Social Enterprises in Ireland: A Baseline Data Collection Exercise


On May 25th, the Department of Rural and Community Development published Social Enterprises in Ireland A Baseline Data Collection Exercise. The work leading to this report was undertaken by Amárach Research, SERI, and ILDN.

In the current National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland (NSEPI),which covers the period 2019-2022, it noted that “A lack of understanding of what social enterprises are, and what they do, has also contributed to a general lack of awareness of social enterprises in Ireland and has made it difficult to collect reliable data on their social and economic impact.” (p6)

Amongst the policy measures listed in the NSEPI were numbers 23 and 24 which sought to:

  • Improve data collection relating to the extent of social enterprise in Ireland and the areas in which social enterprises operate.
  • Develop mechanisms to measure the social and economic impact of social enterprises across the full spectrum of social enterprise. (p23)

The definition used in the NSEPI for a social enterprise is as follows:

  • A Social Enterprise is an enterprise whose objective is to achieve a social, societal or environmental impact, rather than maximising profit for its owners or shareholders.
  • It pursues its objectives by trading on an ongoing basis through the provision of goods and/or services, and by reinvesting surpluses into achieving social objectives.
  • It is governed in a fully accountable and transparent manner and is independent of the public sector. If dissolved, it should transfer its assets to another organisation with a similar mission. (p8)

Amongst the Key Findings of Social Enterprises in Ireland A Baseline Data Collection Exercise the authors note there are 4,335 social enterprises in Ireland. That over two-thirds of them are “concentrated in four sectors: Childcare; Community Infrastructure & Local Development; Health, Youth Services & Social Care; Heritage Festivals, Arts & Creative Industry”. (p38)

Under the heading of employment they note that there are:

  • 79,114 of employees within the social enterprise sector (84,382 including contractors)
    • 46.9% part-time workforce
    • 68.8% of social enterprises workforce are women (of which 69% work part-time)
    • 60.2% of social enterprises, with paid staff, employ people through Activation Labour Market Programmes (ALMP), especially in rural areas (65%)

Within the conclusions they state that “Social enterprises in Ireland are generating meaningful social, economic and environmental impact. Their mission focus is particularly important in the context of the green transition and in realising Ireland’s objectives related to job creation, inclusiveness,  regional development and sustainability.

The data indicates the diversity of the sector, the cross-sectoral work and resourcefulness of social enterprises, the opportunities and challenges related to employment and volunteering, the contribution to the economy and the small size but increasing relevance and growing potential of this dynamic sector.”  (p39)

Amongst the lessons learnt, the authors note “This baseline data collection project can establish solid pillars and set realistic expectations for the recognition, promotion, and policy development of the social enterprise sector in Ireland. It provides the first comparable data to draw upon for future (more developed) exercises. Further fine-grain and more in-depth analysis of subsectors of activity, spatial dimension, financial performance, and governance, among other variables, remain of interest for future endeavours.” (p41)

A copy of the report is available linked here.