Paul O’Hara: Ask not what your community can do for you

Even as the economy recovers, there are communities dying across Ireland, and many more struggling

There are so many great ideas out there that are proven to address the challenges......13/06/2015 - NEWS - Coder Dojo in the RDS. Coder Dojo delegates enjoying the robotic entertainment. Picture Nick Bradshaw

The strong community spirit that has long been a part of our culture is envied the world over and is something we should cherish and nurture. We have to be very deliberate about building communities strong enough to withstand difficult times such as recessions or extreme weather events, but also to create the best possible places for everyone to live and thrive. One of the few positive outcomes of the recession is that we have begun to rediscover our sense of community, supporting one another through the highs and lows that have come our way.

Even as the economy recovers, communities across Ireland are dying, and many more are struggling with unemployment, emigration, mental health issues, loneliness, homelessness, deteriorating infrastructure and flooding, among others issues, all deeply challenging. Who should take responsibility for reversing them? No doubt local and national government have a critical role to play and must increase investment, but who cares more than the people of your town or village?

When Westport was selected by this newspaper as the best place to live in Ireland, the people of the town spoke consistently of the importance of partnership between local citizen-led groups such as Tidy Towns and local government. The key factor for the success of any community is the proportion of its people taking responsibility to improve life for all. It is foolish to depend on government alone, especially as town councils disappear. We need more problem-solvers and everyone has a role to play.

Many of us feel a responsibility to contribute to improving our community, but too few are acting on it – only one in 20, according to research by Behaviour & Attitudes. We should be tremendously grateful to those who work to improve our communities. When more of us who feel a responsibility begin to act our communities will be transformed. This is a tremendous opportunity and critical for any community to survive and thrive.


As more of us step up we can ensure that all older people are valued participants in our communities and do not suffer loneliness or isolation; that our young can work and create jobs locally; that everyone has access to basic needs such as food and a home; that migrants can feel a warm welcome; and that we can contribute meaningfully to reducing our carbon emissions to minimise the worst effects of climate change.


Dojo and FoodCloud There are so many great ideas out there that are proven to address the challenges outlined above and thousands of people across Ireland already working with them. Think of home grown ideas such as Fáilte Isteach, which facilitates older people teaching English to migrant families. There are CoderDojo clubs across the country where children learn how to write software in a fun environment, the critical job-creation skill of the 21st century. FoodCloud was set up recently by two students in Dublin and allows for the distribution of surplus food to people who need it. It takes just one or two people to get these ideas started in any community.

In addition to home-grown ideas, there are thousands of ideas proven to work all over the world and we must take the ones relevant to our communities and get them going here. International examples under way include Community Solutions, a collaborative method that moved more than 100,000 homeless people off the streets of United States cities in four years. Roots of Empathy, from Canada, is proven to develop compassion and kindness in children while reducing bullying and aggression and is now in hundreds of Irish schools. Siel Bleu, from France, runs adapted exercise classes for older people to keep everyone fit and healthy for as long as possible.

The ideas are out there and thousands of people are already acting, but we need more people to do the rewarding work of getting them started, supporting them and growing them over time.

Powerful if we decide to be so

We are all powerful if we decide to be so: it is that simple. Anyone can make the decision to act: no permission is needed. If not already doing so, why not pick something you’re passionate about and go work on it? Start small if you feel more comfortable and practice on something manageable – we all get better and more confident with time. Many of us are looking for more meaningful work because we have found helping others is central to our happiness. With so much to be done in our communities it should be possible for everyone to start or join something meaningful. It has never been easier to do so.

For those of us already taking action, is there a more effective way to increase our impact than to recruit more leaders? As we reflect on the 1916 revolutionaries, why not reflect on our own role in building our nation and our communities. Where is the revolutionary in you and what can you do for your community in 2016 and beyond?

Paul O’Hara is a founder of