Social Enterprise on the Island of Ireland

Posted on Friday, 2 June 2023
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NESC - Council Report No.161 – Social Enterprise on the Island of Ireland
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A new Report from the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), Social Enterprise on the island of Ireland (Council Report No. 161) "describes the contribution of social enterprises to economic, social and environmental wellbeing on the island of Ireland". A social enterprise works to achieve a social or environmental impact as opposed to making a profit that benefits an owner or shareholders. These enterprises provide jobs and services in areas of disadvantage to marginalised groups. Support for social enterprise is recognised as an important way to enhance wellbeing in communities and should continue to be resourced.


The scale and nature of social enterprise in Ireland

The role of social enterprises is growing. There are currently 4,335 social enterprises across Ireland. They employ 84,382 people. This is 3.7 per cent of the Irish workforce. Add to that there are 74,824 volunteers, including 30,324 board members. Over half (57 per cent) are microenterprises, these have less than 10 employees. Over a third (35 per cent) then are small enterprises employing between 10 and 49 people. in 2021, the total income of social enterprise was €2.34 billion. This represent 0.63 per cent of Ireland’s GDP.

Just over two thirds (68 per cent )of all social enterprises are concentrated in four sectors: childcare; community infrastructure and local development; health, youth services and social care; and heritage festivals, arts and creative industry. Added to that, women make up 69 per cent of the workforce and 47 per cent of the total social enterprise workforce works part-time.  Almost half of the total workforce is aged between 31 and 50. 

The Report notes that there "are no definitive statistics on the scale of the social economy in Ireland" and therefore it estimates that there are more that 11,500 community and voluntary organisations in operation, 8,500 of which are registered charities. They employ over 100,000 people with another 50,000 individuals involved as board members or trustees. According to Benefacts, the Irish not-for-profit sector had a turnover of €13.9bn, of which less than half (44%) came from government in 2019. They note however, that "many community and voluntary organisations would not view themselves as part of the social economy, and certainly not as social enterprises, as they are not trading and would not fit the current definition of social enterprise as defined in the National Social Enterprise Policy". 

Ireland’s first social enterprise data collection survey

The Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD), in September of 2022, initiated Ireland’s first social enterprise data collection survey, which was done by Amárach Research, in partnership with Social Enterprise Republic of Ireland (SERI) and the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN).

This involved comprised of a data mapping exercise alongside a national survey with the aim of identifing key data such as the total number of social enterprises in Ireland, where they are located across the regions, the main sectors they are active in, what their staffing levels are, and their income. Over 800 responses have been received and analysed to date with the results of this work due to be published in June 2023. This information will be important to help quantify the scale of the social enterprise sector. 

Issues for consideration

The Report sets out key issues for consideration as they relate to Ireland and the Shared Island Initiative under four main themes.

1.Developing a co-ordinating framework for greater cohesion 

  • Clarity on the definition of social enterprise
  • A catalogue of finance and funding
  • Available legal forms and their implications
  • A collaborative social enterprise forum
  • Using data
  • Identifying roles for young people
  • Supporting volunteers
  • Social enterprise and community wealth-building

2. Embedding social enterprise

  • A stronger focus on enterprise
  • Adding social value in procurement
  • Building capacity
  • Additional funding and financial options
  • Impact assessment

3. Supporting areas of growth for social enterprise

  • The labour market
  • The environment 
  • Digital
  • Caring
  • New communities
  • Social farming

4. Building a shared island dimension

  • Availing of opportunities from the Peace Plus programme
  • Support for cross-border community wealth-building in the border region
  • InterTradeIreland
  • An all-island social enterprise forum
  • An all-island annual social enterprise conference
  • Alignment of data collection exercises
  • International perspective