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Keynote Address at the launch of the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022

Published: 19 July 2019
From: Department of Rural and Community Development

Keynote Address by Minister Michael Ring at the launch of the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland Speedpak Group, Coolock, Dublin on 18 July 2019

Check Against Delivery

Ladies and Gentlemen, today is a landmark day for social enterprise in Ireland.

For many years, there have been calls for a Government policy to support the development of social enterprise.

I know that many people in this room worked long and hard over the years to champion social enterprise, and to explain to public representatives, including myself, the unique approach that social enterprises take to achieving social impact.

I’m sure some of you wondered if the day would ever come when a national social enterprise policy would be published…. Well, today is the day.

This Policy marks the start of a new phase in the development of social enterprise in Ireland. It is a new policy for a new era.

It is the first Government Policy for Social Enterprise in the history of the State, so it is a defining moment for all who are working for a better Ireland through a social enterprise approach.

We know that social enterprises are businesses whose core objective is to achieve a social, economic or environmental impact. Like other businesses, social enterprises trade in goods or services on an ongoing basis, but any surpluses they generate are reinvested into social objectives. Given their focus on delivering social impact, social enterprises also contribute to the delivery of many Government policy goals in areas such as employment activation, affordable childcare, and the green economy. Social enterprise is also gaining recognition as a part of the overall enterprise system, as reflected in the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland strategy.

In Ireland, social enterprises take many forms across a wide spectrum, from local community-based enterprises to social enterprises that trade nationally and internationally. This Policy recognises the contribution of all forms of social enterprise.

The Policy and the commitments it contains will enable social enterprise to reach its full potential. And, most importantly, the commitments will be delivered in partnership with social enterprise stakeholders over the next four years.

Through this National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland, the Government’s objective is to create an enabling environment for social enterprise to grow and to contribute more fully to Ireland’s social and economic progress. The implementation of the Policy will open new opportunities for social enterprises to contribute to the development of local communities, and to support many of those most vulnerable in society.

While the Policy may have been a long time coming, there is no reason why Ireland cannot now be a leader in social enterprise on the basis of this Policy.

The assignment of responsibility for social enterprise to my Department in July 2017 provided an opportunity for policy on social enterprise to be developed, for the first time, in a coordinated way alongside other measures for organisations that provide services to communities.

The Policy is part of a suite of initiatives from my Department to support communities, which will include a new Strategy for the Community and Voluntary Sectors and a new National Volunteering Strategy. My objective is that both of these strategies will also be published this year.

The Social Enterprise Policy has been developed following extensive consultation with stakeholders and with the general public.

Over a period in 2017 and 2018, research work was carried out by my 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.

Earlier this year, following further consultation, my Department published a draft Social Enterprise Policy for public consultation. We received over 100 submissions, all of which were considered in finalising the policy that you have in front of you today. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the process and I hope you will see elements of your own inputs in the final document.

I want to acknowledge the work of the Social Finance Foundation, and in particular their CEO Brendan Whelan, and the Project Manager, Lorraine Corcoran, in working closely with my Department during the research stage of the process. Brendan is abroad at the moment, but I know he will be celebrating today’s launch from the Far East.

I also want to thank the members of the Steering Group who oversaw the research project. This Group included a number of social enterprise representatives and stakeholders, and I know that many of you are here today.

I also want to acknowledge the work of the Social Enterprise Task Force which represents a broad spectrum of social enterprise in Ireland. The Task Force has been to the forefront in working for the recognition of social enterprise for the last 10 years or so, and were an important reference group as we developed the Policy.

Similarly, we had important engagement with the Community and Voluntary Pillar as we worked on the development of the Policy.

In finalising the Policy for Government approval, my Department also had very constructive engagement with other Departments, and I can tell you that support for the Policy from my Ministerial colleagues was very strong.

So, the Social Enterprise Policy is focused on three key Objectives:

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

The Policy 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 to 2022.

The publication and implementation of this National Policy will:

• Assist social enterprise in Ireland to grow and to make a positive impact on individuals and communities in both rural and urban areas.

• It will support direct job creation in social enterprises, and help many more people to find employment through training and work experience.

• It will improve awareness and understanding of social enterprises,

• It will help to open new opportunities for social enterprises in the provision of services to the public and to other businesses.

• The Policy will also help to improve access to supports that, up to now, have been difficult for social enterprises to access.

• And it will help to better harness the potential of social enterprises to support Government policy objectives in areas such as labour market activation, healthcare, social inclusion and environmental issues. It will support other recent Government initiatives, including the Climate Action Plan, the Future Jobs strategy, and Ireland’s delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

It is when you put policy into action that things change, and I firmly believe that it is important that this Policy is delivered in a collaborative way. In this regard, my Department will work with social enterprise stakeholders in the delivery of the measures outlined in the document.

Building awareness of social enterprise and social entrepreneurs, and improving public understanding of what they do, is critical to enable social enterprise to grow in Ireland.

Social enterprises themselves have an important role to play in that awareness-building. The Policy points out that one of the difficulties in the past has been the lack of a clear and cohesive message about what is required to support the development of social enterprise in Ireland. The publication of the National Social Enterprise Policy marks a timely opportunity for social enterprise stakeholders to work better together to communicate clearly and effectively the message about social enterprise in Ireland and the contribution it makes to society and the economy.

As part of the Policy, my Department will work closely with social enterprise stakeholders to develop an Awareness Strategy to raise the profile of social enterprise in Ireland. It will be important that the full spectrum of social enterprise activity is reflected in that messaging.

Other measures contained in the Policy include:

- capacity-building supports for social enterprises, particularly in relation to business development, access to finance, and market opportunities, and

- improving the collection of data on the extent of social enterprise in Ireland, and its impact.

The delivery of the Policy will be overseen by an Implementation Group which will be chaired by my Department. It will include representation from key Government Departments, other public bodies and social enterprise stakeholders. I will be establishing the Implementation Group at the end of the Summer break.

In the Autumn I will also be announcing details of funding to support the delivery of the capacity-building measures in the Policy.

I want to put on record, as I have done previously, that it is not my intention to reallocate supports from my Department’s Community and Voluntary initiatives. My Department already provides supports to social enterprises through a number of programmes, and it is a case of targeting that funding better to meet the priority needs of social enterprises which have been identified in developing this Policy. My Department will also work across government to seek out new opportunities for social enterprises to access more mainstream supports, where appropriate.

In conclusion, I think it is very fitting that the new Social Enterprise Policy should be launched here in the premises of the Speedpak Group. Speedpak was founded in the 1990s to address the issue of high unemployment in what was one of Dublin’s most disadvantaged areas. To date, Speedpak has employed and trained over 1,150 people, bringing a significant impact to individuals and families in the community. The company is a great example of what a social enterprise can accomplish and I wish them continued success in the future.

For many years, social enterprises like Speedpak have provided a flexible and effective model which has delivered a positive response to social issues - all the time working closely with local communities and individuals.

As our society faces new challenges over the coming years, I believe that social enterprises can continue to identify and deliver new and innovative ways to address those challenges and to create a sustainable and inclusive future for everyone. Through this new National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland, the Government will support social enterprises to achieve those objectives.

Today is a great milestone for social enterprise. Let’s work together now to maximise the impact of social enterprise on Irish society and the economy.

Thank You.