So said Linda O’Connell, who was named Cork Business Woman of the Year by Network Cork.
Linda, aged 47, who lives in Turners Cross, is the national Online and Media Coordinator with St Vincent de Paul.
Born in Germany, she returned to Cork where she spent her childhood and went to secondary school in St Aloysius in Carrigtwohill, before studying art in Colaiste Stiofan Naofa.
Linda is very open about her mental health struggles and said she has battled with depression all her life and was even hospitalised for six months in her 20s. It has been a very challenging journey.
In her early 20s, someone suggested she reach out to The Society of St Vincent de Paul for support — as she couldn’t afford counselling. The lady who visited her, as part of the charity’s home call service, went on to be the first female president of St Vincent de Paul, Mairead Bushnell — to this day Linda and she are still friends. The support offered by the charity went far beyond financial assistance, she said.
Linda began helping out with the charity’s different campaigns, such as The Giving Tree, and also got involved in offering home management classes.
When she returned to college, to study Zoology at UCC, she had the support of St Vincent de Paul, who helped pay for her books.
After graduating, Linda worked at Fota for two years, before going to a zoo in the UK. Here she suffered a mental health set back again, but describes it as “the beginning of her healing journey”.
Back home, Mairead asked her to help out with St Vincent de Paul once again.
“Before I knew it, I was fully employed by them,” said Linda.
At first she was an interim office manager, before moving to the post of communications and fundraising manager.
In 2007, she was seconded by national head office to redevelop the website — skills which were all self taught. She then took up the national post of managing all internal and external communications. She refers to the charity’s Tom McSweeny as an amazing mentor.
However, suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’ she decided to go back to college to study Digital Marketing at CIT, a Certificate first, then a Masters — if only to get ‘the piece of paper’ in her hand. But not only did she get a 1.1, she also received a special award as ‘Best Student’. Revealing these facts doesn’t come easy to Linda, who appears uncomfortable talking about her triumphs.
As to the recent Network Cork win, she is still trying to get her head around it.
She joined Network Cork back in September, 2019. She said at first she felt out of her depth. She was busy at the end of 2019 with the annual St Vincent de Paul appeal, so didn’t really make meetings — but then Covid happened and Network Cork activities moved online — something she was more comfortable with.
She said of the recent months: “I made life- long friends.”
Some members helped run fund-raising events for St Vincent de Paul during Covid — while Linda helped women transition online, when their business had to change, due to the pandemic.
“I have always believed if I can help a person, I should,” said Linda.
During this difficult time she too wanted to help support her colleagues.
The charity’s shops shut, fundraising stopped, home visits stopped. All the charity’s workers and volunteers were doing long weeks and long days. So Linda had the idea of hosting virtual coffee mornings and town hall meetings, where staff had to guess who was who, in baby pictures of each other — which shows how Linda is a bit of a joker.
Linda says she was “in awe” at how people responded though, these past few months.
She admits to living a simple life, as a practicing Buddhist, and that Covid didn’t change her life drastically, although it did bring some challenges personally.
But she said she was impacted by observing the way people behaved, how they came together.
“People were phenomenal.”
As a charity, they are trying to reinvent ways to fundraise — but are also bracing themselves for a rise in those seeking their support and assistance, due to the economic fall-out of the pandemic.
Back to the Network Cork awards — it was a colleague in SVP who told her to go for it. They wrote her nomination. Linda had second thoughts about entering, she hesitated — but eventually did the application.
“It was so therapeutic. I found it liberating. I was happy I did that.
“When I found out I was a finalist, I didn’t tell anyone for a while.
“When the award was announced, in my category, I was embarrassed.
“When the camera came on me (announcing the overall award) I blanked out. I welled up.”
She said she has been in awe of so many of the other members.
Looking forward to the upcoming national awards, she says: “I hope I do the women of Cork proud.”
The Network Cork Awards were sponsored by Brown Thomas. While Linda won the Transformative Employee award, as well as the Overall award, the winner of the Power Within Champion Award went to Trudy McQuaid, Events Coordinator for Enable Ireland. Meanwhile, the Solo Businesswoman was Maeve Lankford of Kaleidoscope Coaching and Facilitation who successfully migrated all her business online in recent months. Emerging New Business was won by co-founder of Change by Degrees, Madeleine Murray. The award for Business Innovation went to Jenny Murphy, of Red Balloon. While Eveanna De Barra Kumar of Himalaya Yoga Valley won Online Business Transformation.
Network Ireland Cork’s president, Marguerite O’Sullivan said: “In the face of certain challenges, our winners have looked outwards, and showed great strength. A huge congratulations to each and everyone and we look forward to them all representing Cork at the national finals next month.”
Meanwhile, Network West Cork also hosted a virtual Businesswoman of the Year awards last week. The winners were Mags Riordan of Bumblebee Flower Farm (Solo Businesswoman Award); Marie Wiseman of Wiser Marketing (Emerging Business) and The Business Innovation Award went to Anne-Marie Kingston of White Sage Decluttering. The theme of this year’s awards was ‘Power Within’, a celebration of the resilience, motivation, insights and know-how that women in business have to fulfil their potential and lead and inspire others. Each of this year’s finalists were entered into a very special award category, ‘Power Within Champion’, designed to recognise these qualities, and the winner of this award was Barbara Noonan Sexton of Barbara Noonan Homeopathy.
Caroline Murphy, President of Network Ireland West Cork, said: “As a branch, we have been so well represented at National level. We are hoping for a hat trick win in 2020 and to bring a third National award back to West Cork.”
Each of the winners selected from this region will go onto the national awards, to be hosted on Friday, October 2, virtually from Powerscourt Hotel.