I had the great privilege yesterday to do a talk at our local Community school in Kilrush, County Clare. I was speaking about career opportunities to senior students facing into their final year at school. The secondary education system in Ireland hinges on an all or nothing series of final exams which determines (at least at the time it seems it does) the outcome of the rest of your life. It is a lot of pressure for a 17 or 18 year old. The theme of my talk was a career in the drinks industry, I painted a picture of what the industry is all about and gave guidance on how to break into it and the different skill sets needed for the various roles. As the talk went on we veered into entrepreneurship and general advice for taking control of your future and career as a young adult, they were a lovely bunch.
One of the students asked me a pointed question “Why did you decide to set up your business in Cooraclare?” The underlying point being ‘ Its in the middle of nowhere why would anybody do that????!….’ I explained to the room that as they were born and raised on the West Coast of Ireland they may take for granted the natural beauty, the music tradition, the wonderful fresh food and the unique welcoming & rich historical culture that they lived in. I went on tell them to their great surprise that many people the world over considered this a wonderful place and explained too how the climate and proximity to the ocean would be perfect for maturing whiskey. There was general incredulity in the room. Rural West Clare is a wonderful place, but tends to get forgotten by pretty much everyone when it comes to services, resources and job opportunities. There is a huge Start-Up Tech surge in Ireland at the moment, but its all centered on Dublin as just about everything is. This part of Ireland does not even have business appropriate High-Speed broadband. So good luck setting up your tech start-up here…..Agriculture, support services, retail and tourism are the main employment opportunities around here. So the career I was describing to these students was an alien one.
As I left a thought that had been swirling around in my head for several months started to solidify. There is a great saying about career growth that has morphed over the years but most recently was used by Sheryl Sandburg the COO of Facebook and the Author of “Lean In.” Her adage is “You Can’t Be it If You Can’t See It.” The point being that it is impossible to aspire to do anything if you have not been exposed to it or do not have a role model to show you the way. This is precisely why those students who have spent their whole lives living right on the Wild Atlantic Way are incredulous that anyone would find it remarkable. They have no reference point just yet as they may not have been exposed to a huge amount in their short lives. I’ve been lucky enough to have had exposure to multiple international cultures and business sectors throughout my career. I was however sitting right where they were about 23 years ago and I had forgotten that, now that I am back with all this experience I feel I have a duty to share some of what I have learned for the benefit of the community that I was born and raised in. The group I spoke to yesterday have just as much potential as any group anywhere in the world. What they may be lacking however is exposure to potential choices for their future and I don’t think that is fair, so I’m doing something about it.
So, today I am launching a Mentorship & Internship Program for young women from Rural West Clare under the banner “See it-Be It”. I am launching it today as it is International Women’s Day and the theme of this years campaign is “Parity for All” a rallying call around equal opportunity for women globally. I have designed a program which will give our interns exposure to not only to our Whiskey Business, but also several other industries, including but not limited to Fashion, Film Production, Tech, Design, Media and Finance. I’m calling in favors from my network and will be sending our Interns to London for a period of time to get real life experiences in a range of industries in the city. I will commit too to acting as a Mentor to these young women as they build their careers and to connect them where I can with others who can help them. This is no ‘Work Experience’ program however. I expect any intern who we take on to become part of a new community we are building and in future years to give a hand up to the next generation of young women from West Clare who will join the program. This way we will build over time an extensive network of women who share origin stories and who have a unique understanding of the perspective and challenges faced by those from this beautiful part of the world.
One of the main reasons I left Multinational Corporate culture was, yes to make my own great whiskey, but also to find meaningful purpose and to give back. When you work for Diageo or similar, you don’t have the possibility and are certainly not supported to take time out of your day to talk to young people of help them in this way. I’m actioning this today because as an entrepreneur in charge of my own destiny, I can and its my bit for International Women’s Day and #PledgeForParity. I’ve already had a few emails from some enterprising young women from that group I spoke to, so we are well on the way to finding our first Intern Class. If anyone would like more information about the program or would like to help young women from West Clare in building their careers please contact me using the contact button above.