The Net-Works project study visit to Dublin!

The Net-Works project study visit to Dublin!

Project - 29-09-2022

On Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st September, the Net-Works project partners met in Dublin for a study visit to various WISEs and exchange about WISEs networks and policies.


On Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st September, the Net-Works project partners met in Dublin for a study visit to various WISEs and exchange about WISEs networks and policies. The partners visited two WISEs Siel Blue Social Enterprise and Caffe Together and exchanged with the Irish Social Enterprises network about their work and with the Dublin City Council about their policy to develop social entrepreneurship on their territories. Initiative for Development and Cooperation – IDC, one of the partners in the project, reports about it.


Venue: Siel Blue Social Enterprise

Siel Bleu Ireland provides adapted physical activity programmes for Ireland’s senior populations and those managing chronic disease. It aims to deliver exercise programmes that are accessible and affordable all Ireland’s inhabitants, irrespective of cultural, social or economic background.

Thomas McCabe, National Manager, presented the social enterprise. Originally Siel Blue is a French based organisation founded in Strasbourg in 1997. But thanks to the support and the funding of the European Commission, they were able to expand their work in Belgium (2009), Ireland (2010), Spain, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland.

Siel Bleu Ireland delivers physical activity programs to over 5800 members of Ireland’s older population, or people living with chronic diseases or physical and intellectual disabilities. They are active in 32 counties around Ireland. The programs are tailored to meet the needs of every group that they are working with and they are prepared by an highly qualified team of physical trainers. The oldest person they are working with is a man who lives in a nursing home in North County Dublin who is 104 years of age. Overall Siel Bleu Ireland employs 50 people. They developed a programme called “Move More, Stay Active”, which won the Dublin City SE award 2019 and aimed, at its beginning to over 200 members of Dublin City’s older population. This is a free program which is rolled out for 15 weeks with all the participants. With Covid outbreak they move the activities online. Currently, they are working with about 15,000 people a week, and they have full nationwide coverage.

Chris MM Gordon, from the Irish Social Enterprises Network (ISEN), reminded the diversity in social enterprises: there are indeed charitable enterprises, companies limited by guarantee, normal companies completed their shares the whole range of different types of companies in Republic of Ireland.

ISEN has an office in Dublin City University on the north side of Dublin, but they also use their members’ offices. To present the sector, he started by presenting the overall situation in Ireland.

He then made an history of social economy in the country. 120 years ago or so in Ireland people formed cooperatives, where people would cross fields to help their neighbour bring in the harvest, or they would purchase things in bulk, or have grain silos together. But afterwards, this tradition was lost and the situation in Ireland today is the opposite. There are mainly private companies selling products and services for a profit and charities. As an overview, there's about 300,000 companies in Ireland's registered an about 30,000 our community and voluntary sector organisations. Among those there are about 10,000 registered charities. Charities are therefore only a small portion, around 5%, of corporate organisations. In between private sector and charities you can find social enterprises that also sell products or services, and put profits back into the organisation to be able to help more people and become more sustainable. At ISEN, the members are mostly organisations that have to sell something to become a social enterprise, but the extent to which they sell things is debated, they often need other sources of funding (donation for example), which is not always compatible with their status. Another possibility is to create a charity with a trading arm, such as charity shops. However, the largest part of revenues for charities is donation, not the shops. The purpose of those shops is not to make money but to be better recognised by the public as a charity. There is also a possibility for commercial businesses to set up social mission, but they're not quite a social enterprise. For instance, Patagonia is a privately owned company worth billions, but it's registered as a B Corporation in the United States, who is engaged towards environmental protection and its activities are independently verified. The goal is to be good for the community and for workers.

In Ireland there is no legal binding definition of social enterprise, but they have a policy definition and that creates, in practice, some problems.


Work of Irish Social Enterprise Network

ISEN is the national body for social enterprises in Ireland and it is based in three core pillars in which they work:

  • Advocacy - Advocacy is about lobbying and making sure that people can change policy and government law to affect change for their members.
  • Education – Education is mainly dedicated to the social enterprises, including their board, staff and management aiming to provide them knowledge and skills to improve. They also provide external education for everybody from school age children to university, to policymakers and the general public in order to raise awareness about social enterprises.
  • Network – Networking is linked with events and creating activities. The key point in the Irish social enterprise network is to point people in the right direction to get their idea on the ground, or their organisation to the next level. They do not necessarily provide the support and services but pointing people to the providers of services and support that they need. However, to the certain extend they do provide support.

The network is founded in 2012 as a part of a programme that was run by Dublin City University. The network is not financially supported by the government.

ISEN drafted a first National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019 -2022 with a focus on three key objectives:

1. Building Awareness of Social Enterprise;

2. Growing and Strengthening Social Enterprise and

3. Achieving Better Policy Alignment.

The Policy sets out a series of 26 commitments on the part of Government across these three objectives for the development of social enterprise over the period 2019-2022. These commitments will be delivered in partnership with social enterprises stakeholders. The objective of the policy is to support social enterprise to grow in scale and impact. Moreover, ISEN supports work with the Department of Community and Rural Affairs and the Social Finance Foundation on bringing a National Strategy to Social Enterprise in Ireland.

Venue: Caffe Together (Together Academy)

The partners then went to eat at the Caffe Together. The Together Academy is a unique college and social enterprise café in Dublin, which provides people with Down syndrome specialised certified training, on the job experience, future work placements and a critical social and support network. They aim to transform the employment prospects and lives of young adults with Down syndrome in Ireland. It started in Dublin in 2021, as a catering and hospitality based educational college and social enterprise café. It is designed for a future national roll out to fulfil a huge unmet demand throughout the country.


Wednesday September 21, 2022

Venue: Dublin City Council

The participants of the study visit had opportunity to get familiar with the work of Dublin City Council towards social enterprises. Mary MacSweeney, Deputy Head of Enterprise and Economic Development and Norman Thompson, shared the main pillars of the supports, examples of good practice, and main challenges in this field. It is worth acknowledging the lack of legal framework of social enterprises in the Republic of Ireland, indeed, there is no legally binding definition of social enterprises. However, there is an commonly accepted definition:

“A social enterprise is an enterprise whose objective is to achieve a societal or environmental impact, rather than maximising profit for its owners or shareholders. It pursues its objective 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.”

One of the main activity of the City Council is the Dublin City Social enterprise awards. In this process a lot of governmental departments are included, including national government departments, the Department of Foreign Community Development and so on. In terms of the actual awards, it's focused on helping social enterprises to develop in the city. The funds it's usually 50,000 to 60,000 euros. This amount is split among maybe six or eight different social enterprises. Examples of the SE awards that were presented are following:

  1. Frontline Bikes – Established to provide training and employment for those struggling with addiction problems and ex – offenders, Frontline Bikes makes and sells unique, upcycled bicycles. Each bicycle is created by people who are participating in upskilling accredited training and overall re-integration programme.
  2. House of AKI-NA – supports migrants/refugees/asylum seekers women and young people through providing workshops, training, and employment opportunities. Participants are trained and ethically paid to make bespoke fashion, personal and home accessories in line with fair trade standards.
  3. Pocket Forests – It aims to make the city more liveable by creating new and enhanced urban, green outdoor spaces. They collaborate with local communities, schools and organisation to utilise unused spaces to plant small native forests while using locally sourced recycled waste materials.

So far the award funded 44 SE projects for 394,500 euros.

SE are supported in the field of training, mentoring and resources. In the field of training course and collaborations (VCC/TUD), management development course (PLATO). The participant heard more about the event SoCircular that is going to be organised in October 2022. It is an event to celebrate Dublin’s social and circular economy ecosystem and culture. The speakers also presented a brochure that showcase the Dublin City Social Enterprise awardees from 2015 to 2021, and their work to support marginalised and vulnerable people. The brochure has been shared with different stakeholders in the city to encourage the support towards social enterprises.

The speaker presented a social enterprise toolkit that is used to gather important and relevant information about SEs.

Finally, they presented several social enterprises active in Dublin:

  • Bee8 - It is an environmentally and socially sustainable social enterprise based in Dublin 8. It seeks to enhance biodiversity, increase green space, and provide education and employment opportunities for local people. This is especially important as within the areas that Bee8 works, green space allocation, education attainment and employment levels are particularly low. The various activities that Bee8 is involved in include managing beehives in several locations across Dublin 8, delivering beekeeping classes and working with local schools and other organisations on projects that enhance the local natural environment. Through the training programmes and events that Bee8 provides, local people connect with each other while enhancing and learning about their community environment. The honey harvested by the trained, local beekeepers is sold locally, with all revenue reinvested to further develop the social enterprise.
  • Coffee with character – It is designed, owned, and managed by PACE Social Enterprise, our social mission is to create sustainable jobs for people who have experienced prison or probation and now find it hard to secure employment.
  • Great Care Co-op - It is Ireland’s first carer-run Home Care co-operative. Supporting with health and medical care, elderly population.
  • In Our Shoes Walking Tours – It is a community social enterprise. employing local people which ensures all the earnings remain here in our neighbourhood. Any profits are reinvested in the company to train more guides and provide more local employment.

After the meeting in Dublin City Council the members of study group visited Social Enterprise Third Space coffee.