Social enterprises are businesses whose core objective is to achieve a social, societal or environmental impact. Like other businesses, they trade in goods or services on an ongoing basis. However, any surpluses they generate are re-invested into achieving a social impact.

Various strands of Irish social policy rely heavily on social enterprise, and and efforts to grow and strengthen the sector continue. The Baseline Data Collection Exercise performed by ILDN, SERI, and Amarach Research in 2023 found that Ireland has over 4,300 social enterprises, whose services feed into a range of key community services, including childcare, health and social care, heritage and the arts, sport and leisure, housing, and the environment. The economic impact of the social enterprise sector is large and growing: revenues for the sector are estimated at €2.34bn, and around 84,000 people are employed within the sector, in addition to almost 75,000 volunteers.

Local Development Companies have a long and proud tradition of initiating and supporting social enterprises around the country that bring a multi layered set of benefits to disadvantaged communities in rural and urban Ireland.

Currently, approximately 40 LDCs employ a dedicated staff member to work with and support social enterprises in every part of Ireland. In addition, LEADER and SICAP programme staff work with social enterprises.

Supports include:

  • Local Development Companies exclusively operate the SICAP and LEADER Programmes which have social enterprise as component activities under EU Partnership Agreements.
  • Developing and directly managing social enterprises.
  • Strong experience in upskilling others to develop and manage social enterprises.
  • Provision of Governance supports to companies.
  • Using on-the-ground knowledge to ensure that services are relevant to local needs and making connections with local communities.
  • Pre-Enterprise Training Supports including ‘Start your Social Enterprise’ programme which is complemented by mentoring and advice.
  • Grant Assistance for Social Enterprise Start-up/Expansion: Grant assistance to social enterprises is allocated through a variety of programmes e.g. LEADER and SICAP.
  • Provision of Placements: The opportunity to employ individuals through activation and other schemes bridges an important resource gap for the social enterprises at the start-up and scaling stages. Schemes such as Community Employment Schemes, Tús, RSS and Job Initiative are the most frequently used programmes.
  • Meaningful training and employment opportunities for marginalised individuals who are in many instances excluded from mainstream employment opportunities (individuals with disabilities, ex-prisoners, ex-offenders, early school leavers etc).
  • Local Development Companies have developed training materials, template documents and information guides which are being used on multiple occasions and have potential for transferability and use by other companies.

These supports are embedded in broad sectors (e.g. childcare, heritage, horticulture, laundries, tourism, recycling, green projects etc) and across regions where there is market failure, both urban and rural. Many of our supports have been developed or refined based on research commissioned by ILDN from the Kemmy Business School in the University of Limerick, ‘Creating an Enabling Supportive Environment for the Social Enterprise Sector in Ireland.’ (2016)