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"I think we need more women in business, and we need them to be louder and inspire the next generation." - Tammy Darcy, founder of the Shona Project discusses winning Visa’s She's Next Grant Programme in 2021

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The Shona Project aims to inspire and support the young women of Ireland

When Tammy Darcy decided to start her social enterprise in 2016, her idea was loaded with passion and history. Five years later, the Shona Project has directly worked with over 25,000 young women and is changing classroom culture across the country.

Tammy's mission to support and advocate for the young teenage women made her a clear front runner for Visa's She's Next initiative in 2021. She's Next, empowered by Visa, aims to help advance women in their efforts to fund, run and grow their small businesses. The programme, which is open to female-led companies across all sectors, has an easy application process and will help five lucky winners in 2022 to move their businesses to the next level through funding and coaching.

As one of last year’s winners, the Shona Project received a €5,000 grant and a year of coaching with IFundWomen. As part of Visa’s commitment to promote women business entrepreneurs, for 2022 the prize fund has doubled to €10,000 per business and applications for the 2022 grants are now open.

We spoke to Tammy to learn more about her team's work in local schools and how winning the programme last year has helped her business.

Starting the Shona Project

"Our mission is to educate, inspire and empower today's girls to be tomorrow's strong, confident and curious young women. We've been supporting teenage girls from all over Ireland for the last five years through our workshops, events and other projects and initiatives that we run."

Tammy feels strongly about nurturing positive relationships between young women in school environments.

"One of the things we want to do is to support schools, particularly girls' schools, in being positive spaces where the girls support each other. Then there was already an anxiety epidemic which now, as we come out of covid, has become worse than ever.

"Over the last few years, we've worked with over 25,000 girls all over Ireland. Last year we brought Shine Festival online and had 40,000 attendees and a million video loads in three days. So there's a huge demand for our work."

The Shona workshops cover a range of topics such as:

  • The challenges we face as young women today
  • Respecting and encouraging difference and diversity
  • Setting goals and identifying how we can achieve them

"We talk about influence and how important it is to surround yourself with good people. We talk about work ethic and other life skills, but then we talk about kindness.

“It's hard for one person to take responsibility for trying to do things differently, but when we all decide to have a clean slate, it's very powerful.”

Visa’s She’s Next Grant Programme

Tammy applied for one of the five Visa’s She's Next grants and was delighted to be selected. She explains how the funds and coaching resources came at just the right time and have gone on to transform her team.

"Our grant was €5,000, which was really helpful. We wanted to fund a new program manager, and we had been trying hard to raise the money so the grant got us over the line.

"I've been through different funding programs before. We always apply because of the funding, but when they have a package that includes support and becoming part of a group, it gives you so much more. When you're trying to run a business, you need to surround yourself with people who are doing similar to keep you sane. So that's why I applied for it. I was delighted to get it, not just for us personally as an organisation, but I was delighted that they funded a social enterprise.

“The mentors have been great. Most of the ones I have met have been American. They have a very different view of philanthropy and social enterprise than we do here. So I tapped into a few mentors on things like crowdfunding and awareness-raising and ways to think outside the box to fund the work that we want to do."

Tammy says that while you may not know it all when starting a business, getting started is the most important thing.

"One of the things that I thought when I started in business and looked at other business owners was that they must know everything. They must have gone to college, and I thought that to start my own business or social enterprise, I needed to know everything about marketing, finance, and HR. So, I just kept studying and studying, and I never felt ready.

"But now, looking back, I know that you don't need to know it all; you just need to surround yourself with good people who support you and can give you advice on those things.

"We doubt our own abilities as women way too much. I think we need more women in business, more entrepreneurs and we need them to be louder, celebrate their achievements, and inspire the next generation. So just start, talk about it, ask questions and don't let fear hold you back."

Visa’s She's Next Grant Programme, in partnership with IFundWomen, is open to small businesses and organisations who are majority-owned by women, operating across all industries and sectors, through a simple application process. To enter, apply now for one of five grants of €10,000 plus a year of coaching provided by IFundWomen by submitting your details here.


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