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Ruairi McKiernan on Starting Out as an Entrepreneur Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Liamjod, Canada Feb 1, 2008
Education , Technology , Globalization   Interviews
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Ruairi McKiernan on Starting Out as an Entrepreneur January 2012 interview with Ruairí McKiernan.

Ruairí McKiernan is an Irish community activist and social entrepreneur. He has won numerous awards for his work and in 2012 was appointed by the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins to the Council of State. Here he discusses his work and his motivations.

Ruairí McKiernan first realized his call to social action during his teens when he became curious about the conflict in the north of Ireland. He started reading up on Irish history and politics, and later started supporting organisations like Amnesty International and their human rights work. Despite studying for a business degree in Scotland he realised early on that the corporate life was not for him and he soon became active in volunteering, campaigning and community work.

“Soon after I left college I moved to San Francisco where I found myself immersed in different cultures and new ways of thinking. I started reading more, going to meetings and realising that much of what I had been thought about the world was only one side of the story”.

Ruairí got interested in the emerging global justice movement that was springing up around the world. Everywhere from Seattle to Prague and London to Melbourne, people were starting to question how the world was being run and in particular the role corporations have in influencing democracy.

“Once I started to get involved in social justice campaigns I started to feel more empowered, that instead of just feeling disconnected or apathetic, that I was at least becoming vocal and trying to shine a light on injustices.” He says his experience with community based activism opened up a new world to him and was influential in helping him find his own voice.

“It was also around the same time the Internet was coming on stream and growing massively in popularity. People were realising that you could make your own media, that the internet allowed you to put forward your own point of view and to discuss and debate opinions online. I became really passionate about the role the Internet has to play in promoting education and democracy, and I suppose I still am. I think it’s vital that people get their voices heard and to share and learn from each other. The Internet helps with this but of course there are other more traditional ways too.”

Soon after returning to Ireland Ruairí was offered two weeks work with a regional health service. He says it opened up a huge amount of doors for him and that the experience is evidence that you should always keep an open mind to opportunities and options that present themselves.

“The two weeks work grew into twelve months work and pretty soon I was working as a Youth Health Promotion Worker, developing websites and programmes for young people. I combined my interest in the Internet with the need for good sexual and mental health promotion programmes to set-up pilot youth websites. This gave me great experience and allowed me to invest my time and skill into something that was making a difference to people’s lives. When I look back on that opportunity I think there was a lot of syncroniscity involved in it all.”

Soon afterwards he ended up in Canada where he also become involved in online youth work in addition to learning more about community activism, ecology, and holistic health.

“Travelling to Canada and other places throughout the world has continued to open my mind and make me realise that I always have huge amounts to learn. Random strangers on the bus can be your best teacher sometimes. I think travelling is one of the best forms of education and should be encouraged more, especially spending time in cultures that are different to your own”.

Ruairí became frustrated with state structures and how slow things were moving when it came to creating social change. During a period of unemployment he decided to take a risk and to look into starting a non profit organisation that would promote community and youth empowerment. What started from his bedroom has since grown to become one of the most pioneering and influential youth organisations in the country.

“I originally did all sorts of consultancy projects to bring in some funds. In time I brought in some friends and we rented an office and built up the organisation bit by bit. We had furniture donated, we fundraised, and we worked night and day.”

Soon after launching SpunOut.ie the organisation received a vote of confidence when the Minister for Health in Ireland presented it with an award for Health Innovation for its pioneering work in providing information, support and opportunities to Ireland’s large population of 16-25 year olds.

“Awards are useful for getting your profile raised and winning various awards helped us fundraise, gain media exposure and build confidence. In time we started to be more effective and skilled and fundraising and SpunOut.ie grew in size, bringing in new staff and launching new services such as the Academy of Youth Activism and the Super-Heroes mini-grants scheme.”

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