The Social Enterprise sector in Ireland offers approx. 25,000 – 35,000 jobs, about €1.4 billion in economic activity and addresses numerous challenges face by Irish society.
A 2012 report from Forfas defines social enterprise in Ireland as “an enterprise that trades for a social/societal purpose, where at least part of its income is earned from its trading activity, is separate from government, and where the surplus is primarily reinvested in the social objective.”
The report also lists the four categories under which social enterprises trade
- commercial opportunities that are established to create a social return;
- employment opportunities for marginalized groups;
- economic and community development organisations;
- services delivery organisation
From experience, it can be said that these four categories almost always overlap and are shared objectives for many social enterprises.
The Social Enterprise Sector
There are an estimated 1400 Social Enterprises operating in communities all over Ireland. These include services such meal on wheels, youth cafés, care organisations, creches, credit unions, leisure centres, community centres and a whole array of other businesses. They offer essential services and tackle problems in society such as food poverty, housing or environmental issues.
In 2014 Forbes said “Ireland has a buoyant social enterprise sector, benefiting from a marked increase in calibre of social entrepreneurs, and growing numbers of them.
Forbes also suggested social enterprises are contributing significantly to Ireland’s economic recovery, especially in job creation” It seems once Ireland formalize the sector and introduce a national policy there will be an opportunity to grow jobs in the sector and deliver further services in community in rural and urban areas.
How is the Irish Social Enterprise Sector Viewed!
In 2016, the tops 10 countries in the world for social enterprise were recorded as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, Israel, Chile, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia and France. Ireland currently ranks in second last place in the list according to research by the Thompson Reuters Foundation (2016)
The criteria used to determine if there is a favorable environment for social enterprise include
- Conditions are favorable for social entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses
- Government policy supports social entrepreneurs
- It is easy for social entrepreneurs to get grant funding
- It is easy for social entrepreneurs to access investment (debt and/or equity)
- Social entrepreneurs can access the non-financial support they need (e.g. financial, legal and technical advice; access to markets and networks; coaching, mentoring and training)
- It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to government
- It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to business
- It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to the public
- It is easy for social entrepreneurs to attract staff with the required skills
- The public understands what social entrepreneurs do
- Social entrepreneurs can make a living from their work in my country
- Social entrepreneurship is gaining momentum
The fact that Ireland is ranked 42nd out of 44 nations across the world suggests that social enterprise ideas and organisations faces challenges right from initial startup.
In early 2017, it was announced that regional economic development minister Michael Ring TD was to bring forward a Irish national policy for social enterprise some four years after a Forfas report recommended such an action. This long-awaited policy can help Ireland create a well-defined social enterprise sector.
Once the sector has a formal and defined status there is potential to access funding for good ideas and combined with strong leadership these ideas can grow and develop to service the needs of many local communities, individuals and groups.
Potential funding sources include the European Fund for Strategic Investment, a variety of grants as well income from government tenders and business contracts for the delivery of services.
Social Enterprise at Work
Recycle IT operate an electrical recycling business in the social economy sector with the aims of creating social, economic and environmental value. Our team provide recycling services for communities and the market. Any profits generated are used to support social objectives which include a range of community focused services.
Profit are not shared with company directors and the organisation has no commercial stakeholders. Our board is voluntary and any profits are reinvested in recycling operations. Recycle IT is a not for profit Social Enterprise.
Our awarding winning recycling service is friendly, effective, yet not glamorous. Work is hard but offers the real opportunity for training and skills development. Team work helps supports our goals and everyone involved “works to do good” while simultaneously helping to ensure financial sustainability. There is a focused approach to identifying and managing revenue streams which support the company cover operationing costs and reinvest for the future.
Social enterprise success generally means more social and/or environmental good with profits reinvested to deliver change.
Usually social enterprises have more inclusive and diverse structures with women and men coming for a wide range of background to help start-up, develop and lead organisations. Social enterprises work on a range of challenges using the tools of business to advance ideas and deliver services. Social Enterprise are likely to be more innovate and experiment more than traditional business as they work to fill gaps in market that are of little interest to public sector bodies and profits are limited for the private sector companies. Finally, most work collaboratively and bring people on a journey of change.
If you would like to learn more about social enterprise you can book a place at Social Enterprise Symposium which will be held in Dublin on Friday 2nd June 2017 starting at 11am.
Una Lavelle from Recycle IT will join key-note speaker Dr. Jeffrey A. Robinson Ph. D. from Rutgers Business School and others in Tessa House Block D, Tallaght, Dublin 24, Ireland – this event is free to attend.
Learn more about eight award-winning Social Enterprises operating in Dublin: