21st century Ireland will need social change at scale and that is the role of social enterprise

This guest post was written by our Project Director as part of our involvement in the Department of Rural & Community Development Awareness Raising initiatives for Social Enterprise (ARISE) Scheme. Funding for this scheme is provided from the Dormant Accounts Fund.



In 2015 as CEO of Startup Ireland I wrote a guest post entitled “If "software is eating the world" where will new jobs come from by 2030?”. Based on my dissertation for my final year in university I came to the conclusion that any business process that can be broken down into a series of steps can be productised and automated through software. Therefore as AI automated more domains that were previously the preserve of human work the question arose as to how would the jobs be created to replace those lost to automation.


My post made the case that we need social enterprises, businesses for social good, to be made centre stage by Government due to their potential to create jobs. While at the moment Government policy is largely focussed on the job creation by private sector businesses this must change if social enterprises are to fulfil their potential.


We are entering a phase where this change of mindset is of critical important. We all know that the world is changing rapidly and that, due to the pandemic, we are experiencing the new century's first transition in the nature of employment - the fundamental change in the nature of how and where we do our work.


Lurking around the corner is the next major transition - the change in the amount and nature of the work available. We believe that the 'jobless growth' of high tech companies means that social enterprise will become a significant creator of new jobs by 2030. 2030 will see far more of us earning a living from social enterprises which will operate across a wide range of industrial sectors, with the most popular being social assistance, education and training, and work integration. The recent framing of the Government’s ‘Living Wage’ is a first step on this journey towards adapting to the changing nature of work available.


So what are social enterprises?

  • A social enterprise is a business that works primarily to improve the lives of people. The business of social enterprise is social good.

  • Social enterprise is a business that operates to meet a social need. Social enterprises generate profits that are reinvested, rather than distributed among shareholders, as in the case of most businesses.

  • Social enterprises operate in all areas of Ireland’s social and economic life, trading in goods and services, and re-investing any profit into delivering their mission in communities.

  • Social enterprises use a business-plus model, which emphasises social need and the re-investment of profit into their core mission.

  • Social enterprises are professionally run enterprises, willing and able to deliver on a range of social and economic requirements.

  • They are entrepreneurial, innovative, and impactful. They improve the lives of people and are established to address significant societal challenges.

Our call to people interested in creating a social enterprise


We all love our home towns or the places we live that remind us of our home towns. Our DigitalHQ ‘Digital First Communities’ model can support the regeneration of the locality you live in, in particular the activation of vacant buildings.

The accelerating rate of social change being brought about by the Green & Digital Transitions calls for a new form of flexible response at the grassroots level. Social enterprises, in the form of what we call ‘Digital Growth Hubs’, can help future-proof communities across rural Ireland by creating and sustaining 'Digital First Communities' in their locality.

As a new addition to the traditional B2C and B2B business landscape to a town, social enterprises in the form of ‘Digital Growth Hubs’ will become essential engines of growth in their locality and empower its transition to the 21st century.

Not only will ‘Digital Growth Hubs’ enable traditional and innovation driven businesses to thrive locally but they will seed and support other new social enterprises. Why, because they are creators of jobs that will never be automated or replaced by the web, they will always be local.


The new era of local social enterprises will make places more 'livable in' by filling the gaps in services and experiences of the locality providing local services in the catchment area that fill gaps in service provision or nationally through digitally facilitated service provision thereby adding to the social and economic fabric of their community in turn contributing to inclusive growth.


Call to Action - Get started on your 'Digital First Community' now


Places that market themselves most effectively stand to gain the most.​

The main benefit of a social enterprise driving a Digital First Community in their locality is its momentum in coordinating the energy and commitment of localities, small businesses and social enterprises through their local ConnectedHub.


By embedding a 'Digital First Community' operating out of their hub, localities can mobilise around their economic development at scale in a sustained way with the hub being at the heart of this.


For more information on our 'Digital First Communities' framework and to register your interest in getting started see our website.


Call to Action to Government - Put Social Enterprises 'Businesses for Social Good' on an equal footing with Private Sector Businesses


Social Enterprises will be the enablers of positive change but we need to empower them to do this. As CEO of Startup Ireland I commended the Government on providing what is probably the world's most comprehensive range of supports for early stage and growth businesses due to their job creation ability.


The list of supports available to private sector businesses is significant:

  • Innovation Vouchers

  • Feasibility Study Grants

  • Grants to hire new employees

  • Back to Work Enterprise Allowances

  • New Frontiers national entrepreneur development programme

  • Competitive Start Fund investment

  • High Potential Startup Unit investment

  • Business Angel Funding Network

  • Start-Up Relief for Entrepreneurs (SURE)

  • R&D Funding allowances

  • Specialist training programmes (lean, Digitalisation etc) from Enterprise Ireland and LEOs

  • Skillnet subsidised training programmes

Then there are a wide range of organisations that directly support business growth from the National Digital Research Council accelerator programmes to BIC (Business Innovation Centres) located across the country.


We must now start the process of making these supports available to Social Enterprises as these will be the new job creators of the next 10 years.

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