Understanding social enterprises, National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2018-2022

Extract from the Government of Ireland’s National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2018-2022 draft paper.

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Defining Social Enterprise

Many definitions of social enterprise exist globally and a wide variety of organisational forms are adopted by social enterprises around the world. The definition also varies depending on geographic region and cultural backgrounds.


Up to now, there has been no single accepted definition of social enterprise in an Irish context and this has created an inherent difficulty in measuring the prevalence and impact of social enterprises. In order to direct appropriate supports to where they are needed, and to develop metrics around the extent and impact of social enterprise, it is important to define what we mean when we refer to social enterprises in an Irish context.


Arising from the work of the research project and subsequent consultation with key stakeholders, the following definition is used in this Policy to describe social enterprises in an Irish context:

A Social Enterprise is an enterprise whose objective is to achieve a social impact rather than making a profit for its owners or shareholders.


It pursues its social objectives by trading – or having an ambition to trade – on an ongoing basis through the provision of goods and/or services, and by reinvesting any surpluses made into achieving its social objectives.


It is governed in an accountable and transparent way by a voluntary Board and is independent of the public sector. If dissolved, it must transfer its assets to another organisation with a similar mission.

Social enterprises are distinguished from for-profit enterprises and other organisations by displaying all of the characteristics outlined above.


The definition used is consistent with definitions of social enterprises at EU and OECD level.