Mike Feerick

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Mike Feerick
MGF - July 2013 (High Res).jpg
Mike Feerick
New York[1]
Alma materHarvard University[2]
University of Limerick
  • Founder & CEO, Alison[3]
  • Founder & Former CEO, Yac.com[4]
  • Chairman of Ireland Reaching Out Project[5]

Mike Feerick is an Irish social entrepreneur, and CEO & Founder of Alison an Ireland–based educational technology (also called e-learning) company. With 14 million registered learners, 2 million graduates and 1,500 courses available for free access in March 2020,[6] Alison is one of the world's largest players in online education – and one of the world's largest certifiers of educational and skills attainment.[7] He is an Ashoka Fellow[8] and cited as a pioneer in the modern online education industry. Paul Glader noted that Feerick is 'a key figure in the open-source learning world'.[9] Alison has been identified by some as the first MOOC platform to be established, beginning in 2007, prior to the phrase been coined.[10][11] Feerick is also the founder of Ireland Reaching Out, a "reverse" genealogy project based in Ireland that reconnects Irish diaspora with their ancestral roots in Ireland.[12][13]


Born in New York City, but raised in Limerick and Galway, Ireland,[14] Mike Feerick's entrepreneurial efforts began young with the organising of student discos through high school and selling T-shirts in college. On graduation he sought a Harvard MBA but first gained an internship with philanthropist and early mentor Chuck Feeney. Feerick credits Feeney with helping to foster his particular interest in social entrepreneurship. "Working with Chuck, definitely gets you thinking money wasn't the most important thing. There's a social responsibility – if you feel able to do it."[15] Feerick subsequently successfully gained his MBA from Harvard. Feerick states that working with Feeney also made him realise that best way to address any social issue was to create a sustainable business model around the need.[16]

Feerick has served as the Acting managing director of Interactive Investor International and has also held positions with Bertelsmann Music Group. He previously owned the franchise rights to JFAX Ireland which sold to Esat Telecom in 1999, a leading Irish telecommunications player.[17] He is also founder and former CEO of Yac.com, a web-based unified messaging telecoms provider. Feerick sold Yac to Nasdaq-listed J2 Global Communications in 2007.[15] Feerick set up the precursor to Alison, an e-learning sub-contracting business for Microsoft called Advance Learning[18] in 2000,[19][14] a business that developed into a specialist providing training for the ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) desktop training certification.[20]


Feerick launched Alison as a for-profit social enterprise on April 21, 2007, a MOOC-based educational technology platform[21] Alison is widely recognised as the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) provider, pioneering a movement which today is revolutionising global access to education, workplace skills training, and employment opportunities.[22][23][24] In outlining the basis of Alison's operation, he explained to David Bornstein of the New York Times that 'education underpins all social progress. If we can improve the general education level worldwide, global poverty can be dealt with profoundly and a general standard of living can be vastly improved.'[25] Feerick highlights the 'sustainable' manner of Alison's operating model as the unique and critical tenet behind the success of his venture to date. The Economist noted in 2013 that through this means, Alison generates 'plenty of revenue' on its website through the use of a freemium model with hosted banner advertising while still providing its learning materials of 'mostly vocational education' for free. "Ads propelled radio and TV, why not education? There is a lot of misplaced snobbery in education about advertising," says Feerick.[26] The UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, "Education shall be free" was a key motivator for Feerick in founding Alison. "Education is a human right and while those who wrote that Declaration in 1948 had no idea how idea it might be achieved, we today have the tools to make it happen, and knowing that, a responsibility to make it a reality."[14][27] "Education is the tool of the most ambitious revolutionary in these technological times, you can change the world if you can change education."[28] The ultimate end-goal, according to Feerick is to "build confidence in as many people as possible and to empower them to keep learning."[29] Alison is suggested as a model that can be used by government worldwide to address the growing global Skills Gap.[30]


Alison became a noted global provider in the educational technology community receiving an Honourable Mention Award in information and communications technology at the UNESCO King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Prize in Paris in 2010.[31] Feerick's work has been recognised by Ashoka in 2010, and his Fellow status marks his global impact as Alison founder and influential social entrepreneur.

On 8 September 2013, Alison was announced as one of six winners at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) awards, an initiative of the Qatar Foundation. Feerick noted that the win was a 'terrific achievement' for Alison. He suggested that 'there is a lot of hype about free learning worldwide but clearly the sustained strength, growth and popularity of Alison was what yielded recognition as a leader in future education.[32] Feerick received the award from Her Highness Moza bint Nasser in Doha, Qatar, in October 2013. In 2012, Feerick received an Arthur Guinness Fund award for Social Entrepreneurship for the work undertaken with organising the Irish diaspora through the Ireland Reaching Out programme he founded in 2009.[33]

Feerick travels worldwide as an invited speaker on Alison and innovative approaches to improving global free access to education.[7] In 2018, Feerick was a speaker at the Forbes CIO Summit.[34]

Social and Community Initiatives[edit]

Ireland Reaching Out (Ireland XO)[edit]

Feerick founded Ireland Reaching Out a volunteer-led, community-based National Irish Diaspora Programme in 2009 with the stated goal of connecting people of the Irish Diaspora to their ancestral roots in Ireland.[35] Feerick and Irish economist David McWilliams successfully pitched the idea to the Irish government in 2010. Ireland Reaching Out welcomed its first returning group in July 2011.[36] In 2017, Ireland XO volunteers across Ireland welcomed home 300 returning Diaspora groups.[37] Feerick has noted how the movement to reconnect the Irish diaspora to their ancestral origins can function in a tripartite revival for Ireland: social, cultural and economic.[13] The Ireland XO Programme is funded by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the Heritage Council of Ireland, Google and the Irish Lottery. Ireland XO operates across Ireland north and south.[38][39]

University of Limerick[edit]

Feerick was the founding chairman of the International Advisory Board of the Kemmy Business School, at the University of Limerick, Ireland's largest undergraduate business school and is a Director Emeritus of the University of Limerick Foundation.[21][40]

Irish Support & Advice Service[edit]

Feerick was appointed Chairperson of the Irish Support & Advice Service,[41][14] Hammersmith, London in 1995. As Chairperson, Feerick founded an outreach programme, funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Mott Foundation, assisting the "forgotten Irish", a term which refers to elderly Irish emigrants to the UK in the 1940s and 50's who subsequently met hard times.[42][8]

Alternative Sentencing[edit]

Through Alison, Feerick has pioneered free learning as an innovative alternative sentencing option within the US court system where the judge does not wish to impose a custodial sentence. His view are that incarceration should be avoided if at all possible, especially for minor offences, and that free mandatory education should be a part of every court sentence worldwide[43][44][45][46]

Social Entrepreneurship Motivation[edit]

Feerick views that social entrepreneurship and philanthropy should be done through one's life, not at the end of a career.[47]


  1. ^ Ní Chonchúir, Sharon (12 July 2011). "Bring Them All Back Home". Irish Central. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  2. ^ Glader, Paul. "Khan Academy Competitor? Mike Feerick of Alison.com Talks About The Future of Online Educations". Wired Academic. Archived from the original on 31 May 2013. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  3. ^ Bornstein, David (11 July 2012). "Open Education for a Global Economy". New York Times. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  4. ^ Grose, Thomas K. (28 September 2001). "Connect The Dots – YAC's personal online call service has got your number". TIME.
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  15. ^ a b McNamara, Denise (11 June 2013). "The Galwayman with the Midas touch - and a social conscience - Connacht Tribune". Connacht Tribune. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
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  19. ^ "Our main interest is to ensure education is available free to all". smartinvestor.business-standard.com. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
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  22. ^ "Subscribe to The Australian | Newspaper home delivery, website, iPad, iPhone & Android apps". www.theaustralian.com.au. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
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  25. ^ "The Economist". The Economist. 20 July 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
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  27. ^ correspondent, Sean Coughlan BBC News education (30 October 2013). "Biggest educator you've never heard of". BBC News. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  28. ^ silicon (26 May 2016). "Bringing digital skills to the young, the old and the marginalised". Silicon Republic. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
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  30. ^ "Projects in Ireland and the Philippines receive honourable mentions in ICT in Education prize | Education". www.unesco.org. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  31. ^ "ALISON". www.wise-qatar.org. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  32. ^ Doyle, Carmel. "10 social entrepreneurs get €700K from Arthur Guinness Fund". Silicon Republic. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  33. ^ Releases, Forbes Press. "Forbes Announces 2018 CIO SUMMIT". Forbes.
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  35. ^ Nicholson, Chris V. (18 July 2011). "In Tough Times, Irish Call Their Diaspora". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  36. ^ "Mike Feerick on LinkedIn: "Congrats to Ireland Reaching Out…". LinkedIn. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  37. ^ "First ever parish liaison gathering meets in Athlone". Athlone Advertiser.
  38. ^ RTE - Video Summary- Ireland Reaching Out (5 August 2015), Ireland Reaching Out July 2015, retrieved 3 January 2018
  39. ^ "Emeritus Directors - University of Limerick Foundation". University of Limerick Foundation. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  40. ^ "Hammersmith's Local Community Web Site". www.hammersmithtoday.co.uk. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  41. ^ "Forgotten Irish men and women who built Britain to be honoured in London". Irish Post. 22 June 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
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  46. ^ Bhagat, Rasheeda (9 January 2014). "Just about anyone can study in this v@rsity". The Hindu Business Line. Retrieved 1 January 2018.

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