The “National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022” was launched by the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) in July 2019. The aim was to create an enabling environment for social enterprises so that they can grow and contribute more fully to the social and economic progress of the country. This is Ireland’s first national policy on social enterprises and represents a clear commitment on the part of the government to support them.
Whilst Ireland has a long tradition of activities consistent with the ethos of social enterprise, until recently, responsibility and support for social enterprise have been fragmented across government departments – a factor that made it difficult for social enterprises to achieve their full potential. Many calls for government support had been voiced over the decade prior to the launch of the Policy. Examples include: (i) the work of the Social Enterprise Task Force, a group of stakeholders advocating for the recognition of social enterprise and the development of a dedicated national policy; and (ii) the 2013 Forfás (Ireland’s national policy advisory body for enterprise and science) report identifying, as a prerequisite for social enterprise growth, the need for a coherent government policy with appropriate institutional oversight and coordination. In 2017, responsibility for social enterprise was assigned to the newly established DRCD, which soon began to work upon the development of the Policy. The process entailed: (i) a research study to provide the necessary background information to support the development of the Policy and a roadmap for the development of social enterprise; and (ii) deep and wide consultations with stakeholders and the general public.
The Policy focuses on three key objectives: (1) building awareness of social enterprise; (2) growing and strengthening social enterprise; and (3) achieving better policy alignment. It does so by setting out 26 commitments on the part of the government across these three objectives to support the development of social enterprises over the lifetime of the policy.
The Policy provides a clear and comprehensive framework that encompasses various areas of the social enterprise ecosystem, including building awareness and working on education, training and research (under objective 1); improving tailored business support, access to finance and funding as well as access to markets, and researching on legal structures (under objective 2); improving data collection and developing mechanisms for social impact measurement (under objective 3). The Policy aims at “achieving better policy alignment” by promoting better understanding of the interactions between social enterprises and relevant policy areas across the government, as well as closer engagement on social enterprise at EU and international level.
While the DRCD is responsible for the implementation and coordination of the Policy, the measures are delivered in partnership with relevant Ministries and departments as well as the full spectrum of social enterprise stakeholders. A National Social Enterprise Policy Implementation Group (NSEPIG), chaired by the DRCD, includes representation from other relevant government departments, public bodies and social enterprise stakeholders. This Group oversees and advises on implementation of the National Policy.
Another core principle of the Policy is the coherence of policies and actions in relation to issues that affect social enterprise. To this end, closer collaboration between the DRCD and all other relevant departments and public bodies is promoted. Additionally, the Policy ensures synergy with other policy initiatives that support organisations providing services to communities or tackling social, societal or environmental issues (i.e., the Strategy to Support the Community and Voluntary Sectors 2019-2024 and the new National Volunteering Strategy 2021-2025).
Irish social enterprises, and their representative and support bodies, warmly welcomed the launch of the Policy. At the time of writing, three of the four-year life of the Policy have passed, so no thorough analysis of its impact is yet possible. Significant progress has however been made on implementing the Policy so far. A wide and diverse range of measures addressing the various elements of the ecosystem were launched, including the following:
- Annual National Social Enterprise Conferences to raise awareness, share experience and good practice, and create a forum for networking and collaboration. The first edition in 2019 gathered around 200 participants, the second in 2020 over 500 and the third in 2021 streamed live to over 400 stakeholders.
- Social Enterprise Module for young people, involving approximately 120 teachers, to give thousands of students an opportunity to learn about the concept, methods, values and impact of social entrepreneurship. The Module, which is part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) Programme (a youth entrepreneurship education and development programme), was announced in March 2021 and is primarily taught in DEIS schools (DEIS stands for ‘Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools’, the Action Plan for Educational Inclusion in Ireland). The DRCD provided EUR 30 000 to support the deployment of this initiative.
- Social Enterprise Small Capital Grants Scheme (EUR 1 million) to enable selected social enterprises to make small equipment purchases/refurbish their premises to improve their service delivery with grants of EUR 300-20 000. In 2021, 247 social enterprises received a grant.
- Training and Mentoring Scheme and COVID-19 Social Enterprise Regeneration Programme to provide tailored training and mentoring to social enterprises, with a focus on building their capacity in business planning, leadership, governance, financial planning and digital innovation. The former was launched in 2019 and allocated over EUR 725 000 to 13 organisations to provide training and mentoring to social enterprises with the objective to reach over 400 participants. The latter, announced in February 2021, is a EUR 945 000 regeneration programme aimed to support 12 Consortia of Local Development Companies (LDCs) which are expected to reach an estimated 550 social enterprises to help strengthen their operations and improve their services post COVID-19.
- Social Enterprise Start-up Fund (EUR 300 000) to support 25 early-stage social enterprise projects to grow, create jobs and inspire the next generation of social enterprises in Ireland. The awardees will be receiving cash grants of EUR 12 000 and special training. This Fund, which was announced in November 2021, is administered by Rethink Ireland on behalf of the DRCD.
- Trustlaw Guide, published in November 2020, to provide an overview of the legal forms available for social enterprises in Ireland (where there is no tailored legal form) and assist social enterprises to choose a suitable legal structure.
- Published a report in 2021 on Research on legal form for social enterprises, in partnership with Rethink Ireland.
- The development of an Awareness Strategy which led to the rollout of an Awareness Initiative for Social Enterprise (ARISE), which supported social enterprises and networks to raise awareness of the contribution of social enterprise.
A review of the Policy is expected after three years, with a view to renewing/updating the Policy, as necessary, for a further period.
- DRCD (2019). Social Enterprise. https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/624c74-social-enterprise/
- DRCD (2019). Minister Ring announces over €725,000 in Training and Mentoring supports for Social Enterprises. https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/a7e505-minister-ring-announces-over-725000-in-training-and-mentoring-suppor/
- DRCD (2021). Minister Heather Humphreys announces new Social Enterprise Module for young people. https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/45c78-minister-heather-humphreys-announces-new-social-enterprise-module-for-young-people/
- EC (2020). Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe. Updated country report: Ireland. Author: Mary O’Shaughnessy. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available at https://europa.eu/!Qq64ny
- EC (2021). Impact of the European Commission’s Social Business Initiative (SBI) and its Follow-up Actions. Annexes 5 to 10. http://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=23522&langId=en
- SFF & DRCD (2018). Social Enterprise in Ireland. Research report to support the development of a National Social Enterprise Policy. https://www.gov.ie/pdf/?file=https://assets.gov.ie/40297/74afae66c14d4d738e1a76b77d7a61c9.pdf#page=1
- Thomson Reuters Foundation & Mason Hayes & Curran LLP (2020). Social enterprises in Ireland. Legal structures guide. https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/b89d8-trustlaw-guide-social-enterprises-in-ireland/