‘Celebrating Irish Leadership: Where To Now?’
We gathered for our second annual conference on the bright, sunny morning of 26 January in the Four Seasons Hotel to ‘Celebrate Irish Leadership.’ Kicking off the morning, alumni Niamh Gallagher and Sharon Hickey facilitated a focus group session on the work of Women for Election as they previewed their new ‘Equip’ program, which is supported by the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund Grant.
After everyone registered and had a chance to chat over coffee and homemade cookies, IUSA President Paul O’Connor welcomed all to the Four Seasons and officially opened the conferenced. Taking part in the initial panel discussion was Niamh Gallagher, co-founder, Women for Election, an Irish training organisation committed to balanced participation of women in politics. Niamh brought experience from other European countries such as Brussels as well as Nordic states having worked for a variety of Think-Tanks throughout Europe, including Demos in London. She spoke about the declining number of female TD’s in Dail Eireann, making Ireland one of the countries with the lowest female participation rate in Europe and the rest of the world. She provided us with evidence in recent years from corporations which showed organisations that had female CEO’s and women in higher places of authority, suffered far less from the global economic downturn than some with male dominated CEO’s and senior executives. To that end she considered how in politics had there been an equal or greater participation of women in politics, it is conceivable that Irish politics may not have suffered as much foresight and bad-planning as it has done in recent years. On a whole, Niamh reflected on her years of research into the political sphere and demonstrated how women make a fundamental difference in politics, business and society. She referred to the ‘4 Ps’: process, policy, priorities, power and finished on her point reiterating how politics is missing out and as a result we all are, as citizens / members of society – ‘we’re not capturing talent’.
Connor Murphy, founder of Datahug is a computer scientist having left UCC, Cork in 2003 to live in London, Boston, New York and Washington DC. He started Datahug – an award winning business relationship Cloud Company in 2009 when he returned to Ireland. Connor provided an exciting account of the successes of Irish business leaders in the global business technology market. While Ireland’s reputation abroad concerned many of us following the shuddering halt to the country’s economic growth and development in the latter few years, Connor gave his account of the respect and confidence that young Irish innovators have gained around the world, particularly in the most prestigious technology hubs such as Silicon Valley. He provided anecdotes of business meetings where he would be regularly quizzed about the modus operandi of the highly respected ‘Irish Enterprise’ – the Irish government agency that supports Irish innovation in global markets. On numerous occasions similar agencies from China and Asia wanted to know the secret to Irish success abroad. He regaled us with another anecdote where he would ask non-Irish people to guess the population of Ireland; according to Connor, they’d always answer at least 20 million, and would invariably be shocked when they heard the population stands at just 4.5 million, considering the level of influence Ireland wields worldwide. To illustrate his point further, Connor named the following leaders as people he acknowledged for their world class vision and success:
- Jerry Kennelly – Setup Young Entrepreneurs Program in Kerry. Over 3,000 secondary students have completed a year long course in Entrepreneurship.
- James Whelton – Had given up going to college to setup Coder Dojo and teach 1,000’s of kids how to code. He is infecting kids with the fun, confidence and creativity that programming can bring to a young person.
I’m not an artist, writer or singer – but coding gave me a creative outlet and as a new Dad I think that Coder Dojo could have the single biggest impact on our future, like Dorsey, Chad Hurley, Niklas Zenstrom. Companies like Twitter have followed and my own company Datahug gained a global profile thanks to these leaders. Other inspiring entrepreneurs: Ray Nolan (Hostels – 500M exit proved it could be done),Terry Clune (Taxback – called me when I was 21 and inspires me to this day) and Bill McCabe (CBT – $4B. On our board and one of Ireland’s most successful, and less known, entrepreneurs and leaders.)
Adam Harris, founder, AspergersAdvocate.org was the final contributor to the panel. He is also active in Greystones Tidy Towns and the Vincent’s Charity Shop and has worked as a volunteer with Delgany Community Council and Delgany Heritage. He is currently developing a website to provide information for people touched by Aspergers syndrome. At the beginning of the current Academic Year Adam was chosen as Prefect of his Class at St. David’s. Adam talked about disability and the treatment of people with disability in Irish life. He is a 17 year old with Asperger Syndrome – which is a form on autism where people have normal or often above normal intelligence but can struggle with anxiety, social skills and other aspects of day to day life. His address was strongly convincing of the importance to move away from labeling people on account of their perceived illness or negative imbalances. He expressed how unhelpful it is to use ‘broad brush strokes’ about anyone in life be it ‘young people’ or ‘disabled people’ and gave a relevant analogy about how unfair and irrational it is to label all Irish people as ‘drunken fools’, so why would it be the same for disabled people. He also gave an example of how ‘On many occasions I have been at parties and other events when I might have a perfectly normal conversation with an individual, only for them to find out during the course of the night that I have a condition – and proceed to speak to me as if either I am deaf, or they only have very basic English!
However, according to Adam, there is huge hope and potential that such labeling of people, be they members of minority groups, foreign nationals etc. can be made a thing of the past or resigned to the very ignorant few.
He spoke of how heartened he is with the reaction of people of his own age to those living with either illness or from a minority grouping – they see people for what they are rather than the labels society attaches to
them. ‘I think we young Irish really are the generation who can break the age-old tradition which really has evolved little since the medieval ironsmith’s brand. We are fortunate to have several fantastic organisations and
initiatives around us such as SpunOut.ie to help us implement a more educated, understanding Irish society.’
John Bruton, former Taoiseach, chairman of the IFSC and IVLP
Before alumni enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the ballroom of the hotel, John Bruton spoke on a range of topics relating to the international factors that are likely to impact directly or indirectly, Ireland’s economic future. He considered most pressing, the dangers for Ireland of a British withdrawal from the European Union given the entrenched political and trade links that the Irish state and economy share with the UK. On that point, he considered the stagnant economic circumstances that the US is facing and suggested that the EU and US agree a free trade agreement in order to boost productivity on both sides of the Atlantic. Firstly, he stated that “Britain would be reluctant to leave if it was walking away from the benefits of an EU-US trade agreement; it’s something the Irish Presidency of the European Union is right to prioritise.” On the advantages of a free trade agreement, the former EU Ambassador to the US defended his position with the fact that “Investment across the Atlantic between European Investment and the United States supports somewhere in the region of 15 million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.” “If we were to get rid of even half of the regulatory barriers that stand in the way of even more trade and more investment across the Atlantic it is estimated that we could add another €122 billion to the GDP of the European Union and $41 billion to the GDP of the United States.” “It makes no sense to have barriers between the European Union and the US at this time.”
He also criticised how banks have become too ‘choked’ and constrained when it comes to lending to business and people; he opined that banks are making the “exact same mistakes again, except in reverse” because banks, which had operated under light regulation in the Celtic Tiger years, have become far too conservative. John Bruton was an IVLP in the US in 1980 and has retained his deep relationship with the US during his 35 years in Irish politics – as Taoiseach, TD, EU Ambassador to the US and now as chairman of the IFSC, Dublin.
The board wishes to thank all those who took part in the day, including the afternoon’s annual Congress and we look forward to welcoming you to the event again next January. Stay tuned!