Wexford Local Development (WLD) recently hosted a forum to explore the development of social enterprise throughout the county. The forum included interactive workshops together with presentations from successful local and national social enterprises.
The forum heard that social enterprises are essentially business models set up to tackle social, economic or environmental issues, driven by these motives they engage in trading or commercial activities to pursue their objectives and deliver social and community gain. Social enterprises can have a triple helix impact – economic, social and environmental through direct job creation as well as contributing to a wide range of community and social services. They provide job opportunities especially for those unable to access mainstream employment for a variety of reasons
According to Tom Bermingham of WLD’s enterprise team: “Social enterprises are generally well positioned to do what the private and public sectors are not doing. Like minded individuals working together and not for themselves or for profits can achieve great things”. Tom went on to say that “social enterprises must achieve the correct balance between the primary objective of the enterprise to achieve social impact and the business model that must generate sufficient income to support and deliver the social objectives. This is the big challenge and is a double-edged sword”.
Speaking at the forum, Brendan Ennis, the Group Chief Executive of Innovation Wexford, one of Ireland’s leading and proactive social entrepreneurial organisations based at Wexford Enterprise Centre on the Rosslare Road outlined the achievements of Innovation Wexford since it was established in 1986 to combat high levels of unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation within Co. Wexford. Employing 30 staff and led by a voluntary board of directors, through a number of initiatives during the past thirty years, they have supported the creation of more than one thousand jobs in the county. Their flagship Wexford Enterprise Centre officially opened in 1989 and is currently home to 33 companies who between them employ more than 150 staff. Brendan outlined that social enterprise and corporate social responsibility is at the core of everything they do.
Another speaker was Dr. Senan Cooke, founding member of both Dunhill Rural Enterprises Limited and Communities Creating Jobs Limited, based in rural Waterford. Senan is a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the implementation of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA). He is also a member of the Social Enterprise Task Force (SETF) working to promote the development of social enterprise. Senan spoke passionately about the need for communities to be self reliant, and the need for innovators in every community. He stated that by working together, people can be a powerful force in regenerating communities and the country. Speaking about the importance of volunteer commitment, he said that “Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless”.
Also speaking was Duncan Walker, Manager of Walkinstown Green Social Enterprises Ltd, based in Dublin. This not for profit company has renovated a derelict building and opened a new social enterprise comprising of the Green Kitchen Café & Garden Centre. Their aim is to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get an accredited qualification and progress to training, education or employment. Duncan also spoke about the role and benefits of the Irish Social Enterprise Network, which is the largest open and inclusive network for social enterprises, social entrepreneurs and social innovators in Ireland.
The forum provided an opportunity for communities to be inspired by experiences, to learn from each other and to put forward ideas for future action and collaboration. Through the current Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) and the upcoming LEADER Programme, in an effort to address economic decline and disadvantage in County Wexford, WLD is committed to promoting and supporting the further development of social enterprises as a viable and vibrant sector in the county.
WLD already work with a number of not-for-profit community organisations who deliver vital local services using the social enterprise model. The venue for the forum, St. Joseph’s Community Centre in Bishopswater, is one such community organisation. The organisation receives funding under the national Community Services Programme. WLD’s Community Development Team work with such groups to enhance administrative, governance and business planning skills and to support the development of social enterprise models in areas which experiences high levels of unemployment.