In this guest post, Gerard Doyle and Tanya Lalor of TSA Consultancy make the case for social enterprise to be part of any future stimulus programme.
For the past two years, economists and commentators have drawn attention to the urgency for a stimulus to re-invigorate the ailing Irish economy. With the exception of a small number of economists, this line of argument usually assumes that the private sector will be the only source of employment creation and should therefore be the focus of State resources.
Is this really the most effective use of limited resources?
We would argue that there are 65,000 reasons for including social enterprise in any future stimulus package - the Social Enterprise Task Force (The Social Enterprise Task Force (2010) ‘Adding Value Delivering Change – The Role of Social Enterprise in National Recovery’ Dublin) forecasts that 65,000 jobs could be created if the Government invested in a social enterprise strategy.
Social enterprises have a unique contribution to make because of a their differences to the private sector - the latter’s principle concern is with creating a return on investment for its shareholders, while social enterprise, in contrast, is motivated by a combination of social and economic objectives.
Social enterprises aim to enable communities to provide services that respond to community need; they are a mechanism for communities to have a greater level of control of their economic development; they provide employment and training opportunities for people out of work for a long time. These aims of social enterprises mean that they can serve as a catalyst for the economic regeneration of disadvantaged communities.
Because social enterprises are democratically controlled businesses, they do not wreak havoc on society - unlike the recent behaviour of our banks and many developers who have made woeful business decisions driven by greed. Indeed, social enterprises can play in important role in providing an example to private businesses that they have social as well as environmental responsibilities to society.
There are a number of sectors with particular employment potential for social enterprises.
For example, Ireland exports the bulk of its waste to Asia and mainland Europe for recycling and then purchases the recycled material back - this is crazy economics. If there was a change of mindset and waste was viewed as an asset, thousands of jobs could be generated. Waste could be handled by social enterprises already in existence, such as Sunflower recycling, which also provides training and a career path for long-term unemployed living in Dublin’s North Inner City.
Another sector is renewable energy. Ireland has some 6% of EU wind resources, and we are one of the richest countries in the world in terms of wind energy potential per capita. The renewable energy sector has the potential to generate thousands of jobs. One only has to look at Denmark to see the potential role social enterprise could play in providing employment an income for rural communities. Over 60% of Danish wind energy is generated by wind guilds - which are similar structures to cooperatives. There is no reason why this could not happen in Ireland - if social enterprises were to receive a contribution towards capital costs and increased prices for electricity supplied to the grid. Also, with a large dairy and beef industry, social enterprises could be formed in rural areas to generate energy from anaerobic digestion.
In urban communities, botched attempts at regeneration via public/private partnerships have left thousands of households living in substandard accommodation. Rather than repeating the same mistake by engaging in property developers, local authorities should support community organisations to become partners in the economic transformation of inner city areas. This is not a unique or alien concept - there are numerous examples of this approach being successful in the UK as well as North America - hardly bastions of alternative economics.
There has been a paralysis amongst policy makers when it comes to social enterprises - at a time when we appear to be bereft of ideas about where jobs may be created and sustained, surely the time has finally come for the potential of this sector to be acknowledged.