Social enterprises are businesses which trade on an ongoing basis for a social, societal or environmental purpose. They provide vital goods and services in communities throughout the country and contribute to the delivery of many Government policy objectives in areas such as employment activation, affordable childcare, and the green economy.
However, there is limited evidence and data about the scope, prevalence and contribution of social enterprises in Ireland. A 2013 Forfás report estimated that, in 2009, social enterprises employed between 25,000 and 33,000 people with an annual income of around €1.4 billion. However, the report also noted that it was difficult to differentiate social enterprises from the wider non-profit sector at that time.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that social enterprise is a growing part of the enterprise base in Ireland and has the potential to deliver social impact, support job creation and contribute to the national economy.
I published Ireland's first National Social Enterprise Policy last July. This Policy was developed on the basis of extensive consultation with stakeholders and background research.
The Policy includes 26 Measures to support the development of social enterprise over the four year period of the Policy, 2019-2022. These Measures include a commitment to improve data collection on the extent of social enterprises in Ireland and the areas in which they operate. The Policy also includes a commitment to develop mechanisms to measure the social and economic impact of social enterprises.
My Department is already taking steps to deliver on these commitments. In October, I announced a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Research Fellowship on Social Enterprise delivered in collaboration with the Irish Research Council. The main purpose of the Fellowship is to develop a methodology to measure the impact of social enterprise in Ireland in the context of the new Policy and international best practice. This research will enable a greater understanding of social enterprise in all of its forms in an Irish context.