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Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,
You are all very welcome to our first Annual National Social Enterprise Conference.
I want to especially warmly welcome our friends from Social Enterprise Northern Ireland as well as Social Enterprise colleagues from Scotland who have travelled to be with us today.
Today is a very special day for Social Enterprise in Ireland.
It is also International Social Enterprise Day, which recognises the increasing global interest in Social Enterprise.
It really is great to see such a tremendous interest in Social Enterprise, which is clearly shown by the great turn-out here today.
The theme of today’s conference is “Unlocking the transformational potential of Social Enterprise in Ireland.”
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 circular economy.
Social Enterprise is also recognised as a part of the overall enterprise system, as reflected in the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland strategy.
There is huge potential for Social Enterprise to address many of Ireland’s most complex challenges including those related to climate action and social inclusion.
There will be opportunities today to discuss these opportunities.
In Ireland, social enterprises take many forms across a wide spectrum, from local community-based enterprises to social enterprises that trade nationally and internationally.
Today’s conference recognises the contribution of all forms of Social Enterprise.
It aims at building awareness, engaging stakeholders, sharing information about the policy priorities and creating space for networking and collaborating.
One of the most important opportunities we have today is to listen to you.
Since I launched Ireland’s first ever National Social Enterprise Policy just a few short months ago in July, I have been overwhelmed by the momentum it has created.
Today’s turnout, and the level of interest in this event, are testament to that.
The Government’s objective with the policy is to create an enabling environment for Social Enterprise to grow in scale and impact.
The Policy is focussed on three main objectives:
1. Building Awareness of Social Enterprise
2. Growing and Strengthening Social Enterprise
3. Achieving Better Policy Alignment
The Policy sets out a series of 26 commitments on the part of Government over the period 2019 to 2022.
Today’s conference is just one of those commitments.
William Parnell, Assistant Secretary in my Department will be talking about the policy in more detail shortly.
The Policy is part of a suite of initiatives from my Department to support rural and urban communities.
The recently published 5-year Strategy for the Community and Voluntary Sectors, and a National Volunteering Strategy to be published shortly are the other key policies in that suite.
My Department is also developing a new Policy for Rural Ireland which will recognise the value of rural Social Enterprises.
We have also sought to work in Partnership with you as we developed the policy.
We will be continuing this approach throughout implementation.
It is important to recognise the Policy is a significant milestone for Social Enterprise in Ireland.
However, it is equally important to recognise that there is still a lot of work to do to help Social Enterprise to reach its potential.
Only in implementing the Policy will things change for the better.
For real change to happen, we need to ensure a continuous dialogue and collaboration in delivery.
I am committed to making sure that happens.
Building awareness of Social Enterprise and improving public understanding of what Social Enterprises are and what they do is critical to enabling social enterprise to grow in Ireland.
This is the most important piece of work for all of us.
Everyone in this room has an important part to play in that awareness-raising.
We need to speak more about “Social Enterprises”.
We need to share the positive stories.
We need to challenge anyone who disputes the value of Social Enterprise.
We need to recognise that “Social” and “Enterprise” are not just complementary, but that this is what consumers want.
We need to be ambitious!
This Conference marks a timely opportunity for us all to come together to communicate clearly about the contribution Social Enterprise makes to society, the economy and the environment.
Next year, my Department will work 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 - from deficit demand social enterprises right up to internationally trading social enterprises.
Very shortly I will also announce the membership of the Social Enterprise Policy Implementation Group.
This is an important advisory mechanism for the Department.
In forming this group we will ensure a diverse range of Social Enterprise stakeholders are involved. This is key to the success and sustainability of the Policy.
It will not be the only way of engaging with us. The Social Enterprise Unit of the Department is very much open for business and will work on an ongoing basis with all groups in the Social Enterprise system.
The agenda for today’s conference has been designed to allow for the views of all the delegates in the room to be heard.
The Stakeholder Action Group Discussion this morning, and the three Parallel Sessions later this afternoon, will allow for a high level of participation.
We even have a Suggestion Box at the back of the room if anybody would like to add anything further during the day.
And I can assure you, we will be listening carefully to what is said here today, as we did during the development of the policy.
My Department is committed to creating an enabling environment for social enterprises to grow in scale and impact.
Over the next few weeks, I will also be making announcements regarding the Training and Mentoring for Social Enterprise Pilot Programme, and the Small Capital Grants Scheme for Social Enterprises.
These are just two initiatives. Many more will follow over the lifetime of the Policy.
As our society faces new and complex challenges over the coming years, social enterprises can be a central part of the solution to those challenges.
They can help to create a sustainable and inclusive future for everyone.
We cannot leave change to chance.
Through the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland, and events like today, the Government will continue to support social enterprises to achieve those objectives.
Today is another great milestone for social enterprise. Let’s all work together now to maximise the impact of social enterprise on Irish society and the economy.
It may have taken us time to get to this point, but with the momentum generated and the energy in this room I am convinced Ireland can become an international leader in Social Enterprise.
My Department is delighted to host you all here today, and I am honoured to open this Conference.
I hope you all have an interesting, stimulating, and enjoyable day!