Social Enterprise in Ireland

Social Enterprise – it’s moving forward! 

The Social Enterprise sector in Ireland offers approx. 25,000 – 35,000 jobs, about €1.4 billion in economic activity and addresses numerous challenges faced by Irish society.

A 2012 report from Forfas defines social enterprise in Ireland as “an enterprise that trades for a social/societal purpose, where at least part of its income is earned from its trading activity, is separate from government, and where the surplus is primarily reinvested in the social objective.”

Social Enterprise at Work – Recycle IT

The report also lists the four categories under which social enterprises trade

  • commercial opportunities that are established to create a social return;
  • employment opportunities for marginalized groups;
  • economic and community development organisations;
  • services delivery organisation

From experience, it can be said that these four categories almost always overlap and are shared objectives for many social enterprises.

The Social Enterprise Sector

There are an estimated 1400 Social Enterprises operating in communities all over Ireland. These include services such as meals on wheels, youth cafés, care organisations, creches, credit unions, leisure centres, community centres and a whole array of other businesses.  They offer essential services and tackle problems in society such as food poverty, housing or environmental issues.

In 2014 Forbes said “Ireland has a buoyant social enterprise sector, benefiting from a marked increase in the calibre of social entrepreneurs, and growing numbers of them.

Forbes also suggested social enterprises are contributing significantly to Ireland’s economic recovery, especially in job creation” It seems once Ireland formalizes the sector and introduces a national policy there will be an opportunity to grow jobs in the sector and deliver further services in rural and urban communities.


The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has been actively involved in the European social enterprise and social economy agenda for more than 10 years and supports social enterprise growth and development as a key element of the European social model.

2020 1 EU Social Enterprise
European Economic & Social Committee Click Here to Read

How is the Irish Social Enterprise Sector Viewed!

In 2016, the top 10 countries in the world for social enterprise action were recorded as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, Israel, Chile, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia and France. Ireland currently ranks in second-last place on the list according to research by the Thompson Reuters Foundation (2016)

The criteria used to determine if there is a favourable environment for social enterprise include:

  1. Conditions are favourable for social entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses
  2. Government policy supports social entrepreneurs
  3. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to get grant funding
  4. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to access investment (debt and/or equity)
  5. Social entrepreneurs can access the non-financial support they need (e.g. financial, legal and technical advice; access to markets and networks; coaching, mentoring and training)
  6. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to the government
  7. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to business
  8. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to sell to the public
  9. It is easy for social entrepreneurs to attract staff with the required skills
  10. The public understands what social entrepreneurs do
  11. Social entrepreneurs can make a living from their work in my country
  12. Social entrepreneurship is gaining momentum

The fact that Ireland is ranked 42nd out of 44 nations across the world suggests that social enterprise ideas and organisations face challenges right from the initial startup.

The Future

In early 2017, it was announced that regional economic development minister Michael Ring TD was to bring forward an Irish national policy for social enterprise some four years after a Forfas report recommended such an action.  This long-awaited policy can help Ireland create a well-defined social enterprise sector.

Once the sector has a formal and defined status there is potential to access funding for good ideas and combined with strong leadership these ideas can grow and develop to service the needs of many local communities, individuals and groups.

2020 2012 Forfas
Types of Social Enterprise Source: Forfas

Potential funding sources include the European Fund for Strategic Investment, a variety of grants as well as income from government tenders and business contracts for the delivery of services.

In July 2017,  the Dept of Rural and Community Development established a research partnership with the Social Finance Foundation for the purpose of carrying out targeted research and stakeholder engagement with the social enterprise sector to inform the development of the National Policy.

Speaking in the national parliament, Dáil Éireann in June 2018 Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring TD said: “The Action Plan for Rural Development includes a commitment to develop and publish a National Policy on Social Enterprise, which will encompass the full range of activity in the sector”.

National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 

The Department of Rural and Community Development published Ireland’s first-ever Social Enterprise Policy in July 2019.

The National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022 is focused on three key Objectives:

  • Building Awareness of Social Enterprise;
  •  Growing and Strengthening Social Enterprise and
  • Achieving Better Policy Alignment.

The National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland is part of a suite of policy initiatives from the Department of Rural and Community Development to support those who work with communities and disadvantaged groups. Other initiatives include a new Strategy for the Community and Voluntary Sectors and a new National Volunteering Strategy, both of which will be published this year.

Recycle IT – Rethink Ireland Awardee 2021

Social Enterprise at Work

Recycle IT operate an electrical recycling business in the social economy sector with the aim of creating social, economic and environmental value. Our team provide recycling services for communities and the market. Any profits generated are used to support social objectives which include a range of community-focused services.

Profit is not shared with company directors and the organisation has no commercial stakeholders. Our board is voluntary and any profits are reinvested in recycling operations. Recycle IT is a not-for-profit Social Enterprise.

Our awarding-winning recycling service is friendly and effective, yet not glamorous. Work is hard but offers real opportunities for training and skills development. Teamwork helps support our goals and everyone involved “works to do good” while simultaneously helping to ensure financial sustainability. There is a focused approach to identifying and managing revenue streams to support the company to cover operating costs and reinvest for the future.

What’s Good?

Social enterprise success generally means more social and/or environmental good with profits reinvested to deliver change.

Usually, social enterprises have more inclusive and diverse structures with women and men coming from a wide range of backgrounds to help start-ups, develop and lead organisations. Social enterprises work on a range of challenges using the tools of business to advance ideas and deliver services. Social Enterprise is likely to be more innovative and experiment more than traditional businesses as they work to fill gaps in the market that are of little interest to public sector bodies and profits are limited for the private sector companies. Finally, most work collaboratively and bring people on a journey of change.

Learn more about twelve Social Enterprises operating in Dublin: Click each one:

Click here to learn about the impact on communities when you decide to buy from a social enterprise.

Third Space
Aspire Productions
House of Akina
The Yard @ Solas Project.
Recycle IT
Walkinstown Green
Clean Slate

Social Enterprise Promotions Event and Supports

  1. SoCircular Trade Expo, Mansion House, Dublin 2, Wednesday 5th October 2022 – Learn more
  2. #getsocialdublin– Asking Citizens & Businesses to Support Social Enterprises –Learn more
  3. SocialiSE 2022 – The Summit for Social Enterprise – June 2022 Learn more and register
  4. Social Impact Ireland – Conversations of Impact – Impactful People – June 2022 – Learn more
  5. WISE Project – Launch – Directory of Work Integration Social Enterprises – June 2022 – Learn more
  6. Social Enterprise Dublin – six organisations identified, that by working together, they could deliver superior quality supports to Social Enterprise in Dublin. Learn more

About Recycle IT

Recycle IT is an award-winning social enterprise providing recycling collection and drop-off services for all types of waste electrical, electronic equipment (WEEE) and pure metal items.

Recycle IT services are provided in partnership with WEEE Ireland. Recycle IT is supported by the Department of Rural and Community Development, Dormant Accounts Fund, Pobal, South Dublin County Council and authorized by the National Waste Collection Permit Office and the local authorities across Leinster.

For further details about our free and cost-effective services call us on 01 4578321, email or visit the Recycle IT website at

Read about social enterprise funding here.

Recycle IT – Winners 2022

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