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What this election means for social enterprise and entrepreneurship

Posted by on March 3, 2016

What this election means for social enterprise and entrepreneurship

With the last few remaining seats for the 32nd Dáil decided this morning, we thought we’d take this time to reflect on the 2016 General Election, what it meant for social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in Ireland, and where we go from here. While it’s been all doom and gloom from political parties and pundits, is the situation really that bad for those of us trying to do our bit to further social innovation?

 

Political Uncertainty:

The obvious thing to point out is that we have yet to determine the shape and make-up of any potential government in the 32nd Dáil. While Fine Gael remains the largest party in the state, their coalition options are in short supply, with many senior members within the Fianna Fáil party making it perfectly clear that they have no interest in entering into a formal coalition with their historic rivals. Although many smaller parties and groupings have stated their interest in forming ‘constructive’ partnerships, their numbers simply won’t be enough to form any sort of stable government going forward.

So formal coalition options are hard to come by, but perhaps there is a way forward that allows for some governing to be done in 2016 at least. In the days following the vote, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have indicated a willingness to work with each other, although in the case of the latter it would be an agreement to work with Fine Gael from the opposition benches. This type of agreement – opposition support for a minority government on certain issues – presents both challenges and opportunities. While not the most stable form of government, it does allow us to avoid an immediate repeat of an election campaign, while making legislative and policy progress on a number of common areas of agreement.

 

Social Enterprise Reforms:

For the first time ever, all four major political parties outlined a number of social enterprise and entrepreneurship reforms they would introduce as part of their manifestos in 2016. While this in itself is not success, it is indicative of the progress being made in highlighting the economic and social value of these sectors at a political level. It’s also important because in an increasingly unpredictable and divisive political environment, it’s one of the few areas all political parties seem to agree on. This presents the sector with a big opportunity to implement some important reforms over the next 12-18 months. Let’s not waste it.

Looking closely at the commitments made by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil (the only two parties with enough seats to win a majority in the 32nd Dáil), both parties seem to agree that progress can be made on developing social enterprise in three key areas; political leadership, business supports, and an improved financial environment.

Broadly speaking Fine Gael have committed to ensuring the “continued growth of the social enterprise sector”. They propose doing this through a combination of accessible finance, educational initiatives, and increasing awareness of supports currently available. More specifically, they promise to ensure that any SME, commercial or social, receives high quality mentoring, and support from Ireland’s Local Enterprise Office (LEO) network.

Fianna Fáil for their part agree, stating that they will extend the role of LEOs even further, establishing social enterprise-specific training courses and broadening out financial guarantees to assist in the attraction of investment. They also committed to measuring social enterprise activity in Ireland as part of future CSO business surveys, helping to improve access to data in relation to the size and influence of the sector. Finally, Fianna Fáil also made a clear commitment to move social enterprise under the remit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation – the Department with oversight over existing and future enterprise support delivery.

 

Demanding Action:

The overlap in commitments here is clear, and requires us all to insist that social enterprise and entrepreneurship form a core part of any SME/enterprise strategy agreed by these two parties over the coming weeks and months. This will mean SEI working with our sector colleagues to drive this message home, but it also requires individual entrepreneurs and organisations making their views clear to their newly elected representatives also. For anyone interested in getting in touch with their local TDs, please click here to find more details on those elected in 2016.

 

In the meantime, we at least have the launch of the 2016 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards to enjoy. Regardless of political circumstances, we’ve got €600,000 worth of funding and support to give out to 9 social entrepreneurs this year. More details on our Awards can be found by clicking here, and please do spread the word to let others know if we might be of use to them.

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