How PeacePlayers showed Tony what Giving Back to our Communities looks like

Catching up with Tony Mcgaharan, former staff member of PeacePlayers Northern Ireland

November 12, 2021

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In celebration of PeacePlayers’ 20th Anniversary, we have had the pleasure of catching up with several “former” PeacePlayers. We have learned where their lives have taken them since their time with PeacePlayers, and how they’ve taken PeacePlayers into their careers, professional lives, interests and hobbies as they’ve moved through the world. 

Q: Where do you currently live?

Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Q: What was your role at PeacePlayers Northern Ireland and how long were you involved?

My earliest memory of PeacePlayers is playing pickup basketball when I was 16 back in 2003. That's when I first started kicking around. In my mind, there are three phases with my experience with PeacePlayers. The first experience was getting involved as a volunteer.

Then, from a volunteer role, getting opportunities to do work as a young person who was actually getting paid. Then the second phase of my experience with Peace Players was when I was probably 18 or 19. I worked very closely with Kelly Lyons at the time, Kelly Mora and Harry Mora, also Ryan Douwie; he was kicking around from South Africa. For my third phase, I joined as a project coordinator. I’d just graduated and I was going down this teaching path. I remember Garreth said: look, I can give you a two-month contract, which was wild, because two months is not a lot of time it's not a whole lot of commitment on their end, but it was the best they could do in order to bring me into the organization based on funding which I totally understood, so I left my teaching career, which I had studied for four years.

I took a punt ultimately to work with PeacePlayers, because I love the mission; I love what it's about. Then I took two months; later, that turned into six months, and then it turned into a full-time contract.

Later on this job came up and Gareth always told me he wanted me to apply. It was a senior project coordinator role, where you can take on a team leader role. So I applied for that role and returned to Peace Players in that position in the September of that year and stayed all the way through to the following year. I left in 2013.

Tony McGaharan PeacePlayers Northern Ireland

Q: What’s been going on in your life since PeacePlayers?

I got offered a position at Google in Dublin, which again was a completely different career path. That was a big challenge for me, and I remember, sharing the letter of offer that I received from Google with Gareth. He was entirely supportive and said “Look, this is a really unique opportunity. I know you're going to thrive in that environment, and I support you if it's something you want to pursue and we'll always have you back if you want to return.”

With Google, I spent a couple of years working in a front-facing role in the sense of supporting customers with their advertising on Google based out of Dublin. After a year and a half, I got promoted and moved to Singapore for a job that was much more aligned to my passion. It was about people development, learning and development, so I took on the role of learning and development program manager.

I supported all of the onboarding for new Googlers, or “Nooglers”, who joined in Asia Pacific. I spent a couple years in Singapore, then I moved back west to London and decided to do backwards career integration so I thought about “How do we hire amazing talent, how do we bring in the best people all around the world?”

While I was in London, not only was I doing Staffing; I was also facilitating leadership development programs, so again there's certainly crossover there with some of the work we would have done with young people in PeacePlayers Northern Ireland. Instead, I was doing this work in the corporate space and representing Google in places like South America and emerging markets where we would support founders of startups and their leadership development.

Then I was in Dublin for one final round with Google. I spent about six months as a global learning and development manager in Dublin, supporting a sales organization of about 500 people globally.

Q: What are you up to now?

In February of last year, I decided to leave [Google], and then the pandemic hit. My goal was always to start a new business and, thankfully, I have been able to do that in spite of the pandemic. So, I founded People Playbook to support organizations with their learning leadership and team development.

I started off from my small bedroom with a desk literally being within arm's reach of my bed. Thankfully, in the last year and a half we've been able to grow, and we now have two employees, including myself, as well as a team of world class facilitators and faculty members across the globe. We have a small office right in the heart of Belfast city. That's where we're at.

Back in Belfast, home sweet home.

I think there are a couple of common themes in my life and first and foremost, it is people-focused. I love working with people. I think that's the first thing.

The second core thing is around bringing people together and obviously there's an incredibly strong connection to PeacePlayers and its mission with my own kind of personal purpose, which is to create a collaborative environment where people are working towards a shared purpose and supporting one another and lifting each other up.

The third thing that rings true through everything that I've ever done is always around getting the best out of people. Those are the three main themes throughout my career.

I grew up in integrated education (Catholics and Protestants). In Northern Ireland only around 6% of schools are integrated. Back then, there were parents that were leaders and educators back in 1981 when they started in Lagan College, the first integrated school in Northern Ireland. That was incredible leadership. So, I've always been fascinated about how you can inspire action for the positive.

I'm also the current chairperson of Queen’s Basketball Club. There are 300 members, from 6-7 years old, all the way to senior men and women. I also play and coach for the club. I coach our under-12 Girls team.

I also created something years back called The Courtside Collective, which actually very much ties into the PeacePlayers mission, which is to bring people together, all from different basketball Clubs in Ireland.

Growing up, clubs were quite segregated, so I always wanted to figure out a way to bring different players and teams together to compete and enjoy each other in a social and competitive way.

Q: How have you brought PeacePlayers into your personal or professional life?

For me, at the age of 15, 16, 17 -- formative years -- I spent a lot of time with PeacePlayers fellows and coaches locally, and they were inspiring characters to me. These were young men and women from the United States who decided to give up their time and come and help support our local communities in Belfast. That in itself was incredibly inspiring to me.. I think it's our responsibility to be giving back to our communities.

Because PeacePlayers was my first full-time professional experience I learned so much, obviously from Gareth Harper and in the strategy, development and thinking professionally about how we scale our impact to help support more young people in Northern Ireland to come together from different communities.

I remember one specific lesson: Gareth, said to me, “when you're speaking you're not learning anything” and that's a career lesson that I try to live into in my role as a facilitator within learning, so really listening before speaking.

I think the other thing that comes to mind when you asked that question was a lot of the work that we did with the Arbinger Institute, seeing people as people and not as objects. I think that was really sticky for me early on, because I would have facilitated and taught these concepts. This way of thinking is very much embedded into my way of life and how I manage my emotions, reactions and response to others.

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