“Fail hard” – Keren Jackson
Meet Founder and CEO of BlueFire Arts Festival and GirlCrew Dublin member, Keren Jackson
For the attendees of GirlCrew Pro 2 in Dublin last week, one of the many highlights of the night was hearing from 22 year old Keren Jackson. For those of you who haven’t heard of this inspiring social entrepreneur, Keren is the founder of BlueFire – “a space that provides us with the opportunities to connect with one another; a space where…you can share your voice by showcasing your culture. The fundamental message that we want to showcase within our organisation is to respect and value each other regardless of ethnic, social or religious differences we may have.”
Like most social projects, BlueFire is built from personal experience. After leaving school at just 15, Keren eventually moved to Spain where she spent time living in a squat. During her time there Keren was shocked by the racism and cultural prejudices she witnessed and experienced. “As an Irish citizen growing up in Ireland I found that I became oblivious to the culture that was developing around me and it is only when I lived within another cultural realm that I realised the positives and negatives of my own society… through having friends from a range of ethnic backgrounds I came to realise the unfair treatment that different ethnicities can have when they move to another cultural setting where their ethnicity is not dominant.” In response to this, Keren and her friends closed themselves off from the wider community retreating to the safety of their immediate social circle and distancing themselves from the locals. Upon returning to Ireland, Keren saw Dublin in a new light and feared the city would follow in the steps of Barcelona.
“Through my lived experiences I knew the key to creating understanding between immigrant communities and the indigenous people was through social connection. In Spain, having no access to work, or even food, at times wasn’t as damaging as feeling unwanted in this new society that I called home… and so BlueFire was born.” Since setting up the organisation Keren has been overwhelmed by the support shown to her, “there’s times I’ve been brought to tears by this – it’s easy to get caught up in the cruelty of the world, the injustice the unfairness, but when you put your hands up and simply ask for help, it’s amazing how kind and generous people are.” While generosity plays a massive part, it’s clear that Keren’s model has struck a chord with the community, in just two years they have reached over 13,000 people she has had the opportunity to be a delegate speaker at One Young World, become a Yunus & Youth fellow, and speak at a TEDx conference.
She was also recently shortlisted in the Kruger Crowne Rising Star Programme which looks for a young person who is a leader in their field to be awarded the opportunity of a lifetime by travelling into space and being launched onto a global platform to encourage positive change. “As a young person I’m tired of hearing that young people are leaders of tomorrow and through my own work I want to showcase that many young people are leaders of today.”
If you’d like to find out more about Keren and the fantastic work of BlueFire visit their website, BlueFireDublin.ie
1. What is the best thing about your role?
Working with fellow young people. I currently have the pleasure of working with 8 amazing young people ranging from 16 – 35. I love working with young people, I love being reminded every day how powerful young people are, I love being able to teach people things what life or work has thought me, and I love most of all, learning from my colleagues who unintentionally educate me every day in so many different ways.
2. What did you find most challenging about it?
When I founded BlueFire, I had no real work experience or contacts. I was still very disengaged from society and didn’t know where to begin. While this was the most challenging part of establishing my own social enterprise, in reality it was actually a blessing because I didn’t constantly analyse those first few months based on loads of theory – by the time I wrote our business plan which was only in January of this year, I knew what our target market wanted, how best to structure the organisation knowing what did and didn’t work and most importantly, what we needed to prioritise as an organisation in order to create social impact.
3. What is your proudest work related achievement to date?
My proudest work related achievement to date was actually only two weeks ago. On Tuesday 11th, we decided to run a Fund:it campaign as in order to keep all our activities completely free we need an additional €10,000 for our festival (festivals are insanely expensive). We decided to launch the campaign on Wednesday 19th August but didn’t want to set it for more than €5,000. We had this mad idea to raise €5,000 from local businesses before Wednesday 19th so that every €1 contributed by the community would be matched by €1 from local businesses – the incentive for businesses is that they would only contribute if the full €5,000 is raised via fundit.ie. It was a mad idea, and with only a couple of days to raise the €5,000 it seemed unlikely. But the BlueFire team came together and gave it their full energy, raising the entire €5,000. This was an insane achievement and really showed me how far BlueFire has come since its inception.
4. What would be your one tip to others who want to get involved in this industry?
Fail hard – being a social entrepreneur and setting up my own organisation has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. Even if unlike me you come from many years of experience, setting up your own organisation is going to be completely different to anything else you’ve ever done. If you tip-toe around trying to get the perfect business plan, or ensuring you’re always making the right move, you’ll never actually enact anything and won’t get a chance to see if your thoughts equate to what you’re actually trying to achieve. I’m not saying don’t give it any thought, but don’t let the fear of making a mistake hold you back.
5. What would be your motto in life, and in work?
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible” T.E. Lawrence