25 Years of Building Communities – From Dublin to Portugal

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“25 Years Designing Communities…” That does sound a bit fancy when I see it written down. Nevertheless, it all started way back in 1999 with this community portal project I pitched to my local parish in Cabinteely, a little village south of Dublin. I wanted to build a website, help folks get connected, find out what was happening… Important stuff like that. Problem was, most people were just figuring out this whole internet thing, and I was already deep into it. Hardest part? Getting content. Stood up in church five Sundays in a row, 26 years old, begging people to send in stories, photos, anything. Our little team of three kept at it, but those calls for help mostly fell flat. Nearly four years we kept it going before I stepped away, left it to grow on its own.

2002: Beginning with developing a Community Radio station in Dolphin House flats, and then teaching technology to Dublin 8 locals on the Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative project. This opened the door to Liber8FM Community Radio project. The idea of giving people a voice, it clicked for me. Seeing that station take off, training adults and youths in radio, it was inspiring. Not just as a teacher, but because you were able to see that pride in the community grow as they told their stories their way. That station kept going strong for another five years.

In 2007, after completing my first foundation course in Transformation Leadership with Lucca Leadership, I helped the charity which had a volunteer community of 100+ people spread across the globe in 7 locations. There was a need to connect them through online tools so the volunteer community was able to become more efficient. This incorporated an Intranet, Document Cloud Hosting, and Communication tools such as Email using Google Suite (now Google Workspace)

2009: An ex-student from that Liber8FM radio project, Emma Carroll, reaches out to me. She’d just finished her degree in Radio Production, and she and her mate Liam, wanted to setup an LGBT community station with my help. Eight months and a whole lotta favours later, we launched OpenFM, June 13th, 2010. On the top floor of a Dublin hotel, nearing 100 volunteers, talk and music 24/7… we even had people listening online from as far as Nova Scotia to Australia! That was about connection, and the sheer power of a community focused on something they loved.

2013: Living in Kimmage, this cool area near Dublin I didn’t know much about. Turns out, everyone just called it “the KCR area” because of the famous crossroads. That’s when KCRarea.com was born, my “online watering hole” for the neighborhood. I went all in – built a whole website, not just for finding stuff, but for businesses to reach locals, and share deals. People were able to earn points… the whole nine yards. But as I tried selling it door-to-door, I hit a wall: not everyone there was super tech-savvy. Over 50% of the community were in the over-60s age demographic. That didn’t stop me though – I made a low-tech version, a weekly newsletter! Hand-delivered a thousand of those weekly myself.

EnterPortugal.com Instagram

So, zoom forward to now. Portugal. The moment I got here I was off exploring every nook and cranny. Across the river to Bairro. Down to Setubal, walking around investigating and learning. Quickly, I realised speaking to tourists, and ex-pats, that there was a pattern. Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra, Porto, and the Algarve were the default. Over and over I will hear it. The more I travelled around I realised how astounding not only Lisbon and its environs are, although the hidden gems of Portugal. For example, the Praia de Fluvials, I did not know they existed. The stone henge of Evora, 7,000 years old, built by the Megaliths, Almendres Cromlech. The Visigoths and Suebi after the Romans were on this part of the Iberian peninsula, and the influence they had in the creation of the Portuguese language, that we know today. The Medieval festival, just one of these, that takes place in Obidos, just an hour from Lisboa. I was like, people have got to know this stuff. Hence, the birth of EnterPortugal.com – Where Adventure & Beauty converge. A resource that educates the community of travelers, ex-pats, and remote workers, to the rich tapestry of culture, food, history, locations, and activities that this land has to offer.

Okay, yeah, maybe I tooted my own horn a bit there. But what’s the point of all these stories, right? Here’s what I learned, what hopefully YOU can learn too:

5 Lessons I have learned about Community

  1. Build it and they will not necessarily come: Just because you create something that you think is wonderful, does not mean other people see it that way. Nevertheless, you can adapt and reshape your original idea to meet the needs of the people. Of course, e claro, a little bit of design thinking empathy, at the beginning might save you some time. Also, pat yourself on the back, because at least you did something. And maybe you were just a little ahead of the curve.
  2. Show you Care: This is where it gets good – really listening to people, asking for their honest thoughts, giving them ways to contribute, making their voices heard… That’s what makes people feel valued. Valued people, they stick together, they champion your cause. Having that kind of support, that’s half the battle won right there.
  3. The Need to Belong: Technology, is tricky, right? We can scroll for hours feeling alone, but it can also bring us together, and make us feel like we’re part of something bigger. Those moments when we connect over something we care about… it’s magic. Creating those collaborative spaces, that’s where the power lies.
  4. The Strength of ‘Together’: They say one person can’t change the world, but it always starts with one, doesn’t it? One idea, one stubborn soul who refuses to give up… and suddenly, it’s a hundred, a thousand, a whole movement! Harness that energy, channel it… that’s where real change happens. And the best part? A good, strong community, it kind of looks after itself. Values keep things in balance, folks step up and speak up for what’s right.
  5. Staying the Course: You’re gonna have days when you’re bone-tired, ready to throw in the towel. That’s when you gotta remember why you started. The good days, the notes from people you’ve helped… hold on to those. Course corrections are gonna happen, some pivots might even be needed. But don’t quit ’til you’re truly done, and when it’s time, find your successor. Pass on the wisdom, the lessons… leave things better than you found them.

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