Year: 2023


Social Enterprises in Ireland: A Baseline Data Collection Exercise



This report represents the first comprehensive baseline data collection exercise of the social enterprise sector in the Republic of Ireland. The work was commissioned by the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) and carried out by a consortium consisting of Amárach Research, Social Enterprise Republic of Ireland (SERI) and the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN), supported by two Social Enterprise researchers. Significant engagement was required with a number of organisations to obtain the information required for the exercise. The project team is indebted to those contributors.

Its principal purpose was to establish a reliable evidence base necessary for successful State policy development and delivery for the social enterprise sector in Ireland. The focus of the exercise was on five key data areas:

  1. (i)  identification of the number of social enterprises in Ireland;
  2. (ii)  geographical coverage;
  3. (iii)  sectors of activity;
  4. (iv)  nature and levels of staffing and volunteer engagement; and
  5. (v)  the contribution to the economy and sources of income.

It provides a 2022 snapshot of the sector against which future data collection exercises can be compared.


The scope of this exercise was governed by the current definition of a social enterprise as outlined in the National Social Enterprise Policy 2019-2022. This definition is aligned with OECD and EU definitions. It defines a social enterprise as:

“an enterprise whose objective is to achieve a social, societal or environmental impact, rather than maximising profit for its owners or shareholders. It pursues its objectives by trading on an ongoing basis through the provision of goods and/or services and by reinvesting surpluses into achieving social objectives. It is governed in a fully accountable and transparent manner and is independent of the public sector. If dissolved, it should transfer its assets to another organisation with a similar mission” (Government of Ireland, 2019, p. 8).

Several inclusions/exclusions were agreed. Credit unions are recognised as being an integral part of the broader social economy. However, the credit union sector in Ireland is sizable and is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland with data readily available. Therefore, they were omitted from this exercise. In the case of Section 38, Section 39 and Section 56 health/social care organisations and sporting organisations, it was agreed that where these organisations were identified by social enterprise support organisations and/or completed the survey and self-declared as social enterprises, they were included.