by Liam Fleming, founder of Siul Eile, Walking Programmes

Personally rewarding

Being part of the social enterprise space in Ireland is personally rewarding although there is also definite frustration at how social enterprise is rolled out in Ireland.

Being a volunteer for many years, I would gradually find myself giving more and more time to the volunteer organisation. What would start off as an intent to make things better and enjoying my voluntary role would invariably lead to burnout as I took on too much responsibility and the time requirements with that responsibility would take the joy out of it.

A business model to succeed

Social enterprise and volunteerism are intertwined with the main difference for me being the enterprise part. No matter whether the social enterprise is a charity, not for profit or private company, it now requires a business model to succeed.

It is very exciting to see your social enterprise idea develop through the different stages and hopefully into a real business. Everything you do for setting up a private business also applies to setting up a social enterprise, the only real difference is that the social enterprise has a social impact.

Creating employment and solving a social problem

Whereas giving a lot of time to a voluntary organisation is very noble, many volunteers are taken for granted and are expected to put a lot of time in for little thanks and virtually no financial reward. I have seen many people give a huge amount of their lives to voluntary organisations but leave very bitter as their contributions were not acknowledged. A social enterprise on the other hand creates employment and solve a social problem at the same time.

With that last sentence in mind, the lack of foresight on the Irish government’s behalf as regards social enterprises is staggering and very frustrating. Other countries like France and Spain have over 10% of their employment force working in social enterprises, in Ireland social enterprises are barely recognised. Governance for social enterprises in Ireland is virtually non existent, currently governance for social enterprises is squeezed into not fit for purpose areas.

With proper guidance there is unlimited opportunities

The one constant I am hearing about being a successful social enterprise is not to depend on grants to fund the business. Even though you are doing a job that the government could not or failed to do, they still seem to be of the opinion that social enterprises are to be looked down upon and don’t require or deserve financial assistance.

To conclude I really enjoy being in the social enterprise space. My one wish would be that it is adopted and understood by government agencies, as with proper guidance there is unlimited opportunities for social enterprises to thrive and to make this a better country for all to enjoy.