Reflections on Intel's She Will program - 10 years on

Avril Hannifin shares her life-changing experience of the Intel She Will program



​10 years ago Intel Ireland sponsored a local community project as part of our global She Will campaign. The “She Will” Programme focused on training in digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and business skills to elevate women professionally and break through barriers to personal economic growth. Here in Ireland, Intel donated laptops and sponsored 24 women to complete a Diploma in Women, Gender and Social Justice, run in the Ronanstown Community Development Project. Ronanstown is a community based in Clondalkin, Dublin.

10 years on, we catch up with Avril Hannifin who took part in the project.

Avril Hannifin, 37

Digital Inclusion Officer in An Cosan, an education centre in Tallaght, Dublin

By most people’s expectations, I wasn’t a likely candidate to become Junior Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Person of the Year in 2018. Ten years before I was a teenage single parent, living in a disadvantaged area of Dublin, with little or no prospects. I have Intel’s She Will programme to thank for helping me change the trajectory of my life. Now that baby, my daughter Dionne, has just turned 18 and is heading to college to study advanced computers. So, it wasn’t just my life that was changed. As we approach the ten-year anniversary of the She Will programme, I wanted to share that through the work that I now do helping people in my community, the support Intel gave is still having a wide-ranging impact all these years later.

I found out I was pregnant on the day my Leaving Cert results were announced. My hopes of maybe going to college evaporated as I knew my baby would need to be my priority. I got a job in a sports shop, but really struggled with childcare. I’d initially stayed with my Mam but eventually moved myself and Dionne into a bedsit. None of my friends had kids and it was really tough and isolating.

I was then offered a Community Employment scheme through Ronanstown’s Community Development Programme as an admin assistant. Because they provided childcare it meant I could work, learn and have some support with my baby. I did a foundation course and then carried on doing several courses and eventually a Cert in Women’s Studies while working part-time and raising Dionne. I chose Women’s studies to help my own community and I can’t tell you what that course meant for me. To learn how the system disadvantages women because of lack of supports, meant I could see how women in my own life had been held back. I began to build skills in communication which meant I could start helping some of the women around me with issues such as Family Court and access to rights. Women in my community face considerable challenges including high unemployment, lack of childcare, crime and drug addiction. Violence against women is huge. There is very low-level progression in education, but I could see how much it was impacting me and how having an education was opening up my skills, my confidence and my opportunities. Like most women around me, I grew up learning not to draw too much attention to myself or be opinionated, but these courses gave me a sense of empowerment and made me realise I could ask for more. I began to realise that education was the route out of poverty and I kept going for my daughter, to give her a better life.

I was then offered a place on a part-time, two-year UCD Diploma course to study Women, Gender and Social Justice, run out of an outreach centre in Clondalkin. However, the recession hit and funding was withdrawn and this is where Intel stepped in. I became one of 24 recipients of Intel’s She Will Programme. To be part of a place like UCD and know that I could belong there was life-changing. I loved the library and learned not to feel like an imposter there. To have my ID card say UCD was incredible. Despite the fact we were learning around a kitchen table in Clondalkin, and not a lecture room on the campus, it was the same teachers and content. In many ways I loved the irony that it was a kitchen table we learned at, and that it got to change the outcome of that traditional domestic sphere for us.

The result of that Diploma means I can really help my own community and because I’m local, people trust and confide in me so I can help them. I understand the system and how to research ways to help them. I have experience of seeing terrible violence around me and experiencing and seeing domestic violence myself. Children are being exposed to it constantly which was why it was so important for me to create a better life for Dionne.

I live alone and have kept her stable and now she has become a wonderful woman herself.

I think she is proud of me. I’ve brought her along with all my study and work, to board meetings and classrooms, mostly because I often had no childcare, but also to show her what was possible. My career has developed, and I’ve had amazing opportunities to work in both the corporate world and non-profit. I now also sit on the Board of the SEDco based in Ballyfermot Civic Centre. I went on to do a Degree in Community Development and Leadership and a Level 7 Award in Technology Enhanced Learning and now work as Digital Inclusion Officer in an Education centre. I also provide IT support and teach staff and learners Digital Skills.

To have Dionne there when I graduated from UCD in my cap and gown was one of the best moments of my life. I knew that I was showing her that we can belong to all of this country, and are not defined by where we have come from. Hers was one of the first schools to do Computer Science as a Leaving cert subject and so she hopes to go on to study that at college. Intel has had an impact on her aspirations to break the gender barrier in computer science and I am cheering her on all the way.

When I won the Junior Chamber International Outstanding Young Person (TOPY) in 2018 she was there. It was such a shock to me because the other people there were all business entrepreneurs who are changing the world! I won it for helping people in the community in their education and donating my time, working behind the scenes to help people. I have been given so many opportunities so to me, committing random acts of kindness is my way of giving back. Although I worked for a while in a company in Dublin 4, it was too far to commute, and I never really wanted to leave my community. But I saw what life could be like and I want to bring those chances back from D4 to D24. It shouldn’t be them and us. I believe corporate and community should not be separate.

There are so many intersectional issues that affect the people in my community, and I know that is where I can make the biggest difference. I know the wider world the people in my classes are living in. Many are in constat fight/ flight / freeze mode because they live in, or are exposed to, unsafe home environments. I know that for some, the sheer effort of getting out of bed and getting into class, dealing with all kinds of potential violence, intimidation and challenging social issues means that, if they are late, I welcome them with open arms. Being late is not the issue for me. Getting there at all is the part to congratulate. I know to look at someone if they’re having a bad day and pick up on it. I know this community inside out and so that’s where I want to contribute. I love teaching. It’s the best aspect of my job, passing on learning and mentoring and I’m still in contact with people I mentored years ago. I’ve realised that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the world, but you have to be able to connect with people.

That Intel could reach into our community and make such a powerful difference by investing in people shows how corporate and community can be a powerful force.

When we applied to Intel for the funding, we were so grateful for how they embraced us. We would have had no other way of getting that money and it would have meant taking food from our children or not doing it. They supported 24 people through the two-year Diploma course and gave us laptops. When Lisa Harlow and the team came out from Intel they were so nice to us. They listened and made us feel we were worth something.

When they launched the She Will programme, and we saw our photos being used, my Mam and aunts came to the launch and finally got a sense of what we had done. People don’t know what women and gender studies entails, but to see how it translates to really tangible practical support in the community, and to see that we were worth investing in has been incredible.

And I felt a responsibility to continue on and prove that investment was worthwhile, so I saved up and got my degree in Community Development and Leadership and stayed to work in my community.

When the She Will programme was launched in 2012, its aims seemed so far removed from what I thought I could do:

She will lead

She will be empowered

She will be a power for change

She will empower girls and women to participate, prosper and lead in the global economy

However, with that support, belief and encouragement, I’ve succeeded in the first three and I’m aiming for the fourth. I still have a daughter who is watching what I’m doing, and I want to be able to create more changes and bring more women more advantages in our community.

I have those She Will aims in my bookmark and on my fridge, so I never forget what I am here to do. Even for little girls to see us making an impact and see you don’t have to be rich to make a difference is powerful. My wealth is my heart, in my giving because I was invested in and so I will do the same and make my community better.

I’ve been able to change the trajectory of my daughter’s life who was born to a teen mum who had little or no prospects. She’s now a champion boxer who has graduated from school with ambitions to go to college. Intel has changed our lives, made our future brighter and I want to say thank you, and ask them to keep up the good work. You’ll never know how many lives you are touching.

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