The FORFAS report aims to assess the potential for the social enterprise sector to contribute to job creation. The report appears to be a thorough review of the sector in Ireland with useful information on funding (includes EU funding) in particular. The review is also intended to inform policy formulation and inevitably has to tackle the issue of defining the social enterprise. The definition offered is:
- For the purposes of this study, a social enterprise has been defined 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 re- invested in the social objective.”1
A revision to this might be ‘an enterprise that trades to achieve a social/societal purpose’. This revision makes it clear that trade is secondary to the social purpose and is a means rather than an end. I’m probably being a little harsh but at times the report does read as if the more commericial you are and the bigger you are then the better social enterprise you are. That is inevitable I suppose with a government policy document but there is the risk of ignoring the potential for employment of smaller less ‘commercial’ (whatever that means) social enterprises. Furthermore, SE growth is a matter of nurturing an SE culture starting small and possibly moving bigger but at whatever size recognising that this is a third sector with its own identity.
The fieldwork in the report is useful emphasising the need for supportive frameworks for finance, legislation and capability. I might have got the wrong impression but it seemed that the report recommends, in order to achieve these, setting up more government type agencies. While this demonstrates commitment it would be good to think that SE type organisations could be created to manage these changes and interlinking possible with some government involvement, rather on the public/private mixed economy lines. Finally, the recommendation to mainstream SE in academic business curricula is one way to foster the SE culture and one that I totally support. But, as well, there needs to be promotion at the local level with possibly more supporting the involvement of the credit unions particularly with SE awareness and capability, after all they are not too distant a social form.
1. Forfas 2013. Social Enterprise in Ireland: Sectoral Opportunities and Policy Issues. Dublin: FORFAS.