The History of The Wheel

President Higgins

Celebrating The Wheel's 20th Anniversary with President Michael D. Higgins

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20 Years of The Wheel

In 2019 we celebrated our 20th anniversary, marking two decades of serving Irish community and voluntary organisations, charities, and social enterprises.

We marked the occasion in a number of ways, most of which are available for you to explore on this page.

But first, a little history...

The Wheel was established in 1999. Our organisation originated from the idea (first articulated in 1998) that there was a need for a network to represent and connect people working and volunteering in Ireland’s community, voluntary and charity sector.

The initial spark came from an article in a national newspaper by a respected lawyer and the founder of the Irish Hospice Foundation, Dr Mary Redmond. In the article, Dr Redmond highlighted the need for social entrepreneurship in Ireland and the conditions needed to foster it. The article ignited a lively discussion among key stakeholders in the community, voluntary and charity sector.

Funding was secured from The Atlantic Philanthropies and five consultation conferences were organised throughout 1998 and 1999 to explore the need for a network and its potential role. The outcome was a vision, mission and values that are still relevant to our work today.

An office with a CEO was established in October 2000,  based in the Carmichael Centre for Voluntary Groups in Dublin.  In 2002, the office moved to rented premises in the Irish Social Finance Centre in Dublin 8, and in 2010 the office moved to its current location on Fleet Street, Dublin 2.

We developed the initial 'founding workshops' consultations into an annual programme of learning and networking events. After the Government invited The Wheel to join the then Social Partnership process in 2003, we developed our representation work on behalf of members and the wider sector. In 2003, and our representative work developed through our participation in this national forum. Over the years, we have successfully advocated for additional funding for the sector, supportive charity regulation and for a more structured relationship between the sector and the state.

Our finance model has evolved over the years too. Whilst Initial seed funding came from a multi-year funding agreement with the Atlantic Philanthropies and a one-off donation from the Michael Smurfit Foundation, we soon had to become financially sustainable. The funding relationship with The Atlantic Philanthropies reduced year-on-year and ended completely in 2005. Our business model for financial sustainability now has three mutually inter-dependent strands: 1) core funding from certain statutory grant programmes for specific training and capacity building services provided to the sector; 2) earned income from charitable services provided to membership, including membership fees and the wider sector; 3) donations, grants, sponsorships, and contracts  and grants from companies, philanthropic trusts and public bodies to fund specific work. 

Over the early years, the number of people employed with The Wheel fluctuated between five and eighteen people, depending on projects and funding. In recent years, this that grew steadily along with our membership numbers and enhanced position within the sector as its voice and champion. Depending on specific projects, our staffing tends to be between 15 and 20 people. 

Through the years, we have kept true to our initial role as a connecting mechanism for the community and voluntary, charity and social enterprise sector.

Looking Back...

Civil Society: Perspectives and Reflections - Essay Collection

A collection of essays exploring themes relevant to the 20th anniversary of The Wheel. With contributions from Dr. Mary Redmond, Dr. Fergus OFerrall, Dermot McCarthy, Justin Kilcullen and Dr. Shana Cohen.


20 Year Timeline

We invite you to explore our special timeline tool below to discover the highlights, breakthroughs and milestones we've experienced in our first 20 years.

Get started by clicking on the green, pink or orange bubbles in the timeline below. Drag the timeline left or right to move forward or back in time (hold down the mouse button and drag or use your finger on a mobile). Use the + and - signs to zoom in and out.