Anna O’Flynn, , CEO of Generation Accommodation, is passionate about empowering people. Prior to Generation Accommodation, Anna attended UCD where she studied Economics and Maths. As an alumni of the Enactus Ireland programme, Anna now acts as Business Adviser for IADT and currently mentors two of the Enactus team leaders in the new mentorship programme. She tells us at Campus.ie how Enactus changed her mindset from student to social entrepreneur. This is her story.
Generation Accommodation is a social enterprise, founded by a group of students in UCD as part of the Enactus programme, that aims to tackle the twin issues of loneliness and social isolation among senior members of our community and the lack of affordable accommodation for students and young professionals. Enactus is a global organisation that brings students, faculty and business leaders together to help tackle social issues around the world.
For me, the unique thing about Enactus is that it offers participants the opportunity to work with individuals from a variation of disciplines. This means while all team members are not always like-minded, everyone shares a common purpose – to help individuals through entrepreneurial action. Each student brings different experiences and expertise to the ideas and initiative.
After giving us many examples of previous fantastic Enactus projects, Enactus challenged us to look for social issues we were passionate about and to identify potential solutions that we, as university students, could implement to impact people’s lives positively. It was from this that the idea for Generation Accommodation first came about.
Many of our team members were not from Dublin and had first-hand experience of how difficult it could be to find affordable accommodation that was of a liveable standard and within a reasonable distance to college. We had spent much of the summer turning up to house viewings only to find we were at the back of the queue with sometimes as many as thirty people in front of us.
On the other side of things, a number of the other members were from Dublin and had noticed that many of their retired neighbours were now living alone and often felt socially isolated or vulnerable in their own homes.
We saw these pressing issues, not as two individual problems but as one unique solution. The Generation Accommodation model allowed senior members of the community to find a suitable home-sharer, giving them additional tax-free income and companionship in the home while also enabling the home-sharer to find affordable accommodation within commutable distance of college or work.
The thought of getting an initiative as ambitious as Generation Accommodation off the ground while also studying full time seemed insurmountable however, Enactus provided the crucial support, guidance and training in order to make Generation Accommodation a success. As part of the Enactus program, the team attended regular training days but more importantly were given an advisory board which consisted of UCD faculty members and business advisors from some of the Enactus Partner Companies.
Access to the knowledge and expertise of both faculty members and business leaders was invaluable not just to the progression of the project, but also to the personal development of all the team members. It gave us an insight into what it was like to work in the “real world” from simple things like organising meetings to the value of establishing clear, specific and attainable goals, but most importantly for a group of college students, there was someone to hold us accountable to achieve our targets.
An essential part of the Enactus program is the national competition which takes place in May each year. Enactus uses the National Competition not just to find the best projects, but as an opportunity for the students to learn how best to present their initiatives and to showcase the fantastic work, they have done throughout the year.
In 2014, we were lucky enough to win the National Competition with Generation Accommodation. Winning gave us both confidence in our idea and the opportunity to meet with some of the top business leaders who had judged the National Final. These top business leaders provided essential advice and guidance on how to bring Generation Accommodation to the next level. This new found assurance in our concept along with the support provided by Enactus and its partner companies enabled us to run a very successful pilot program and place fourth in the world at the Enactus World Cup that year.
It was also through the Enactus network that I was introduced to our new business partner Bill Liao. Bill, a serial entrepreneur in both commercial and social ventures, had started a similar initiative called InHoming. InHoming had the business and governance structures in place and Generation Accommodation had the proof of concept. After much discussion, it was decided that both initiatives would greatly benefit from merging.
The common purpose shared by Enactus students to empower people through Entrepreneurial Action helped me find my passion and set up a social enterprise. I may have discovered Enactus somewhat by accident, but I can say with certainty that becoming involved with Enactus has been the most formative decision I have ever made. It has not only taught me invaluable life lessons and skills, but it has given me a group of both friends and mentors who inspire me on a daily basis.