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Social Enterprise

Published: 1 March 2019
From: Department of Rural and Community Development


Social enterprises are businesses whose core objective is to achieve a social, societal, or environmental impact. They frequently work to support disadvantaged groups such as the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, travellers, etc., or to address issues such as food poverty, social housing, or environmental matters.

There is a wide spectrum of social enterprises in Ireland, from local community-based enterprises to larger enterprises, some of which trade internationally. They create employment and support many Government policy objectives in areas such as labour market activation, health care and the environment.

Like other businesses, social enterprises pursue their objectives by trading in goods and services on an ongoing basis. However, any surpluses generated by social enterprises are re-invested into achieving social objectives, rather than maximising profit for their owners.

Their primary focus on social impact sometimes makes it difficult for social enterprises to gain access to the type of supports that are available to other enterprises to develop and grow.

National Social Enterprise Policy

On 18th July 2019, Mr Michael Ring, TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development, published the first National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022 . The policy is focused on three key Objectives:

(1) Building Awareness of Social Enterprise;

(2) Growing and Strengthening Social Enterprise and

(3)Achieving Better Policy Alignment.

It sets out a series of 26 commitments on the part of Government across these Objectives for the development of social enterprise over the period 2019-2022. These commitments will be delivered in partnership with social enterprise stakeholders.

The Social Enterprise Policy has been developed following extensive consultation with stakeholders and with the general public. During 2017 and 2018, research work was carried out by the Department in collaboration with the Social Finance Foundation. This research included a number of stakeholder workshops and an on-line survey to get the views of those who are involved in social enterprise.

In 2019, following further consultation, the Department published a draft Policy for public consultation. 114 submissions were received, all of which were considered in finalising the policy.

Supports for Social Enterprises

The Department is responsible for the Dormant Accounts Fund, which provides capital funding for social enterprises, including the Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI). SIFI provides growth capital to social innovations and solutions to social issues in Ireland. The Dormant Accounts Fund also provides match funding for all philanthropic funds raised by SIFI.

On 14 December 2018, Michael Ring T.D., Minister for Rural and Community Development announced the allocation of €2 million in funding from the Dormant Accounts Fund to 52 social enterprise projects across the country. Further details, including a full list of the successful projects, is available here. New support measures will be announced later in 2019 in line with the Social Enterprise Policy.

Further details, including a full list of the successful projects, is available here.


Public Consultation on the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022 submissions

National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022

Social Enterprise in Ireland Research Report

Dormant Accounts - Social Enterprise recipients