By Aishling Ruigrok | 4th February 2021
If there was ever a year to be diagnosed with a serious case of the January blues, it would make sense for 2021 to be it. Still processing the whirlwind that was 2020 and starting this year in lockdown, we need to go that little bit further to look after ourselves and our mental health. Luckily for me and for our Dublin community, we can get our weekly dose of inspiration from Huckletree D2 resident Amy Keatinge, a determined idealist who embodies our purpose Braver Together through and through.
Amy is a proud Jobstown native, who along with being the NFTE Youth Entrepreneurship programme officer for Dublin Inner City, is also the 2019/20 Tallaght Youth Leader of the Year, Student Union President for IT Tallaght from 2018 – 2019 and Deputy President of TU Dublin Tallaght Campus 2019 - 2020. Just 30 minutes with her and I left with a renewed sense of optimism for the year ahead, not just for myself but for the thousands of young people that she and her team are working with this year.
According to an article published in the Irish Times, young people have been more acutely affected by the pandemic than we realise. They’re feeling increased levels of anxiety as they try to navigate education from home, facing ambiguity not just about their future and the job market, but the state of the world in general. This is before even considering the worry they face for the wellbeing of their vulnerable family members and the difficulties of their newfound isolation. Regularly accused of skirting restrictions and attending house parties in their free time, the more accurate truth is that teenagers are getting on with things, quietly and uncomplaining and there’s a lot more we could be doing to support them for the road ahead.
This is where Foróige steps in.
Foróige, (pronounced ‘For-oh-egg-eh’) is one of Ireland’s leading youth organisations with over 50,000 young people aged 10 - 18 participating in their programmes each year. Their entrepreneurship programme NFTE or the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship work primarily with youth reach groups, youth projects and Deis schools (schools aimed at lessening educational disadvantage and bringing about social inclusion). This is what gets Amy out of bed in the morning. Its mission? Supporting young people with entrepreneurial skills, self-belief and personal development.
The more I learn about the tireless efforts of the NFTE Youth Entrepreneurship Programme, the more I am in awe of the work they are doing to support young people who may not have the resources or support that they need. Day in day out, they work to empower our homegrown talent, starting with helping young people develop entrepreneurial skills, develop a vision of their future career and they show these young people how to take calculated risks among a myriad of other life lessons. We’ve seen both in our own business, and in the wider Huckletree community that thinking outside the box and taking considered risks can help you weather uncertain times. Just as importantly, while instilling these essential skills, Foróige are giving young people extra support and guidance that they may really need.
A past participant and international winner of the NFTE competition, there are few people more qualified than Amy to speak with and encourage these young people.
“I was a young person in the programme and I know that the work we are doing is making a difference. I wasn’t the most academic kid but I was in the local youth group and when I found out we’d be doing a business project I wasn’t the most enthusiastic. Business was not my strong point, I had no interest in it” (this was not the start I expected either!)
Amy set up her start-up Cozy Soundz with the €15 ‘grant money’ that every student receives from NFTE to kick start their business. Cozy Soundz were earmuffs with built in earphones that she made herself.
“I didn’t realise at the time but I was learning the 4Ps of marketing, managerial techniques, profit and loss as well as breakeven points! All I was trying to do was make more money and understand what was losing me money.”
All NFTE students participate in local competitions with the winners progressing to regional, national and even international competitions pitching to judges. Amy tells me how she thought seriously about opting out of the competition due to a lack of self-confidence.
“I asked my youth leader if I could opt out as I didn’t feel that I had it in me to get through the competition. With support and determination from both my youth leader and myself, I competed and ended up winning that round.”
One pivot later to customised pillows with earphones built in as the winter came to an end, Amy had a brand new product to sell. We’re talking One Direction, Westlife and Justin Bieber cushions (and no they’re not still for sale we’re sorry to say – I checked). Amy went on to win the regionals, the nationals and ultimately won gold in Belgium representing Ireland.
“At nationals, I remember saying to my youth leader that I never thought I would get to this stage’ I was shocked to my core when I won. I was on RTE, the radio, the papers were ringing. For a young person to have that kind of experience is invaluable.”
Amy is adamant that Foróige instilled in her a self-confidence and self-belief that has stuck with her to this day.
“Before NFTE, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to go to college. I thought about doing primary school teaching but my teacher and my principal pulled me aside and asked if I had considered studying business. If you had met me earlier, you would have said that I was never going anywhere near a business course. I applied and did a Level 8 degree in Marketing Management. I later became the Student Union President at IT Tallaght and the skills I learned with NFTE, from time-management to public speaking - it carried me through.”
She tells me what it’s like now being on the other side of the NFTE programme as a Programme Officer as opposed to a participant.
“I’ve seen the impact first-hand of the work we do and I’m passionate about working with young people. There’s an old Irish proverb that says ‘Ni thagann ciall roimh aois’ which means that ‘sense does not come before age’. I don’t think that it’s true at all. I believe that young people can teach us so much; they’re so interesting and have so much to offer.”
I was curious to hear Amy’s proudest moment to date amidst this long list of accolades. She told me without reservation it was being crowned Tallaght’s Youth Leader in 2019. She spoke passionately about how the community has banded together during COVID, regularly taking turns to do each other’s shopping and checking in with each other.
“I absolutely love my community and I love being from Tallaght. To win any award here where the people are so kind and compassionate is always a big deal but to win Youth Leader is huge. There are so many people doing work on behalf of young people.”
Amy’s humility and dedication to supporting young people is a refreshing reminder of the good going on in the world behind the scenes and a signal to the rest of us on how we can do more. Perhaps then an appropriate Irish proverb then to leave you with is ‘mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad’ - praise the young and they will flourish. The future of Irish entrepreneurship looks bright but these young people must be supported now - given hope, given support and given the skills to do it.
If you’re looking for a way to support NFTE in their work, you can get in touch with Amy’s wonderful D2 counterpart Vicky at email@example.com to be a business mentor for NFTE. All skill sets are welcome, marketing, sales, finance, tech - you name it. You will be matched up with a school to ensure they have the support and resources they need and it is all done virtually.
2020 tested the values. 2021 is the year to give back.