute to the development of a new curriculum which is due to come into schools in 2017.
Looking back, I can see that YSI is where I first became aware of my own potential. It has impacted my life in so many ways – my studies, my career, my interests, my passions and my future goals. I am now on the other side of the process, having recently been named a Mentor by Student Slingshot where I will be Mentoring Transition Year Students from across the country on what it is like to study Law, work in business and the impact of social innovation.
Why do you think this is important for young people and for the world we live in?
The world we live in is constantly changing. Each generation of young people faces different challenges to those who have gone before them. President Higgins sums it up beautifully: we are “paradigm warriors”. We are faced with challenges and obstacles of an unprecedented scale, and in order to create a fair and just society we must tackle these, we must question them, we must work together to find solutions. Once you discover your own potential, your outlook changes. It’s the motivation to take action, the responsibility to do whatever you can to stand up for what is right. How a simple idea can change everything, I believe that there is nothing more imprtant than going beyond what was done before and realising that we have the power to create the impossible.