There is no legal definition of a social enterprise in Ireland. However, those involved in social enterprises believe in a fairer, more equal society, organised for the benefit of all, where business activity is used as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
Social enterprises could be described as businesses that trade for the common good rather than the unlimited gain of a few. They address social needs, strengthen communities, improve people’s life chances, enhance culture or protect the environment. They trade in a marketplace with the primary objective of social or environmental benefit.
An asset lock structure ensures any profits are reinvested back into the business rather than distributed to owners and on dissolution, any assets remaining are reinvested into another organisation with similar aims and objectives. They aspire to financial independence through trading, which sets them apart from other charities or voluntary organisations. Importantly also, they operate outside of the direct influence or control of public authorities.
An asset locked business structure, guarantees social enterprises do not distribute dividends and assets are protected in the event of future sale.
Social enterprises tend to be more prevalent in rural communities and act as a buffer to current economic policy where most new developments and employment opportunities go to Dublin at the expense of the rest of Ireland.
Social enterprises believe in a balanced economy which will achieve improved outcomes for all the people by working together in an enterprising way and in a more integrated economy where businesses work together for mutual benefit. Mutuality can only be achieved by people working together locally with the emphasis on supporting the local economy, local decision making and local services delivered by local providers.
Social enterprises believe this is best achieved by enterprises that put creating long term value and real jobs ahead of extracting short-term profit. They reject the assumption that the profit maximising behaviour of large companies will create wealth that ‘trickles down’ to the many when rural Ireland has seen jobs and profits exported with the benefits accruing to an elite few.