Social Economy Industry ripe for growth

By May 24, 2011Corporate, Newsroom – A new website sowing the seeds of a productive relationship between Northern Ireland’s burgeoning social enterprises and the public and private sectors has been launched this month.

The vast range of goods and services contained in the new online social enterprise trade directory reflects the sector’s rapid development into a mature group of professional companies that are competing on an equal footing with private businesses.

The directory, which is run jointly by the Social Economy Network and Work West and funded by Strategic Investment Board (SIB), aims to bring together this diverse range of businesses in order to help them continue to grow., makes it easy for the user to search by product, business name or sector giving potential customers better access to the products and services provided by social enterprises across Northern Ireland.

“The social economy in Northern Ireland has grown and matured in the past ten years; It is estimated that there are 1000 social enterprises with more than 6000 employees and 5000 volunteers and a combined turnover of £335 million per year.

“While these companies support social objectives, they all put business first; they are professional and driven to succeed,” said Anne Graham, director of the Social Economy Network.

“The advantage of trading with a social enterprise is that in addition to receiving a quality product or service, all the profits made by social enterprises go back into the company or the community they serve and are used to fund social and environmental goals.”

Mary McKee, Strategic Advisor with SIB with responsibility for social regeneration initiatives said. “SIB is delighted to be associated with this initiative to assist social economies better promote themselves and the services they offer.  Social economies have an important role to play in delivering social benefits and this initiative is very much in keeping with the spirit of the social regeneration pillar in the Executive’s Investment Strategy.”
Social enterprises are businesses with primarily social objectives – they undertake economic activity for social gain. As with all businesses, they compete to deliver goods and services but a social purpose is at the heart of what they do. Profits are reinvested towards achieving that purpose rather than being driven by maximising profit for shareholders and owners. is divided into 21 categories by product or service demonstrating the range of businesses in the sector. From counselling to construction, horticulture to housing, and finance to food, there’s a social economy business in Northern Ireland.
“There’s been a huge emphasis on training within the sector and businesses are now competing on a much higher level. To support them in this, we have added a page on public sector procurement to help them tender for Government contracts,” said Claire Ferris, manager of Work West enterprise agency.

She added that the directory will be a useful resource for public sector organisations such as local councils and also for private sector companies who are interested in corporate social responsibility.

“Companies interested in doing business with a social enterprise will be able to use the directory. All information about goods and services provided in this sector will be easily accessible,” she said.
Social enterprises are encouraged to register on the site