Generation Emigration

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Young people doing it for themselves

Emigration is not the only narrative of youth today. Many young entrepreneurs and innovators are creating new opportunities and striving to make Ireland a better place, writes Clare Herbert

Tue, Sep 25, 2012, 01:00

   

Emigration is not the only narrative of youth today. Many young entrepreneurs and innovators are creating new opportunities and striving to make Ireland a better place, writes Clare Herbert

Clare Herbert: 'a new generation of Irish entrepreneurs and innovators have already begun to change the kind of Ireland we live in'

In Spring 2007, I appeared on a Questions and Answers youth special on RTÉ. Flanked by the inimitable pair of Des Bishop and the late Brian Lenihan, we discussed college fees, youth facilities and mental health. Last Monday evening, I travelled to The Frontline studio for a similarly themed youth debate. Five years on, what has changed?

Everything and nothing. I have aged, the social and economic fabric of our society has shriveled and emigration is back in vogue. But for the most part, the substance and tone of the debate remains remarkably similar. There are two main story lines when it comes to the under 30s:

1) They’re emigrating

2) They’re drunken louts, brazenly benefiting from the education system but characterized by an indignant sense of entitlement and a disdain for hard work: the hideously dubbed “Celtic Tiger Cubs”.

Both, of course, are true to some extent. But, there’s another group; a story left untold: the cohort of under 30s who choose to stay in Ireland, of which I am one.

From an objective standpoint, it would be wiser to go. If I emigrated, I would earn more, have better opportunities for career development, better health, education and social systems for my future children, nicer weather and no Jedward. But, as it has been through the generations, the emotional pull to Ireland remains profound. I want to be at home, to live in the country that educated me and to be a very small part of the solution to our grave national problems.

There’s little value in re-hashing the argument that older generations have lived at our expense. Although I think any objective commentator will agree that the under 30s will work harder and longer for less money than our parents.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this, social innovation, young engagement and entrepreneurship is flourishing among the under 30s. Generation Y live in a world that our grand-parents couldn’t have imagined. Consequently, we have a sense of personal and societal confidence unlike our predecessors. The vibrant entrepreneurial community is testament to the number of young people willing to take a punt on their own idea.

Archipelago, a young entrepreneurs network, supports budding business owners through an inspirational speakers series called “Archie Talks”, and a crowd-funded investment prize for start-ups. Wave Change supports young social entrepreneurs with diverse projects benefiting Irish communities.

Organizations like Suas Educational Development harness college-age volunteers to support quality education in disadvantaged communities, be it in Dublin or Kolkata. Sandbox, who recently established a hub in Dublin, are building support networks among young social innovators and entrepreneurs. Campaign for Children, an advocacy group on children’s rights, is characterized by a young, dynamic staff challenging the assumption that young people are not politically engaged.

For generations, the Irish have been known as talkers and networkers – those skills have not waned. Next month, the Dublin Web Summit led by entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave will bring the best technology innovators in the world to Dublin.

In my own case, I struggled to find work in the non-profit sector before re-styling myself as a ‘communications consultant’. While charities are not in the position to hire a full-time communications specialist, they can certainly benefit from the expertise when it comes to fundraising. I fill that niche and work hard doing it.

Social innovation, young engagement and entrepreneurship is flourishing among the under 30s. Mentors, investors and supporters from older generations are willing to give their time, and occasionally their money, to start-ups and social enterprise projects.

Forced emigration is always a tragedy. It’s inexcusable that young Irish person is forced by economic need to flee our shores in the hope of a better life elsewhere. But, emigration is not the only story. Many Irish young people choose to stay in Ireland. We have among the youngest populations in Europe and it’s time we began to harness them.

Last week on The Frontline (like Questions and Answers five years ago), the debate was characterized by calls for political action and additional funding resources. In the past, I’ve added my voice to that chorus clamoring for a ‘top-down’ approach. Without question, youth facilities have been inexcusably targeted particularly when it comes to mental health services.

However, there’s another approach that has already taken root among young people in Ireland. Encouraged by programmes like the Young Social Innovators and the Young Entrepreneurs awards, a new generation of Irish entrepreneurs and innovators have already begun to change the kind of Ireland we live in.

Political action is only half the story. Young people are, to use a cliche, doing it for themselves.

Clare Herbert is a communications consultant and writer based in Dublin. She blogs at clareherbert.com.

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