Would you like a Cup of Tea?
Monday, 22nd August 2022
This is where it started! I’m not sure what lead me to attend an outreach event organised by an incredibly dedicated individual, Aubrey McCarthy, and his team in Tiglin, an Irish charity that helps people with addiction and homelessness. Perhaps it was having attended a few Timoney Leadership Institute events, I felt the need to pass on and give back. Or perhaps it was just plain and simple curiosity.
Whatever the reason there I was one cold, wet, dark winter’s evening, feeling very anxious parking my car behind O’Connell Street to join Tiglin’s ‘No Bucks Café’, a weekly outreach event, with looks of curiosity, or perhaps skepticism that “here’s another ‘do -gooder’ who won’t last the night and certainly won’t be back next week.”
So once the introductions were made I was out onto the Dublin streets with one of Tiglin’s outreach teams. High-vis jacket, sandwiches, flasks of hot water, coffee, tea bags, chocolate, cake, and no idea what I was doing. This is where I met Derek Byrne or Decky! If my recollection serves me correctly the conversation went something like this:
How are you getting on?
My name’s Decky
What are you recovering from?
I’m not recovering from any addiction, do I look as if I have an addiction?
No, but a lot of new people on these outreach events are either recovering addicts or have a close relationship with someone who has or has had an addiction . . . . Religious?
No not at all
So what the feck are you doing here?
No idea really – seemed a good idea at the time!
and the conversation went on from there.
What I experienced was pretty shocking. This whole other side of Dublin society that we’re all aware of: the person begging on the pavement that we hurry by or if they’re lucky throw them some change; the anonymous individual sleeping in a doorway; the open dealing on O’Connell Street bridge; the obvious interactions between the members of this parallel society; the power play; the obvious interactions of influence or manipulation with the underlying threats of violence.
How could I possibly relate to these people or them to me? What possible value could I provide in offering a cup of tea or sandwich and asking ‘how are you doing?’ What would I do if they answered me honestly, ‘I’m cold, wet, have no money. I’m under the continuous threat of violence and don’t know where I’ll be sleeping tonight – how do you think I’m doing?’
What possible change in their personal circumstances could I hope to achieve other than demonstrating some fleeting expression of humanity – was this of benefit to them or some selfish gratification on my part?
I shared these thoughts with Decky over a Big Mac and fries at the end of the evening, conscious of where I’d left my car and concerned for its safety and indeed my own as the streets around us became quieter. Our conversation evolved into my asking Decky about his ambitions and what was he looking to achieve himself.
Over the next few weeks and months, and many more cups of coffee, Decky told me about his employment in the private care sector and his interest in wanting to help underprivileged kids who are teenagers in state care. They are taken into care by the state for a variety of reasons, such as physical and/or mental abuse, but ultimately for their own safety and always from difficult and often neglectful and abusive backgrounds. How on earth could any of these kids expect to have the opportunity afforded to those who come from stable, safe, secure, and supportive environments, our kids! What future do these kids have when state care is no longer available at the age of 18 or 23 depending on whether or not they are in full-time education? While admirable, Decky’s ambitions were irrelevant unless acted upon and could easily evaporate and be overtaken by the realities and priorities of life.
We discussed the need for action and how so many ambitions were just that, ambitions and expressions of good intent that soon get forgotten. We discussed the importance of documenting these ambitions and identifying specific goals, small steps at first but steps that gradually established momentum toward clearly defined objectives. All very familiar to the cohort reading this article I’m sure but not always so obvious.
This discussion evolved to a point where I committed to Derek that if he was serious about wanting to help these young adults in care then I would commit to helping Derek achieve his ambitions. I felt that this commitment would be of benefit to Derek and if he achieved his ambition, it equally would benefit the young adults he might help in achieving their ambitions. We needed a robust structure supporting Decky and after discussion with him on the best options we both agreed I would reach out to John Killeen, the president of Timoney Leadership Institute and chairman of the Marine Institute; an incredible guy with great insight into the charity sector and in dealing with state bodies.
Over the following months Derek, John and I explored Derek’s interest in providing work experience and apprenticeship opportunities for young adults in care. We needed to establish strong operational and financial accountability in addition to sound corporate governance, all the usual essentials for any successful business. We would obviously need funding as we did not want to become just another charity looking for donations from the private sector.
We discussed my experience of being approached for donations like many others and that perhaps what would be of greater value would be if I were asked to provide work experience or apprenticeship opportunities instead. This would equally apply to my clients at the time and following a recent involvement in one of Timoney Leadership Institute’s events, to the members of its network too. This could contribute to a business’s ESG or CSR policy and create differentiation from the many charities looking for funding.
Once the objectives had been refined the next issue was to approach TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency responsible for the provision of care. I took it upon myself to phone Donal McCormack the Service Director, National Children's Residential Services at TUSLA, and explain what we were looking to achieve and why we wished to explore these ambitions with him.
We needed to formalise this relationship between ourselves and TUSLA. John and I became the first trustees of the registered charity, Way2Work, with Derek acting as General Manager, helping him develop operational structures and objectives. We employed the support of Diane Colgan who designed our first CRM system addressing one of the key elements of transparency and accountability in addition to securing support from many others in TUSLA. Donal and his team actively participated throughout this initial phase of exploration and development which concluded with Donal’s commitment to fund the enterprise as a test case, an incredible commitment, and a vote of confidence from Donal given their budgetary pressures. After lengthy conversations between TUSLA, Deky, John and myself we launched the organisation on the 1st of January 2019
What was less obvious at the time was the consequence of the support myself, John, Donal, and Diane, not to mention many others, had in helping Decky achieve his ambitions of providing apprenticeship and work experiences which have developed into the provision of life skills and recently supportive education.
Way2Work, the charity that Derek continues to lead as General Manager, has since its foundation in 2019, received over 250 referrals from TUSLA and filled 80-90 positions. The support Way2Work has received from both TUSLA and private enterprises has been extraordinary. However, this is only the beginning. The referrals Way2Work receive are a consequence of a young person expressing an interest or curiosity in secure employment and ultimately independence.
There were 5,882 children in care in Ireland at the end of 2020, 91% of whom were in foster care, 2,943 young adults were in receipt of aftercare services. The referrals received by Way2Work are only a very small percentage of this cohort. Way2Work’s challenge now is how to create curiosity and ambition within these young people giving them the confidence that they have the ability to influence their own futures.
I strongly believe in maintaining energy within the managerial structure of any business and continually seeking new ideas and perspectives. There are a number of approaches that can be adopted but in a small enterprise like Way2Work I believe this is best achieved by active rotation of the trustees. I, therefore, resigned in December 2021 once John Osborne (ALP 2013) and Gerry Stenson had agreed to become trustees. I still provide support as a personal mentor to Decky, an informal arrangement involving regular conversations which will last as long as Derek believes he receives value from such a relationship.
I attended Timoney’s first ‘Advanced Leadership Programmes’ in 2013 along with John Killeen and John Osborne. Decky attended one of Timoney’s Master classes in 2019 on negotiations. I recall that Timoney’s purpose was declared as supporting leaders in their leadership role and the lasting impact they can have on people, organisations, and society as a whole. I completely support this ethos and that as business leaders our influence and experience should be applied beyond our businesses and extend to improving the communities we live and work in. This impact can be extensive and immeasurable.
If the above has struck a chord or ignited curiosity why not speak to John Killeen or John Osborne at the next Timoney meeting or better still give Derek a call and perhaps have a cup of tea - you can only imagine where it may lead!
Listen here to an interview with Derek Byrne on the Ryan Tubridy Radio Show.