The entrepreneur who wants to build communities

Sean Coughlan’s socially-focused career continues with a move to the helm of boards.ie

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Now Coughlan is talking about boards.ie in terms of untapped potential, just like any other enthusiastic executive. He was recruited by the current owners of boards.ie, Distilled Media, who also own property website daft.ie, news resource thejournal.ie, and a whole lot else besides.

“Forums were very popular early on [in internet history],” says Coughlan. “There’s a perception that they’ve been superseded. The reality is very different. The way I think of boards.ie, it’s a platform, a place to go . . . and a great community. A huge amount of people, 70,000, are daily active users. Boards.ie is a way of following topics you are interested in.”

Boards.ie is also quite hard to find your way around; something that Coughlan acknowledges and wants to improve. At the moment boards is free to use and makes its money through advertising and “Talk To” forums, where companies like Bank of Ireland and UPC, to give just two examples, set-up their own forums and get customer feedback on their companies and services.

For the ordinary user, Coughlan says, “I want to find ways to increase ease of access. And then there are conversations happening on boards.ie which are very relevant to what’s going on in Ireland . . . There is the potential to shape those conversations and inform people about them.”

Whether that sharing of information would happen on commercial basis or just by what he calls “putting it out there”, he doesn’t say.

But he’s very clear that he’s moving back into what he calls the “for-profit” sector, after a decade working for the organisation he founded, Social Entrpreneurs. “There should be much more porousness between the two,” he says. “My only motivation for leaving Social Entrepreneurs is that it should be run by only one person. It needs fresh energy. And, equally, it’s good for me.”

Coughlan seems to have a mystical attachment to the word entrepreneur. For some in Ireland it’s a buzz word from the days of our delusion. For him, being an entrepreneur is about “New ideas, being ambitious, thinking big and doing it.”

The end point for the social entrepreneur, he says, is [social] change. Asked for the most successful projects started by social entrepreneurs on his watch he cites Camara, which was started by Cormac Lynch “he came from the business world”. It provides recycled computers to schools in Africa. He also points to Women for Election, which his organisation funded.

“Fifty per cent of the successful female candidates in the recent local elections went to Women for Election [training],” he says. He ascribes the increase in women candidates and women successfully elected to this. Although he does not demur at the suggestion that Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald could have had something to do with it.