Social Enterprise Exchange Regional Report

Executive Summary

Published June 2024

Social Enterprise Exchange Social Economy – at the centre of regional transition Executive Summary Social Enterprises are defined as organisations that trade for social purposes. Social Enterprises are known to be agile, responsive and situated at the heart of their community. The Social Economy is the ecosystem which pioneers new social enterprise business models, contributes to job creation, responds to green, fair and digital transition.

The social economy of the midlands region sits in the nexus of three critical policy drivers: Just Transition, Rural Development and Clustering. Each programme policy proposes values such as sustainable employment, participatory democracy, social cohesion, social inclusion and the value of partnership and collaboration. These values create a perfect climate for social enterprise.

Four themes emerge from the review of Irish and European policy and research literature on social enterprises:

  • The need for regional leadership, co-ordination, and cross-sectoral collaboration.
  • Policy positioning of the profit-for-purpose sector, relative to the business-for-profit sector.
  • Finance tailored for the social enterprise sector.
  • The need for a social impact measurement to document the true contribution of social enterprises.

Further, a selection of case studies explore policy requirements and implications: from the EU, national, regional, and local levels. Invited to Ireland by Social Enterprise Exchange, REVES (the European Network of Social Enterprises) emphasised the need for cross-sectoral initiatives and alliances, linking different strands of local development strategies into a cohesive plan for the region. Scotland is considered a world leader in social enterprise by many. Their experience illustrates the importance of collaboration within the sector, aligned with streamlined accessible supports and information, underpinned by a single voice to represent the sector. Scotland’s smart government funding for social enterprise is securing social dividends for its participants and the wider community.

The 2024 Social Enterprise Exchange study-visit to Navarre demonstrated the value of close partnerships between the regional government, local authorities, and the social enterprise sector. A decentralised budget allows Navarre to set and fund specific targets that increase the economic and social wellbeing of the entire region. This flexibility to pivot and steer Social Enterprise needs in a way which can adjust to (in a timely fashion) regional requirements, allows for the welfare of regional communities to be met and adjusted where necessary.

To address the specific needs of a region, Local Authorities can strive to align resources and to create collaborations across sectors and across counties for the benefit of the entire region. Social Enterprise Exchange has commenced and can continue to build on the social economy dialogue in this Irish Just Transition region. This ability to forge essential relationships between social enterprises and local authorities is a critical next step towards the ambition of increasing the social & economic regional performance good for the 21st century of this region in transition.

A survey of 30 Social Enterprises conducted by Social Enterprise in the Just Transition region of Ireland, highlighted the disparate nature of support and sources of funding available to social enterprise. Core funding for social enterprises is essential to reduce the complexity and administrative processes which hinder meeting the needs of local society and the local environment.

This report points to social economy & social enterprise initiatives which address the specific needs of this region in transition. The regional Local Authorities network to create a regional framework which creates collaborations across sectors and across counties for the benefit of the entire region. Social Enterprise Exchange has forged essential relationships between social enterprises and local authorities in the midlands just transition region. A further key learning is the mechanism of public and private procurement quotas, which in tandem with the purchase of social or environmental credits by larger companies, could animate a regional public funding strategy, along with improving the short-and long-term financial sustainability of social economy organisations. The report concludes that all social economy initiatives need to record reliable data in order to improve visibility and to foster better understanding of the contribution to the national economy.

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