Celebrated names set for Derry-Belfast innovation conference

The two-day FuSIon Fest will feature keynotes from top creative minds addressing some of the major social issues of today

Eden Project founder, Sir Tim Smit KBE, and Deirdre Mortell, Head of the Social Innovation Fund for Ireland

A collection of celebrated innovators from across the UK, Ireland and the EU will be brought together this week for FuSIon Fest, a two-day social innovation event taking place in Derry~Londonderry and Belfast.

Starting at Derry's Playhouse Theatre on October 19 before moving to the Crescent Arts Centre and Belfast Barge on October 20, the conference will gather people and organisations from all backgrounds with a shared passion for finding and delivering solutions to social challenges.

Recently announced as keynote speaker is Sir Tim Smit KBE, founder of the award-winning, Cornwall-based Eden Project, which opened its doors to the public in 2000. Once a large, disused crater, it was his vision that saw it transformed into an educational centre which houses a range of projects, including an indoor rain forest, a learning college focusing on food production and a horticulture and rainforest canopy. Since opening, the attraction has contributed more than £1 billion to the local economy and welcomed over 16 million visitors.

Eden Project

Joining Sir Tim will be Deirdre Mortell, Head of the Social Innovation Fund for Ireland, tech entrepreneur and angel investor Mary McKenna, and an exciting local talent, Alan Mahon, whose beer producer, Brewgooder, donates all profits to clean water in developing countries around the world.

As well as the keynotes, FuSIon Fest will feature nine interactive breakout sessions each day, on topics including social finance, tech for good, corporate social innovation and youth unemployment.

FuSIonFest is organised by Innovate NI and hosted by the Building Change Trust, with support from the Department for Communities, as part of its work with Social Innovation NI.

Paul Braithwaite, who heads up the Building Change Trust’s work in social innovation, commented: 'We’ve organised FuSIonFest because we believe social innovation is a powerful concept that could find creative solutions to social problems. By bringing together a bunch of people who wouldn’t normally mix, FuSIonFest combines innovators from business, the public sector, and community sector, as well as individuals who have big ideas. 

Alan-Mahon_BrewGooder

Alan Mahon, founder of Brewgooder

'Our panel of speakers will be inspiring participants through their own social innovation journey, and the programme includes workshops on specific issues such as youth unemployment and health inequalities, ‘tech for good’ and design thinking. We are hoping to find some great collaborative partnerships emerge from this year’s event, having had previous successes such as with Arthritis Care NI, who, through our Techies in Residence programme, worked with Blackstaff Games to develop a mobile game for young people affected by Arthritis to help them better manage their condition and communicate with health professionals.'

Sharon Polson from the Department for Communities said: 'The Department is very pleased to be supporting FuSIonFest this year. The festival provides an exciting opportunity for individuals and organisations to learn about social innovation and to have meaningful discussions on innovative solutions to the social problems we face in our society. We believe the festival will not only promote the concept of social innovation but will also inspire ideas and cultivate collaborations and we encourage organisations across the public, private and third sectors to get involved.'

Sir Tim Smit's keynote is taking place as part of a post-event celebration on the Belfast Barge on October 20. Tickets are available from www.fusionfest.co.uk and a free shuttle bus will run from Derry~Londonderry to Belfast for the after-party. All are welcome to attend the two-day event.