The Open Doors Initiative – creating pathways to employment for the under-represented workforce

Created in 2020 The Open Doors Initiative is an initiative of over 95 of the biggest companies based in Ireland and NGOs, who work with government to create pathways to employment for marginalised people, nationwide. Having just had their first AGM, CEO Jeanne McDonagh was delighted to report the company helped 2,300 people on pathways to employment and this number grew in one year by 600% to over 14,700 people last year, despite Covid. We caught up with Jeanne to find out more:

  1. To someone who may not be aware of The Open Doors Initiative, what does the company do and how did the company come about?

We are a group of over 95 companies and NGOs, who work with government to create pathways to employment for marginalised people, nationwide.

These can be internships, scholarships, training courses, research; aiding entrepreneurs or full/part time employment, from a range of backgrounds and abilities.  The people we work with include refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, people with disabilities and disadvantaged youth (including those from a traveller background, LGBTIQ+, ex-offenders, intersectionality, etc). We engage with people directly through our website, social media, and word of mouth, through the companies; and through supporting partners who work directly with these groups.

In our first year, we helped 2,300 people on pathways to employment and this number grew in one year by 600% to over 14,700 people last year, despite Covid. The capacity to help even more people is there as we grow.

  1. Out of all the different areas of Diversity and Inclusion, why did you choose these areas to focus on?

These groups had the most need. Many are cut out of work, even during the recent times of nearly full employment.

  • Only 26.2% of people with disabilities were in employment pre covid
  • 1 in 8 of the population are from a migrant background – yet many have difficulties finding suitable work due to stamps and permits, bias and language barriers
  • An early school leaver is twice as likely to be unemployed than their peers
  • Members of the Travelling community face 80% unemployment

We try to help all marginalised groups who need education, training and employment and face difficulties getting into the workforce or education.

  1. If someone is looking for work while being part of those three groups, what would you advise them to do?

Contact us on and we will do our utmost to help, be it CV prep, interview prep, mentoring, introductions to companies, through our jobs board and free online courses, training seminars and a myriad of other routes.

We cannot guarantee work instantly but we will strive to put you on a pathway to employment which benefits the individual.

  1. What makes your company unique? As opposed to other organisations in the D&I area.

We take a very collaborative stance and work across business, NGOs and Government to help people. The amalgam of these groups means we can work with specific people from diverse and different backgrounds and abilities, in a very targeted way and meet their needs.

  1. Can you tell us about some of the online webinars you have done? Do you any plans to do any in person events when restrictions allow it?

We host a wide range of topics and speakers who are experts in their field, to give advice to both participants and company and NGO employees on specific topics. These are very well attended, and we have had excellent feedback on the variety of themes and their usefulness. As to in-person events, we will be guided by the prevailing medical advice and look forward to meeting in person when Covid allows.

  1. Apart from events, what marketing have you done since launching? What have you found works best?

Our social media is very strong, with lots of engagement and interaction. It allows us to reach a wide audience and we are constantly growing it. We use branded material, produced in house and driven by our purpose. We recently launched our first Annual Report and its has had a very positive effect in rounding up our achievements for our first year as a group and setting the stage for even more next year.

  1. What have been some of your favourite moments since joining the company?

Feedback from successful participants who have made the leap into work or education with our assistance. It makes my heart sing when someone comes back and says, “I did it!” It is the point of what we do and to see those success stories is truly fantastic.

  1. The company was launched as Ireland went into lockdown. How did you scramble to realign the company as an online brand? Have there been any positives from this period?

We were already online facing and the switch was easy for us. It meant no in person meetings but as everyone was adjusting to the same, we pivoted easily. We were thinking of signing a lease on a premises and Covid stopped that process, which was a huge saving and we have managed fine regardless. It has also meant that we can employ people from other counties, which adds to our diversity. I do not see us rushing to an office anytime soon; the employees of Open Doors are happy working from home for now, and we can hold meetings in various premises if required, for the time being.

  1. Where do you see the company in the next 5-10 years?

Bigger and better!

  1. Are there any other companies or people in the Diversity and Inclusion space in Ireland that you are big fans of?

Evanne Kilmurray in Inner City Enterprise and Siobhan Cafferty from Working To Change are real inspirations for me. I love working with them and seeing how they innovate and make huge impact on people’s lives. If I was to be stuck on a desert island and start from scratch, I’d want to be with them!

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