Aideen O'Byrne - Believing in people and their potential

Following a chance encounter at a conference in DCU, Aideen O’Byrne discovered and became a supporter of DCU’s University of Sanctuary Programme. Aideen is an Executive Coach who works to empower senior leaders and high potentials to undertake their desired professional and personal transformation. Currently based in Singapore, although planning to return to Ireland full-time in the near future, Aideen has lived and worked outside of Ireland for most of her adult life, living in countries as diverse as France, Belgium, UK, Singapore, Venezuela, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Italy and Canada.

In this piece, she explains how her multi-cultural experiences combined with her passion for education and coaching young leaders gave the University of Sanctuary Programme particular resonance for her.

How did you get involved with DCU and how did you first hear about DCU’s University of Sanctuary Programme?

“I was at a Diversity and Inclusion conference last September at DCU and found myself sitting beside Sabina Cotter, Associate Director of the DCU Educational Trust. We got talking and she told me about the University of Sanctuary Programme.

I support refugees at university in Rwanda and as I am moving back to Ireland full-time soon, I had in mind to look for a similar programme in Ireland. Meeting Sabina and hearing about the Sanctuary Scholarship at DCU was serendipitous.

The academic year had started but I was lucky there was one Sanctuary student still in need of a sponsor. I was told a little about his circumstances and decided to take the plunge and go for it. I have not met him yet but plan to as soon as I get back to Ireland. In the meantime, it is a joy hearing about his progress.

Supporting the DCU Sanctuary Scholarship has a strong personal connection for me. I have lived most of my adult life outside Ireland, so I have an affinity with others struggling to create a new life in a foreign country. I’ve also had the fortune to study extensively myself. I am keenly aware how education can be transformative and open so many doors.

In the future, I would also like to participate in supporting the DCU Access Programme.”

What was it that inspired you to support a University of Sanctuary scholarship?

“Going to university is a daunting experience for all students but especially the Sanctuary students in direct provision centres. Initially I wanted to know more about the programme and how it worked. I spoke to several people involved in the Sanctuary programme at DCU to learn more about the students, their challenges, how they were selected and most importantly how they were supported during their studies. I wanted to be sure the student I would sponsor would be given the academic, social and emotional support they needed to succeed. I was not only reassured but impressed by the level of commitment and support the Sanctuary students receive.

I am also proud that universities in my home country are welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. Not only do the Sanctuary students benefit, but their presence and participation in campus life provides a more diverse student population. It is an opportunity for their classmates to experience and participate in the integration, inclusion and welfare of refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland.”

Are there specific themes or issues that motivate you in terms of your personal philanthropy more generally?

“Yes, I have been interested in philanthropy for many years. More recently, I am most drawn to contributing to the education of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Giving an education to one person also has the potential to impact on that person’s future life, their partners and dependents. The ripple effect of the gift continues to spread and benefit others.”

In these challenging times, initiatives such as University of Sanctuary will be more important than ever to provide opportunities and to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. What is your personal view on the role which philanthropy should play as societies struggle to deal with the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis?

“At this stage, I find it impossible to imagine how Covid-19 will impact us and what our new reality will be. I hope it will lead to positive change in the long term.

Philanthropy has an important place but global complex issues require a multi-pronged, multi-agency collaborative approach by government, the private sector and civil society.

Our world is so interconnected and the Covid-19 pandemic will require global collaboration on a greater level than ever before to contain its impact. My hope is that this crisis will lead to a change in mindset and better global collaboration in the future to tackle other global issues like climate change, poverty and inequality.”