A story of innovative community development in Donegal

3 min and 25 sec to read, 855 words

Think of an island off the West coast of Ireland and the word ‘remote’ will immediately come to mind. And in the case of Arranmore Island you would be right – but not for the reasons you think.

Yes, it is located off the wild and stormy west coast of Donegal, but thanks to to the work of the local community this remote island has become one of the most connected places in Ireland

And now a small group of volunteers from the area have come together to address the problem of underemployment in their community, by helping locals find remote jobs.

The local changemakers of Arranmore have built Gúrú – a new mentoring platform which aims to help job seekers in rural communities overcome some of the barriers that are preventing them from finding great remote jobs.

We spoke to Arranmore Chapter Lead Seamus Bonner about the story behind the Gúrú initiative. He tells us that the island of Arranmore became a hub for remote work following a community-led initiative called #ComingHome which completely reignited the community of Arranmore and – after decades of population decline – successfully brought several families back to live on the island.

But despite the success of the #ComingHome campaign, Seamus tells us that something was still missing.

Part of the idea of the campaign was to also promote awareness of remote job opportunities to local islanders that weren’t working or were underemployed or had been out of the workforce for a while. But they didn’t apply for these jobs

Members of the community got together to try and figure out how they could help, as they believed in the potential of remote work to improve the lives of local people who were already living on the island.

Laura Early, a recruiter working remotely for a large tech multinational, who had recently moved back to Arranmore, came up with the idea of a buddy system which could give job seekers the opportunity to be mentored on a one-to-one basis. Because she was working remotely herself, Laura was able to see the challenges facing other remote workers and remote job seekers.

“The idea for Gúrú came to me when I looked at my own situation working remotely. The obstacle that I felt was affecting me the most was the lack of collaboration – both professionally and socially. Especially that invaluable learning from people in the office, like when you are waiting eagerly to eavesdrop on how someone else would conduct a call or meeting or even if it was something as simple as asking your colleague next to you how they would phrase a certain sentence in an email or how to do a formula on excel. I think that Gúrú will give a virtual helping hand to anyone experiencing that same need for collaboration and learning”.Laura Early, Arranmore Island

Software developer Matt Loughnane, whose mother comes from the island and who runs Hexa Studios, became involved in the project and the Gúrú app was born.

In 2022, the Arranmore Chapter successfully secured funding from the Grow Remote Community Fund and teamed up with Maria Gallagher and the Grow Remote Donegal Chapter who were also recipients of this fund. Together with Matt they created a proof of concept for Gúrú.

“We’ve built the Gúrú web app using open source and widely adopted technologies to ensure that the app can be flexible. If the Gúrú community wants features added we can build those to make the app truly beneficial for the mentors and mentees”.Matt Loughnane, Hexa Studios

Seamus says that Gúrú will match a remote job seeker with a mentor who can help them navigate through some of the challenges of remote job seeking and give them a leg up when trying to secure a remote job.

“Looking for a remote job can be daunting, especially if you haven’t done it before. Laura works in recruitment and she made the point that most companies are using Artificial Intelligence screeners to pick out certain words in CVs and if you don’t have those words on your CV, your application won’t even be seen by a person. So it can be very hard to even break through that first step. But if you have somebody there to advise you on what to change on your CV or even give you pointers for during the interview process it would be a great help.”

The Arranmore and Donegal community members are continuing to develop Gúrú’s functionality and have already received expressions of interest from local mentors who want to get involved. Seamus sees the app as a way for people to pay it forward and help others in their community. 

I have high hopes that we will see a high number of sign ups from people who are eager to share their knowledge and skills to help others in their community to find remote jobs. If we are able to help even one person to find a job then we will have proven it works and as more people find remote jobs, then they will volunteer to help others so it could be really impactful for local people.  Seamus Bonner, Arranmore Island Chapter Lead

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