Shelia Cannon - Professor of Social Entrepreneurship

You in a word -


On you –

I was born in Brighton, England. My mother is from Galway and my father is from Donegal, so I am an Irish citizen. In 1983 we emigrated to Lexington, Massachusetts. I now live in Wickow Town, south of Dublin, with my husband, Petros, and our three boys.

On your profession

Currently, I am the Assistant Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Trinity Business School in Dublin. When I returned to academia after eleven years as a practitioner, I chose to do my PhD on peacebuilding from an organisational perspective. Peace and conflict are usually studied within political science, but I felt that the macro-level of politics and international relations didn't fully capture the devastating, messy, emotional human experience of war. Organisation theory focusses on the meso-level connecting the individual and collective with their socio-cultural context.

My doctoral research was on peacebuilding organisations in Ireland and how they balanced their identity as a community and as a business. This lead me to social enterprise, and how business models are used to bring about social change.


On a pivotal moment -

I was living in Thessaloniki, a city in Northern Greece, when the United States led the NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia to remove then President Milosevic in 1999. I worked in an office on the port road, where American military equipment and personnel arrived by ship and drove north to bases in The Balkans. It was staggering the amount of technology, machinery, people, organisation, skill and planning that went in to blowing up a culture that they knew nothing about. And then the bombing started and the dust clouds could be seen hanging in the air, creating sickening rainbows against brown clouds. Bridges, infrastructure, embassies, houses, communities were all destroyed. It went on for months.

On a formative moment -

It was eye-opening for me and very disturbing- how the bombing was presented in English language media, as if it was a strategic war game with no real human impact. I thought back to all the wars I had read about from afar through that filter, and how little I actually knew about what had happened, and what the experience was really like. I could never see war the same way again. It is just so brutal.



Photo of Sheila taken in Macedonia in 1999.

“War is a massive human failure. All those involved are victims, and the organising of war is shameful, no matter what the justification.

Photo by Sass Haviv

What are you most excited about in the next 12 months?

I am excited about my research. It is such a privilege to be able to think and write, to take the time to consider how social change happens, who is involved, what it means to those involved, how and why perspectives clash. I am intrigued by how social change requires an increasing level of collective self-awareness. When we notice what we take for granted, then change is possible.

On life -

Becoming a mother was transformative. The love I share with my children is like nothing else. On the one hand it is so pure and liberating. Your children love you just the way you are, and that is a huge change from being a young woman in the world, where your actions and body are constantly scrutinized, criticized and sexualized. But on the other hand, you realise how limiting are society's expectations of you as a mother. I have become so aware how much mothers are judged. And how motherhood is a market – all the products you need to make you a “good mother.” It's another battlefield! I try to protect my family from many of those influences, but of course you cannot really do that. Your children are part of society and part of a different generation. Parenting is a long and painful letting go process, from the first contraction!

“The lotus reminds me not to turn bitter from all the suffering and from all the violent conflicts that are still raging."


ARTICLE22 really speaks to me and my experiences. Turning the brutality of war into something beautiful and empowering; using a business model to make that happen. Connecting cultures – a collaboration between Laos and the US, that is a type of reconciliation. It's like allowing consumers to acknowledge what happened, even to take some responsibility and make amends – like reparations – but on an individual level.

The Beauty in Adversity Lotus Flower Necklace is my favourite. When exposed to war you can easily get lost in bitterness. Of course trauma and grief take time, but for those who have lived through war (which I haven't directly) I think it is exceptionally powerful when the journey moves on to something else. It gives rise to rich ideas, profound understandings and deep relationships. The lotus flower symbolises that transformative journey.


Photo by Sass Haviv

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