Ireland’s open-mindedness convinced us it was the country for us
New to the Parish: Szilvia Szabo arrived with her family from Hungary in 2016
Szilvia Szabo with her husband Marcell and daughter Janka. The family said they love being part of the community in Greystones. Photograph: Priscila Soares
When Szilvia Szabo and her husband Marcell began the search for a place to live in Dublin, their calls to landlords were always unanswered.
“We tried to reach out through our Hungarian mobile but no one picked it up because it wasn’t an Irish number. I tried to arrange viewings and either they didn’t pick up or said ‘the viewing is tomorrow’. But I was in Hungary. So we took the risk to get on a plane and just come over here.”
The first thing they did on arrival was take a bus to Grafton Street where they bought a mobile phone. “We still had our luggage with us but from the moment I started using an Irish number I could actually speak with people. Again it was not easy for me to understand the Irish accent but finally we managed to speak with a nice Slovenian couple who had an apartment in Greystones and were willing to show us the place. Two days later they rang and said we were the winners.”
The couple had already visited Dublin a number of times trying to work out if moving to Ireland made sense for their business. The company had survived the challenges of the financial crisis and they felt ready to spread their ideas to a more international audience. “We had set up a company focusing on green marketing in the middle of the crisis so yeah, we were ambitious I guess.”
Szabo and her husband met at horse-riding school outside Budapest where she worked after graduating from a degree in agricultural engineering. “I started to ride when I was 7 and it has been the longest love of my life. As a kid I would wish for a horse every Christmas but of course it didn’t happen because we couldn’t afford it.
“For me, horse riding is not about having a fitness programme. It’s much more about building up a relationship with someone. When you train a horse it takes up to six years so it’s a long-term relationship you need to nurture every day.”
When the riding school received EU funding to expand, Szabo began marketing the business. “I basically built up the whole marketing strategy without knowing what it was. Once I realised what I was doing I went into a postgraduate in marketing strategies and spent the next three years studying and working at the same time.”
Around the same time, Szabo gave birth to her daughter Janka. “In Hungary you have the option of staying home for three years when you have a kid but honestly for me it would have been torture to stay. I love my daughter but I think she can get the most out of me if I can get inspiration outside the house as well. Of course it was very difficult at the time but I liked the rhythm of holding my ambition in one hand and my family life in the other.”
Shortly after Janka’s birth, the couple decided to set up their own business. “For me it was logical that my passion for horses and the environment somehow be linked to marketing. After I had my daughter I was looking for something more flexible. That’s where our journey started and eventually it paid off.”
You see here in Ireland that there are lots of accelerator programmes but what are we accelerating towards?
The idea behind the company was to help big business leaders find more environmentally and socially friendly solutions to the challenges they encounter in their work. “I call it value-driven marketing. I had come across this concept called ‘responsible innovation’ which is basically how you build values into your work while considering the potential impact after you’ve finished. I fell in love with this concept but it only existed in academia and was very hard to understand.”
Szabo says her company’s goal is to make organisations, like the construction industry for example, reflect on the longer-term impact of the work they carry out. “You see here in Ireland that there are lots of accelerator programmes but what are we accelerating towards? It’s good to run fast but if you can’t see the gap in the middle, why are you running so fast?”
After taking part in a number of international conferences, Szabo and her husband began investigating moving abroad. “We were hesitating between the UK and Ireland because we’d had great experiences in both places. But Ireland was so open-minded and supportive that it convinced us it was the country for us.”
The family arrived in Dublin in August 2016, six months after their week-long visit to find a place to live. “The first few months were a struggle like getting insurance for the car and finding out how they take away the bins. It was those everyday things you never really think about. Normally you just wake up knowing how to pay your bills and drive your car. But even that was different for us, driving on the other side of the road.”
With very few contacts in Ireland, the couple also had to build up their company from scratch. However, Szabo never had any worries about moving her young daughter to a new country.
“I couldn’t think of a better gift to my daughter than to give her the chance to speak English like she breathes. It opens up the world for her. In fact, since we’ve moved here, I feel like I’ve opened up too.”
Szabo says the family love their home in Greystones and walk by the seaside every evening. “We are so grateful to be part of a community. With the creche, the school, the local shops, you start to know people and they start to recognise you and call you by your name. It allows us to build up in a more open way rather than just focusing on our busy lives. It’s real relationships with real people.”
After more than a year living in Ireland and months of preparation for the company’s Responsible Innovation Summit, which takes part in Croke Park this month, Szabo is ready for a break. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a gap this long without riding, I really miss it. I’ll be looking for a way to work with horses here and not just have a nice ride by the seaside.”