The Government welcomes the publication of NESC’s Report 161 Social Enterprise on the island of Ireland.

As part of its programme of work on Shared Island NESC undertook to consider social enterprise.  The national definition of social enterprise is “an enterprise whose objective is to achieve a social, societal, or environmental impact, rather than maximising profit for its owners or stakeholders”. 

Social enterprise has recently seen a resurgence in interest, both nationally and internationally.

Social enterprise straddles that space between the national economy and local community and plays an important role in providing services to marginalised groups and in disadvantaged areas, as well as creating and providing jobs, and contributing to innovative social and environmental initiatives.

While much of the activity is set at local level, social enterprises also contribute to the national economy.

Social enterprise is diverse, from social enterprises which are situated within the community and voluntary sector and have limited trading capability through to international trading organisations. Overall, social enterprises play an important role in meeting social needs, but increasingly they are also making a contribution in helping to reach climate targets, for example, through renewable energy initiatives and the circular economy.

The four main conclusions arrived at are as follows:

I.       Developing a co-ordinating framework for greater cohesion 

This would bring a cross-government perspective and provide clarity on definition, funding options, legal options, and community links.

II.     Embedding social enterprise 

Embedding social enterprise would involve a stronger enterprise focus, more mechanisms and approaches, and greater attention to social and environmental considerations.

III.    Supporting areas of growth for social enterprise 

The report identifies several areas where social enterprises can play a significant role in Irish society and the economy, including the labour market, environment, caring for vulnerable populations to name a few.

IV.    Building a shared island dimension

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This could be achieved by cross-border collaboration through the Peace Plus programme and InterTradeIreland. Other recommendations include creating an all-island social enterprise forum and conference and aligning data collection efforts.

This research was undertaken by the National Economic and Social Council, an independent Council comprising employers, trade unions, farmers, community and voluntary sector representatives, environmentalists, senior officials from Government departments, plus independents.  The Council was set up to analyse and report on strategic issues relating to the efficient development of the economy, the achievement of social justice and environmental sustainability.

This report provides an overview of the state of social enterprise internationally, in Ireland, in Northern Ireland, and on a shared island basis.  It is based an analysis of published material, more than 30 meetings with people engaged in some way with social enterprise across the island of Ireland, research on social enterprises, and attendance at relevant social enterprise events.

For further information, see NESC’s website at  

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