Women of Aidlink

Aishling Lennon

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Aishling Lennon, I’m a former Aidlink staff member and current board member of Aidlink. I grew up just outside Athlone but have lived in Dublin for 15 years now. I studied History, Politics and International Relations in UCD, and currently I work for Dublin City Council. I joined the board of Aidlink at the beginning on 2021.

Can you tell us about someone who inspired/inspires you?
Catherine Corless, the Irish historian, is someone who truly inspires me. I think her quiet determination and tenacity is something to aspire to. In the face of quite significant pressure, she continued to advocate for truth and justice, she’s a real Irish hero.

Where did you draw your professional inspiration from?
I think my professional inspiration comes from my parents. Both of my parents are incredibly hard-working and always instilled in me the need to be committed to what I do. My mother has worked for years in the community development sector, including founding Athlone Community Radio station. So there was always a great sense of ‘sure, give it a go!’ in our house growing up, and great support for trying something new.

What was one of the most pivotal moments in your career?
I joined Dublin City Council on a bit of a whim, I stumbled across a project management role that sounded interesting and decided to apply (I was also watching a lot of Parks and Recreation that year, and think it might have subconsciously nudged me along!). I kind of went into the job without any clear expectation but ended up really, really loving what I do. I absolutely love Dublin, and while it has it’s challenges, it’s a brilliant city, and I really enjoy that I get to work for the betterment of my home.

What is your favourite part of your job? What is the most challenging part?
I worked as part of the Smart Dublin team at Dublin City Council for 3 years which is a programme that explores how new technology and innovation can improve public services and quality of life for citizens. But as of this year I now work for the Micromobility team, so we promote cycling, e-bikes, e-cargo bikes etc. In both roles my favourite part of the job, and maybe also the most challenging, is community engagement. Getting to go out to meet community groups, residents, businesses etc. and talk to them about the work, gain their insights and feedback is something I love to do.  It’s really energising and always enlightening!

Where did your interest in international development begin?
My interest in international development began probably when I was in secondary school. Our principal, Sr. Denise had worked in Tanzania for most of her life and would often share stories of her work. We eventually convinced her to take us on an Immersion Trip to Cameroon (with some pre-travel training from Aidlink!). I was 15 then, and since then I’ve had a major interest in international development.

Do you feel the opportunities for women and girls are growing? What changes need to occur to ensure gender equality becomes a reality for women and girls in Ireland and in the global south?
I think that we have seen enormous gains for gender equality here in Ireland. There’s been a seachange in the last few decades in terms of rights, expectations, opportunities for women. But I think it’s important for people like me, who benefitted from the transformation of Irish society, to not forget that those gains were only achieved because of the tireless work of countless women who went before me. I think one of the key lessons from Ireland that’s important when we consider gender equality in the Global South, is that a strong, empowered civil society is necessary to drive those changes. And we see that demonstrated with Aidlink’s partners in Africa – local, community-based organisations leading the charge for change.

What would you tell young women who are just starting out to work? What would you like them to know? 
I think when I was a teenager and then a student at college I was always panicking about “what I was going to be” professionally. My advice to young women starting out on their professional journey is that there are so many opportunities to chop and change and move nowadays, there’s no fixed route or expectation that you have to stay in the same career. I’ve worked in hospitality, media, international development and the public sector –  and I know I’ll have a few others added to that list by the time I reach retirement!

How did you come to be involved with Aidlink? What makes Aidlink special to you?
In 2014, I applied for an admin job at Aidlink when I was in my early twenties (without realising that it was Anne who had done our pre-immersion training when I was in secondary school until mid way through my interview!). Since then, Aidlink has, and always will, have a really, really special place in my heart. What I love about Aidlink is that fundamental to the work is the empowerment, not only of target communities, but also of local African NGOs. Aidlink’s commitment to building the capacity of local civil society is what makes it so special, and the depth and impact of the partnerships with local organisations is really something unique.

Can you share a quote that motivates you or holds special significance to you?
“You will discover that you have two hands, one to help yourself and one to help others” – Audrey Hepburn.