Social Enterprise in Ireland

Social Enterprise – it’s moving forward! 

The Social Enterprise sector in Ireland offers approx. 25,000 – 35,000 jobs, about €1.4 billion in economic activity and addresses numerous challenges faced 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.”

Forfas Report Cover – Click to open

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 café, 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 the 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 formalizes the sector and introduce a national policy there will be an opportunity to grow jobs in the sector and deliver further services in rural and urban communities.


The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has been actively involved in the European social enterprise and social economy agenda for more than 10 years and supports social enterprise growth and development as a key element of the European social model.

2020 1 EU Social Enterprise
European Economic & Social Committee Click Here to Read

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 favourable environment for social enterprise include:

  1. Conditions are favourable for social entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses
  2. Government policy supports social entrepreneurs
  3. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to get grant funding
  4. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to access investment (debt and/or equity)
  5. 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)
  6. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to government
  7. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to business
  8. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to the public
  9. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to attract staff with the required skills
  10. The public understands what social entrepreneurs do
  11. Social entrepreneurs can make a living from their work in my country
  12. 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 face challenges right from initial startup.

The Future

In early 2017, it was announced that regional economic development minister Michael Ring TD was to bring forward an 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.

2020 2012 Forfas
Types of Social Enterprise

Potential funding sources include the European Fund for Strategic Investment, a variety of grants as well as income from government tenders and business contracts for the delivery of services.

In July 2017,  the Dept of Rural and Community Development established a research partnership with the Social Finance Foundation for the purpose of carrying out targeted research and stakeholder engagement with the social enterprise sector to inform the development of the National Policy.

Speaking in the national parliament, Dáil Éireann in June 2018 Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring TD said: “The Action Plan for Rural Development includes a commitment to develop and publish a National Policy on Social Enterprise, which will encompass the full range of activity in the sector”.

National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 

The Department of Rural and Community Development has published Ireland’s first-ever Social Enterprise Policy in July 2019.

The National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022 is focused on three key Objectives:

  • Building Awareness of Social Enterprise;
  •  Growing and Strengthening Social Enterprise and
  • Achieving Better Policy Alignment.

The National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland is part of a suite of policy initiatives from the Department of Rural and Community Development to support those who work with communities and disadvantaged groups. Other initiatives include a new Strategy for the Community and Voluntary Sectors and a new National Volunteering Strategy, both of which will be published this year.

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. Teamwork 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 to cover operating costs and reinvest for the future.

CSR Commended - Recycle IT
CSR Commended – Recycle IT

What’s Good?

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 is likely to be more innovate and experiment more than traditional business as they work to fill gaps in the 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.

Learn more about nine award-winning Social Enterprises operating in Dublin:

  1. Third Space,
  2. Aspire Productions,
  3. House of Akina
  4. The Yard @ Solas Project.
  5. Recycle IT
  8. Walkinstown Green
  9. Speedpak

Click here to learn about the impact on communities when you decide to buy from a social enterprise.

Social Enterprise Actions and Events:

Dublin City Social Enterprise Awards 2021 – submit an application by 30th of April 2021 – Details here

Working to Change – Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy 2021 – 2023Download here

Social Enterprise & Employment Initiative 2020: Supporting people with a criminal past. Visit the website here

National Social Enterprise Forum & Expo 2019, Fri, 22 November 2019 between 10am – 3:30pm at Sligo Folk Park, Riverstown, County Sligo. This event is an opportunity to meet, network, exchange ideas and contribute to the discussion on the development and support of the Social Enterprise sector in Ireland. You can book here

National Social Enterprise Conference, Thursday 21 November 2019, at Croke Park, Dublin. This event is will take place on International Social Enterprise Day and will share information with a diverse range of stakeholders including social enterprise practitioners, networking organisations, funders, and public authorities at a central and local level. You can book here

Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland, May 14th 2019.  Learn more and have a say through the Public Consultation process on Draft National Social Enterprise Policy.  Read more here

Social Enterprise: Opportunities for Growth, Wed 28th November 2018.  Arranged by the Economic Development Office, Dublin City Council at the Rediscovery Centre, Ballymun, Dublin 9. (9.30am – 12pm).

Social Enterprise: New Beginning For Ireland, Thursday, September 27th 2018.  Irish Local Development Network, Seminar, Dublin 8.

Social Enterprise: Innovators in the Circular Economy,  Wednesday, September 26th 2018 – CRNI and the Eastern Midlands Waste Region hosted an event highlighting the important role of social enterprise in driving the Circular Economy agenda. Recycle IT provided a speaker and activity participated

Social Enterprise Symposium Friday 2nd June 2017 starting at 11am. Una Lavelle from Recycle IT  joined key-note speaker Dr. Jeffrey A. Robinson Ph. D. from Rutgers Business School in Tallaght, Dublin 24, Ireland.

About Recycle IT

Recycle IT is an award-winning social enterprise providing recycling collection and drop off services for all types of waste electrical, electronic equipment (WEEE) and pure metal items.

During 2020 Recycle IT operated a curtailed drop off and collection services to homes, schools, charities and businesses across Dublin and surrounding areas collecting a range of WEEE which includes thousands of batteries, computers, cables, monitors, kettles.  microwaves and screens. We are open again in 2021 working within the COVID 19 guidelines.

Recycle IT services are provided in partnership with WEEE Ireland. Recycle IT is supported by the Department of Rural and Community Development, Dormant Accounts Fund, Pobal, South Dublin County Council and authorized by the National Waste Collection Permit Office and the local authorities across Leinster.

For further details about our free and cost-effective services call us on 01 4578321, email or visit the Recycle IT website at

IMG_0453 (2)
Recycle IT are Pakman Ireland Awards Winners – WEEE Recycling Champion 2019

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