Back for business: Ciara McGuane, Rahoo

In a new weekly series, we talk to emigrants who have returned to Ireland and started a business. This week we talk to Ciara McGuane from Rahoo. 

Back for Business fosters entrepreneurial activity among emigrants recently returned or returning to live in Ireland through a peer learning approach.

The initiative is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Thirty-eight entrepreneurs from across the country have just completed the second cycle of Back for Business. 

We will profile a number of them over the coming weeks. This week, we speak to Ciara McGuane who returned from the UK to set up her business Rahoo in Clare.

How long were you away from Ireland and what did you do?

I lived in the UK for nine years. I trained as a teacher at the world-renowned Institute of Education in London. I worked in a range of school settings from a school in one of the most disadvantaged areas of England to one of the top ten schools in the country. I quickly excelled in my role and had ample opportunities for promotion and career development. I branched out into teacher training in 2013 where I began working with professional development providers for teachers across the UK, including global leader the TES Institute. This work involved training groups of teachers, working 1:1 with teachers by observing lessons, assessing and supportive trainee teachers. I am passionate about the impact professional development can have on teachers – and thereby their students.

“Our belief is that a teacher is the most important person in the classroom, and we aim to support them to be the best that they can be and to thrive in their profession”

What attracted you back to Ireland? Was it for personal or professional reasons?

It was personal reasons – my husband and I were about to commit to buying a house in London. We had an offer accepted and it fell through. We had built a great life in London but had always toyed with the idea of living in Ireland. One day, I panicked, and realised that I may not live in Ireland again and did not feel comfortable with that. It was an epiphany, as they say! We decided to pack up and try Ireland for a year and see how we got on. If it didn’t work out, we would move back to the UK.

Unfortunately, returning Irish emigrants who are teachers struggle to find secure employment – as the casualisation of the profession increases with fixed-term contracts and adhoc subbing hours being the norm for many. I knew before I moved that I would be giving up my career in education. I was pregnant when we moved back so I didn’t think about that too much – I was preparing for impending motherhood. I always had it in the back of my mind that I might try to do something related to teacher training, as I had done in the UK.

“When you move home to Ireland, you think that you have your community here waiting for you, but that just isn’t the case”

What is your business all about?

Rahoo, which derives from the Irish word “rathú” means to thrive, makes professional development accessible for teachers – anytime, anywhere! Our belief is that a teacher is the most important person in the classroom, and we aim to support them to be the best that they can be and to thrive in their profession. We provide face-to-face and online training for primary and post-primary teachers in areas such as effective lesson planning and assessment. We have a team of 16 professional tutors, also known as the Rahoolies, around Ireland. Rahoo summer courses are approved by the Department of Education & Skills.

Was it hard starting up again in Ireland? What caused the most problems?

Having recently completed the Back for Business programme, the founder, Paula Fitzsimons, made an interesting point about being a returning emigrant that resonated with me. She said that when we made the choice to leave Ireland, we knew that we were starting from scratch and that we had to make an effort to build a life and a community for ourselves. When you move home to Ireland, you think that you have your community here waiting for you – but, as Paula says, that just isn’t the case.

“I think Ireland has a great set-up for developing entrepreneurship”

Having been away for so long, your network has decreased and things have changed. You are starting from scratch, although that can be hard to accept that sometimes. You have to make the effort to meet new people and make new friends just like you did abroad – as well as reacquaint yourself with the old. It’s not easy and if I had known that from the start, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache.

What needs to change to make it easier for returning emigrants to start businesses in Ireland?

I think Ireland has a great set-up for developing entrepreneurship. With programmes like Back for Business, New Frontiers and the Local Enterprise Offices across the country, there is a myriad of support for budding start-ups. Navigating the entrepreneurship eco-system for a returning emigrant can be challenging, as they may not be aware of the supports available and the eligibility criteria associated with these.  

Anyone interested in receiving an application form for the next cycle of Back for Business – the call for which will be launched in November – should register their interest here.

Written by Stephen Larkin

Published on 6 August, 2019