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‘Small Keys Open Big Doors’ – inspiration from Jack Kavanagh

Small Foundation is consistently in awe of the persistence and determination of our partners. Despite operating in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, these early-stage initiatives, budding business ideas and emerging research engagements hold a common mindset: their leaders are relentlessly focused on making progress towards ambitious impact goals.

Though many of our partners are small in their stage of work and size of operating entity, they hold large ambitions in terms of their current and future impact. Whatever your stage or size, our experience is that when you are focused on mission-driven outcomes, it can often feel like your work is never great enough.

Small Foundation has embedded our reality in our name; while we are bigger than we have ever been, we know our work can only ever constitute a small ripple in the wave of support and systems transformation efforts that are needed to achieve our vision, mission and goal.

In embracing systems thinking to guide our work, we know that the path to achieving our impact ambitions is not linear. It can feel messy and complex, like a tangled ball of wool where the beginning and end are elusive.

Speaking to Small Foundation’s executive and board in May 2023, Jack Kavanagh, one of Ireland’s leading speakers on mental and emotional wellbeing, reflected on his own life experience and shared some inspiring provocations. He acknowledged the context of operating in a VUCA world, and encouraged Small Foundation and our partners to embrace this as an opportunity for personal growth and professional development.

As a trained healthcare professional, Jack noted that a straight line on a heart monitor is never good. He invited us to give ourselves permission to follow paths that mirror the ups and downs of healthy heartbeats in pursuit of our work: to try, fail, try again, course correct, and try again the next day.

Jack challenged Small Foundation to invest not just in our partners, but also in ourselves and our relationships with those around us. Our heartbeats are indicators of our physical health, and we should invest in respecting our bodies, as well as appreciating the importance of valuing and tracking our mental health and practicing self-compassion.

Jack acknowledged high burnout rates in caring and giving professions as those working in these sectors often hold themselves to impossibly high standards and give more than they invest in themselves.

Nevertheless, Jack offered hope. Based on his own life experience, he set out the power of taking small steps on an individual basis, every day, to work towards making social progress in the VUCA world. He provided a powerful example of where he as one person, with a strong and invested network of support, was able to take action to achieve change for himself and others in the face of seemingly unmovable bureaucracies and systems.

Jack said,

‘Sometimes small keys open big doors. Each one of you holds small keys every single day. Take a moment to appreciate that.’

We are grateful to Jack for sharing his experiences and wisdom with the Small Foundation team, which has inspired us to think big about how we show up for ourselves, each other, and our partners.


Jack Kavanagh is a pharmacist, speaker and facilitator who is passionate about the value of health and wellbeing as drivers for business performance coupled with cultivating diverse and inclusive environments where people belong and are valued. You can learn more about his work via his personal website and on LinkedIn.

– Liz Wilson, Deputy CEO of Small Foundation

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