`Quest International Action Learning For Real Sustainable Development

In Brief:

Focus of activity - AdvocacyYear the initative began 1997

Positioning in the Mosaic of solutions

  • Main barrier addressed: Cynicism & Apathy
  • Main insight addressed: Build Citizenship

Description of initiative - What is the main focus (products, services, etc.) of your initiative and how does it contribute to ending corruption? What avenues of corruption are you primarily addressing? What activities does it involve for your organization? Who are your primary beneficiaries and target groups? Quest is an action-learning provider focused on building citizens, within action-learning cadres spanning international boundaries, committed to sustainable development through collaborative entrepreneurial action. Quest grew out of the economic turnaround, which has transformed Ireland in recent decades. Ireland once the great missionary country of internationally-inclined people has potentially a key role to play in the future struggles to achieve a more balanced, peaceful and sustainable world. In the heart of the tiger the lessons to be learned are unique and important but also woeful and foreboding. Corruption has swept aside the entrepreneurial fervour, which created the tiger, placing Ireland quite rapidly and surprisingly as an offending nation and potential failure. Quest is building its action-learning programme in the heart of this economic and social engine, probing and challenging it through international fellowships of volunteers and students. Quest is an alternative school which is less about traditional education and more about building citizens who are in tune with the modern World, the real challenges, and the corruption threat – learners who are committed to the acceptance that they might differ from the norm and “plough new furrows” into the less known world of future sustainable development initiatives in government, in business, in NGO’s and as a way of life. Lifelong support networks are key to the Quest experience. The quiet pursuit, and propagation, of honesty and integrity demands tremendous lifelong support. Quest operates directly with volunteers, particularly local, who get involved in running Quest and with students, faculty and others, recruited through international university and college partnerships. Quest is building, as part of the learning experience, its own international mini-campus around the restoration of Charleville Castle in Ireland. The castle becomes the focal point for regular volunteer-driven events and festivals, which are key tools in the experiential learning, advocacy and cadre-building process – providing tangible memories and the sense of home and “belonging” to growing numbers.Innovation - How does your approach differ from existing programs in the field? Which components of your initiative are particularly novel or unique (e.g. the products and services, the technology used, the delivery or financing mechanism)? Corruption is one of the key factors threatening and disrupting sustainable development initiatives globally. The Quest Sustainable Development blend is particularly concerned with the growth of civil and international conflict and war largely arising out of:
· Massive, and accelerating, strains on resources and access to development
· The acceptance of corruption as a way of modern life.
Global warming, energy and other crucial factors all form part of the on-going sustainable development crisis but corruption, and the pragmatic acceptance of corruption, as normal will, going forward, foment cynicism, apathy and lay waste huge resources of human creativity, inspiration and goodwill.

We differentiate Quest from other similar initiatives by “acting in accordance with our words”. We have suffered major setbacks in funding and other supports by taking on corruption openly and by drawing back from “arrangements”, partnerships and projects, which accepted corrupt practices, creaming and milking.

We differentiate Quest by starting reform “at home” here in Ireland, local global, and developing a multi-denominational network of people who have earned to see that honesty, transparency and altruism can succeed and that success, through collaboration, can lead to more success and learning.

We take our part in this struggle by not catapulting ourselves against the “walls of power”, rather we take account, learn, probe, and become good at finding ways forward without accentuation of conflict or recourse to sharp and short-sighted practise.

We are innovating by bringing back to life an old symbol of regeneration, Charleville castle, which, itself, became host to corrupt practises. This powerful little symbol of human endeavour built in terrible times, suffering from corrupt modern development and political greed, has been substantially freed and stands, if not yet complete, as a recognised example of integrity, honesty and the banishing of corruption - all this happening to tolerance, action-learning, and developing theme of “un-stop-ability”.

Delivery Model - How does your initiative reach its target populations? What communications mechanism(s) do you have in place? How do you measure their impact? This is the element which has suffered the most disruption over recent years, facing down issues of corruption, racism, conformance and political polarisation. Nevertheless our model continues to deliver and is proving to be at a crucial turning point, moving from experience through pilot-action, reduction of credibility barriers and a growing support network (to be solidified).

There are a number of elements of the Delivery System, which are core to future success and expansion:
· Delivering active reform locally
The local public have moved from thinking of Quest as some kind of Foreign Inward Investment Project, to understanding the challenge, to predicting failure, to coming behind and understanding the mission. We have solid ground to build on and increasing support. Few people in our region would not know of our endeavours.
· Empowering people for collaborative, continuous learning based action
Last year over 600 hundred volunteers from many different nationalities were assembled into action-learning groups, with zero funding, to create and operate special events at the castle and elsewhere (involving over 5,000). These groups operated to the highest level of Regulatory Compliance successfully, from zero plan, to plan, to action, to reflection.
· Making and broadcasting the connection between transparency/honesty and the delivery of improvements and sustainability
Our message is getting through on the Internet, in the press, other media and by word of mouth.
· Building Citizens with a deeper interest in, and growing understanding of, the Global issues which people face – population growth, famine, malnutrition, under-development, development pressures – the links to discrimination, corruption growth, conflict, war and terrorism.
We continue to build citizens through our volunteers (256), members over 1,000 and friends. Our inter-university programmes were halted due to 9-11 politics but we are getting ready to bring these to scale. The Pilot operated from 1997 to 2002 successfully.
· Buildings cadres connecting with and through Quest and collaborating across the Globe – this is our next phase.

From a Delivery Perspective on all fronts we are challenged but our public barometer of progress continued good health of our volunteer-run Charleville Castle.

Key Operational Partnerships - What key partnerships have you established to make your model possible or more efficient? Who are your partners (business, social, government, other) and what are their roles? How central are these partnerships for your initiative. Quest operates through a wide range of collaborations – partnerships, alliances and relationships on a local level we work at very basic grassroots level – our best local partner is Rahan Comhaltas Ceoltoiri (Local branch of a national independent NGO). We do not have partnerships with politically based groups.

On an international level we have a range of partners who provide us with global access. We have successfully worked with the UN (Secretary general’s Office) and will do more when we go to the next phase. In the field we expect to work with UNICEF more closely. We have a very solid partnership with the Edward De Bono Foundation and actively deploy De Bono Thinking tools. Through this foundation we have linked to the Copenhagen Consensus (Think-tank on sustainability) and the IPMA. Beyond that we have relationships in place with State University Of New York (since 1997), Higher Colleges Of Technology (UAE), Niagara University, Daemen College, Mesa College (Az), City College Birmingham (UK). Universite de Bourgogne (Fr). We also work with Dublin City University and the University Of Ulster (NI).

We established an on-going partnership between the Irish, US, And British Governments, Atlantic Corridor (www.atlanticcorridor.com). However, as we move forward we will be concentrating on building on our inter-university arrangements. There are many contenders, however, we have to solidify our base considerable and strengthen our administration and planning before pushing down this road. Eventually we envisage a strong relationship with UNICEF, Edward De Bono Foundation and 100 universities and colleges across the Globe. From this base we will form alliance through our alumnae.

Financial Model - Which mechanisms do you have in place to ensure that your beneficiaries can afford your products or services? Do you have financial schemes or arrangements for low-income and marginalized populations? Incredibly Quest has been self-financing since 2002. Prior to that date sponsorship was received from donors and universities paid tuition fees for their students. We provided our main pilot programme under the Study Abroad provisions in third Level education systems. Until 2001 US university fees funded all other student participation. Since then some programmes were financed by the UAE. Otherwise all programmes were self-funding. From the very beginning volunteers were recruited from marginalized groups (the Travellers, Early Offenders, Rehab and Long term Unemployed). These groups have proven to be the backbone of our survival through difficult years; many of these are highly trusted long-term volunteers.

Over the past three years all Quest activities were funded through volunteer-driven events, projects and Festivals. All crew are voluntary. Going forward, this will not be sustainable but it can be made to last until better funding is in place to invest in programme delivery facilities, administration and marketing. The volunteership will continue to be self-financing while the residential programmes will be funded by university partners and scholarships. In the long haul, the financial model is based on the achievement of a balanced international mix of learners and volunteers. Surpluses from fee-paying colleges will fund scholarships for colleges with poor access to international currency and funding.

  • What percentage, if any, of the total operating costs does earned income (from products, services, or other fees) represent? 100
  • How is the initiative financed? Is it financially self-sustainable or profitable? How much do beneficiaries contribute? Current finance comes exclusively from volunteer activities. The castle is focal point of this activity – not anti corruption or sustainable development. But the castle is perceived by its supporters of having both these roles and more, building citizens geared for the emergencies to come and committed to global reform through collaborative action. So the current income generating activities only contribute indirectly to the long-term mission of Quest. But we feel that it can continue this way and build, serving its purpose at a smaller scale than originally envisaged or perhaps as a model for other projects to take on and expand. All situations involve substantial, so does the current situation. Moving forward, however, as current issues relating to the completeness of legal arrangements for the castle long-term, and the inclusion of parts not encompassed by Quest, the funding by the Irish government for the restoration (due to the international cultural importance rating of the building) will provide most of the funding to take on the building itself and to sustain basic management long-termThe core financial model requires the participation of at least 20 universities from locations across the Globe (balanced) but these universities require more structure (as provided in the Pilot Project) and purpose-built mini-campus facilities. The Pilot project proved that it could work financially but the source (and motivation) of investment to take the project to this next level has placed this side of the action on hold. In the long term, though to create a Citizen Building Facility involving 200 to 300 learners from across globe every 4 months (1200 per year) from 100 or so university and colleges, in Ireland serving the new world – would be a great achievement and would make itself felt after 5 or so years. Ten years on we are as happy to continue, and to know that it will take time to get there, as we were at the outset.

Effectiveness - What has been the concrete impact of your project to date? How many people have benefited from your program in total? What policies, communities, or institutions have been influenced to make fundamental changes because of your work? When the project moves from the original pilot phase to expansion there will be easy measures of effectiveness to apply – We will be able to quote the number of university learners who have undertaken the programme, the additional money therefore invested in this important area of citizen building, the cost per learner and the downstream achievements of Alumnae.

During the Pilot Project over three hundred learners from 10 different university successfully completed a single semester Study Abroad (Citizen Building) Programme with Quest in Ireland. This was self-sustaining financially but required improved facilities. The 9-11 hit at the wrong time, as this programme was due to be upgraded. Politics got in the way after that followed by a push by developers to take on our base at Charleville Castle, along with a By-Pass project.

The development of our volunteership, and the successful events and festivals, stand as an active demonstration of our worth throughout this difficult period. Quest survived – over those years more than 8,000 people had some involvement with Quest through these activities.

Quest had moved from Dublin at formation to its chosen site in the centre of the Midlands of Ireland, a place that was to experience the most extreme challenges of the Irish Boom – urban sprawl and commuter life. It is here that Quest has been able to achieve good results. To bring a region on board with so little use of resources – this is a fair measure of effectiveness.

But our main areas of achievement and measurement must come with the launching of our main Citizen Building Action Learning Programmes and Facilities. We have achieved some great things, such as the reform of UN Policy relating to the Family (in all its forms) and Technology http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/family/Meetings/FamTech/FamTecRep.htm
Culminating in current UN Twenty First century policy. The formation of the fully funded Atlantic Corridor.

Other deliverables remain in the pipeline. But we have also saved Charleville Castle, as a place for human creativity and rebirth, this alone is worth much more than we ever spent. The work of Ireland’s greatest architect and a regeneration project built in 1798 at the end of a failed national rebellion. Now it’s a people’s castle.

  • Which element of the program proved itself most effective? The bolstering the flagging reputation of Ireland as a “switched-on” country warm to the needs of others and connected to the future – this is not something that is easy to measure – too many other factors are at play. Yet we maintain that the loss of Ireland as a credible voice in the seas of modern politics would be a major setback. We who have worked in the field, under the Irish colours, have experienced the extraordinary trust bestowed upon us by the people from other nations with whom we have worked. Trust is a hugely important thing in the process of change – it takes a solid act of trust to follow a stranger into a dark forest in search of a fresh clearing. It is in this area that we have been most effective. This project, here in Ireland, is very much directed at the maintenance of this special trust. This is not measurable. We do know that trust in us is growing. We know that our story is being followed in our region and that it is gaining credibility and we know that we are moving into a time of new challenges in Ireland, a time when trust is likely to become very important once more.So within the very small resources deployed, in the context of the considerable voluntary effort, we can show that we are doing a good job for our locality and for Ireland. We have certainly had an influence on the more vocal debate, which is accompanying the new election – we and many others. These are all important contributory factors in the reinvention of modern democracy. This is ground we were able to stand and we stood – this will help as we move back into the broader issues in our mission. But we were most effective and used the castle very effectively in getting our local area through this difficult time. Of course, it required us to pull back from politics and government support. Thankfully we are back working with various government departments.
  • Number of clients in the last year? In 2006 our clients were our members and our volunteers. In all 256 volunteers participated actively in projects last year. There were 1,100 members. Nearly 3,000 young people (mid-twenties) camped more than one night around the castle and participated in our activities and heard our message. The beneficiaries paid all of the costs including a small surplus. This was achieved by involving volunteers and members as co-promoter’s thereby spreading the risk and containing cash flow. Direct expendiure last year was at the all time low of €40,000.00. Expenditure by partners was at €120,000.00.
  • What is the potential demand? There is obviously a strong demand for people to volunteer for a “cool project” in a castle in Ireland. This is one good reason to base a project like this in such an iconic building. However, demand relates to volunteers who are committed to action-learning. Demand in this regard is higher than we are serving but it is not likely that we could service higher demand on a purely voluntary basis. This then upsets the equation between economic viability and the need to finance salaries. Within our current structures we can grow slowly but our ability to supply will be the limiting factor. On the other hand, as the restoration project gets the incoming boost from the Irish Government we can start to take on more residential volunteers. This will require the construction of facilities. Our challenge at that point will be to develop an acceptable regulatory environment to convince the Irish Government to allow us to achieve international balance. If we get to this position, without strings, then it is easy to show that there is a massive demand to come on such a venture of learning.The main issue, however, is to move to the next level through the launching of the upgraded Study abroad programme, with good facilities, international balance and economic viability. We could service up to 300 learners a semester. With a solid group of, at least, 40 international universities this would not be difficult to achieve. The Quest programme would then become a model for others – alternatively quest could partner with other countries to expand.

Scaling up Strategy - What is your priority for the next 3 years and please describe why. Yes we are now competing because we are ready to scale up. There are some outstanding legal matters to be sorted over the coming months – but these are sortable and will be easier to sort if we find ourselves in a larger community of like-minded people and supporters.

Over the coming three years our job would be to rejuvenate and expand our portfolio university and college partners. We would agree the action-learning curriculum, facilities and faculty and seek a 5 year small scale commitment from, at least, 40 universities and colleges (50% of which would receive some form of subsidisation). In parallel with this we would carry through a full conservation study of the castle, initiate the international restoration project and obtain planning on the practical action-learning facilities. Within three years we should have 100 full-time action-learners on Citizen Building Semester-long Study Abroad Programmes (with one in ten Irish). At this point our Lifelong Support Unit would come into place. This is where our long-term impact would start to become meaningful. We intend that our Lifelong Support Unit will assist alumnae to pump new blood and good governance into systems, promote action-learning with their colleagues, and start getting meaningful project up and running. Combining trust building systems with new innovations in sustainable development, in particular fairer access to sustainable resources, markets, health and welfare.

  • Stage of the initiative: Scaling up
  • Expansion plan: In many ways, Quest is a small scale initiative with top quality aspirations. We believe that achieving a level of 300 international students per semester through a spread of 100 university and colleges would achieve the multiplier effect that we are seeking. Naturally, we are assuming that the college members would vary in the numbers attending our special programme, some might produce few, but this would give Quest the spread of international engagement necessary to create substantial numbers of international collaborative efforts for sustainability and positive change. Three hundred students at any one time might seem ridiculously small but, given that we are only trying to provide one aspect of the learners development, it would equate well to a reasonably sized faculty. Growth should be focused on Lifelong Support and International Action-Research Projects – this is where the expansion will happen. Phase 1 (2008 – 2011) - Consolidate, plan, strengthen structures and administration, improve funding and get the restoration project revitalised and the basic facilities constructedPhase 2 (2011 – 2014) – Bring the mini-campus to scale and scale up volunteership accordingly, engage with United Nations on policy research and commence field programmes in good governance, business ethics, and sustainable development.Phase 3 (2012 – 2015) – Get the proposed Sustainable-Earth Action Research Institute up and running. Concentrate expansion in this area through the alumnae Lifelong support Unit.

Origin of the Initiative - Tell the personal story that will help people connect to your work. How did the initiative start? Was there a particular individual or event driving the idea? Tell the reader the story behind the innovation. In 1975, I escaped my doctoral programme at the University of Paris Grignon, and as a young Irish engineer, I found my self in charge of a field division of the Joint Corr-Caritas Irrigation Project in Bangladesh, slap-bang in the middle of vicious famine, social turmoil and accelerating disaster. I had come from (at the time) a poor underdeveloped country, Ireland. All I could to my Bengali colleagues was my empathy, determination to learn and to see them succeed. The shock was greater but greater still was the sudden realisation of the practical implications of the explosive cocktail of rapid population and urban migration acceleration coupled with the undeniable human right to seek to develop and improve living conditions. Since then my life has centred around the realisation that, in global population terms, relatively few people are aware of the exponential growth in demand for resources that had started in the twentieth century and would continue as long as it could be sustained into the twenty first century. This is our struggle and corruption the great barrier.Main Obstacles to Scaling Up - List the two (2) main obstacles to scale up your innovation (policy, legal, organizational, people, financial, etc.)? There are two main obstacles to scaling up:
1. Friendly funding
2. Legal property rights completion

It is important that we start taking on board friendly finance. There had been uncertainty regarding the renewal of the long term lease. This now has become a matter of legality and pushing through renewal. Renewal of the lease provides the long-term ownership proof that the state is seeking to push in restoration funding. This will automatically kick-in a management team fund and open the way for the conservation study and planning application for funding. The legal issues will now be resolved by proving capability to bring on board friendly funding. It is important to note that quest has not sought external funding for many years. This had been on the basis that it would have been unrealistic to invest the time into funding requests that would not pass the test. We decided to “paddle our own canoe” until we could see our way to levelling the pitch and providing good ground for building.

Main Partnership Challenges - What are your major challenges with partnerships? (E.g., identification of partners, implementation of partnerships, relationship management, etc.) The main partnership issue is to start rejuvenating and examing the appropriate expansion of college relationships and explore ways of doing this safely and smoothly.Contact Information:

Dudley Stewart                                                  see link to Ashoka here
Quest Education Institute 


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The Quest Project - LIFT Charleville Castle