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Unlocking the Potential of Social Entrepreneurs: Insights from the National Social Enterprise Conference 2023

Jo Sachs Eldridge at the SEI Booth at the National Social Enterprise Conference 2023

Jo Sachs Eldridge, Programme Manager at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland recently attended the National Social Enterprise Conference 2023 on behalf of the team. These are her reflections from the day.

At Social Entrepreneurs Ireland we often talk about the journey of a social entrepreneur – a journey that starts with the seed of an idea. With the right support, that idea can grow, making an impact that goes beyond the organisation itself, eventually affecting change at a systems level.

The social enterprise sector feels like it has been on a similar journey. The National Social Enterprise Conference 2023 can be viewed as a celebration of how far Ireland has come in changing the conversation and improving the policy landscape for social enterprises.

The National Social Enterprise Conference 2023 – Unlocking the Potential of Social Enterprises

The National Social Enterprise Conference 2023 took place on Thursday, 16th November 2023, in the Shearwater Hotel, Ballinasloe. Co. Galway. The conference was hosted by the Department of Rural and Community Development and was attended by over 200 social enterprise leaders, policymakers, and practitioners from across Ireland.

The theme of the conference was “Unlocking the Potential of Social Enterprises”, and it explored the role of social enterprises in addressing social and environmental challenges, including showcasing innovative work that social enterprises are doing across Ireland.

Government’s Commitment to Social Change – National Social Enterprise Policy

In her opening address, Minister Humphreys said that the government is committed to supporting the growth of the social enterprise sector in Ireland. She said that the government will be publishing a new National Social Enterprise Policy in early 2024, which sets out a number of actions to support social enterprises, including increasing access to finance, improving access to markets, and strengthening social impact measurement.

This second National Social Enterprise Policy sits alongside the findings from the OECD report on the Irish social enterprise sector – a report which was launched at the conference. Ireland, as one of the 30+ countries assessed as part of this report, fairs well in many areas regarding social enterprises – something we can all be proud of. The social enterprise sector in Ireland is growing rapidly and is already making a significant contribution to the Irish economy.

Celebrating the #SEIalumni representation on the day

We, in Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, look forward to being part of the conversation around the national policy changes and continuing to work with stakeholders across the sector dedicated to accelerated social change through the power of people.

It’s almost twenty years since Social Entrepreneurs Ireland opened its doors to social entrepreneurs who needed our support on a journey that can be lonely, challenging and risky.

Over those twenty years, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland have been privileged to play a role in the journey of many social entrepreneurs, including many of those involved in the National Social Enterprise Conference 2023, such as:

  • Conference co-host, Tammy Darcy, CEO of The Shona Project, 2017 SEI Impact Awardee, Adapt Awardee in 2020
  • Conference panel expert, Pádraic Hogan, Co-Founder of jumpAgrade – 2019 SEI Impact Awardee and 2022 Scale Partner
  • Featured social entrepreneurs, Malú Colorin & Christina Keawwantha, Founder of Fibreshed Ireland, 2022 SEI Ideas Academy Graduate and 2023 Action Lab participant
  • Eileen McHugh, Founder of Hair Together – 2022 SEI Impact Awardee 2022, whose powerful story of change was the perfect end to the conference.

People Powered Social Change – Collaboration to Changing Ireland

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, alongside SERI, local development companies, LEOs, Rethink Ireland, local and national government, corporates and all the other big and small players in this sector, are all part of the fabric which allows social entrepreneurs to increase their impact.

Today, doors are opening all over the country to social entrepreneurs – doors that all help make that journey a bit easier and more likely to bring about the changes we all know will make a difference.

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