What is a social enterprise

Analysis: for social enterprises, having a positive social, societal or environmental impact is often more important than making a profit

A social enterprise is like any other business; they have a product or service to sell and need to be financially viable to survive. But unlike traditional business ventures, social enterprises prioritize creating social, societal or environmental impact. The profits of a social enterprise are largely reinvested to enhance its social impact. A social enterprise has the social goals of a charity, but combines them with the business model of a commercial enterprise.

Social enterprises can be found in a range of different spaces. For example, they can provide employment opportunities for people from marginalized communities, provide a service at an affordable rate, or focus on achieving specific environmental goals. They support areas of society where there is a social or environmental need, but are not an attractive offer for for-profit companies. To ensure they remain financially viable, social enterprises must be continually innovative and creative in the way they operate to achieve social impact, often leveraging a combination of volunteers, pro bono support, donations or funding. impact investments.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Ray D’Arcy, interview with Brian O’Toole and Gilly Taylor about their environmental social enterprise Wildacres

The social enterprise movement is growing. According to a recent study by Social Enterprise UK, there are approximately 11 million social enterprises worldwide. Ireland is currently conducting its own census of social enterprises and it is estimated that around 1,400 social enterprises operate across the country.

Social enterprises can highlight underrepresented communities. Her Sport, for example, created a media platform to draw attention to the under-representation of women in sports media coverage. Although 41% of sports participants are women, only 6% of sports media coverage in Ireland focused on women. This lack of female role models contributes to the fact that by the age of 14, girls drop out of sports twice as often as boys, which has a long-term impact on their physical and mental health.

Renowned Dutch social enterprise chocolate maker Tonys Chocoloney has pledged to ensure farmers supplying their cocoa receive a decent wage. Now a household name internationally, their business model has inspired others to implement better supply chain practices.

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From Tony’s Chocolonely, the story of an unusual chocolate bar

In Ireland, Traveler unemployment rates are as high as 88% and Travelers continue to experience high levels of racism and stigma. Social enterprises such as Bounceback Recycling and Shuttleknit work hard to support the travel community with employment opportunities that remove barriers to employment and support the transition to mainstream employment.

The environmental and human cost of fast fashion has been well documented, so it is imperative that our relationship with fast fashion ends. Thriftify has created an online platform that makes second-hand shopping much more convenient and accessible to everyone. 98% of charity shops in Ireland now use the platform, ensuring that buying second-hand clothing has never been easier.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s The Business, Thriftify founder Rónán Ó Dálaigh on bringing charity shops online in Ireland and the UK

Finding a job with a criminal record is very difficult and PACE creates jobs for people who have experienced prison or probation and are having difficulty finding employment. Preparing people to move into mainstream employment and helping to change the attitude of potential employers towards ex-convicts who want and try to change their lives. PACE runs two social enterprises: the Mugshot coffee shack based in the Four Courts and a business that makes handcrafted garden furniture.

The digital printing and design company Triest Press provides employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. According to a recent IBEC study, a person with a disability is twice as likely to be unemployed in Ireland. Triest Press has trained over 50 people with disabilities over the past five years.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime, Della Kilroy talks to homeless people training to become tour guides as part of social enterprise My Streets Ireland

Fortunately, more and more people are willing to align their economic choices with their values ​​and are looking for ways that allow them to do so. Social enterprises offer this opportunity. As the public, we can support and support social enterprises to increase their impact on society by being more socially aware when considering where we are spending resources.

Choosing to buy into social enterprises personally or professionally makes a difference. As we all strive to create a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable society, social enterprises are stepping forward and setting the blueprint for getting there.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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