Supporting the social enterprise sector

agendaNi speaks to Social Enterprise NI’s Director, Chris Gordon about the organisation’s manifesto and its hopes for the future of the social enterprise sector. 

To coincide with Social Value Week, Social Enterprise NI recently launched its manifesto calling for better recognition of the importance of the social enterprise sector and the introduction of a Social Value Act for Northern Ireland. 

The manifesto states that social enterprise is a business model that has benefits for the entire community and challenges those in power to ensure there is:

•   support to build the capacity and capability of the sector;

•   support to build and develop markets and stronger brands;

•   tax incentives for businesses that generate real social value;

•   the creation of a level playing field between social enterprises and private enterprises.  

As profit seeking organisations, social enterprises have to operate in the market just like any private enterprise. The difference with social enterprises is that their profits are used to help those from marginalised backgrounds. The more products social enterprises can generate, the more people they can help.

It is this social value that Social Enterprise NI’s Director, Chris Gordon wants to promote. Gordon says that social value occurs when people or organisations that make purchases or commission public services consider the additional economic, social or environmental benefits for their local area. 

“We are trying to ensure that social enterprises can compete for those tenders that are usually reserved for private businesses,” said Gordon. “Not only do we want to ensure this competiveness, we also want to see a true commitment to social value from commissioners with more consideration given to the social value of any contract.” 

It isn’t simply about ensuring that social enterprises can beat private enterprises to lucrative tenders, Gordon also wants to see larger private enterprises who win local contracts use local social enterprises in their supply chain. It is Gordon’s belief that the positives in such a deal would not only be positives for those who directly benefit from the work of the social enterprise but positives for the general public as well. 

At present, Social Enterprise NI has 170 member organisations all focused on using their profits to effect positive change. It is Gordon’s hope that government support for the manifesto will encourage further growth of the sector.

“In order for the sector to grow, creating a platform for new social enterprises to grow needs to become a priority,” said Gordon. “That is why our manifesto challenges the government to promote the benefits of social enterprise to a new generation of social entrepreneurs and social innovators through appropriate education and training.” 

Ultimately, Gordon states there are a number of areas where social enterprises need more support and it is only by being recognised as an enterprise that needs to maintain its quality, standard of service and value that they will be able to make a difference in their local communities. 

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