The Euclid Network (EN) recently sat down with Chris Gordon, CEO and Co-Founder of the Irish Social Enterprise Network, and our newest member to talk about his organization, the landscape of social enterprise in Ireland, and their reason for joining the EN family.
Founded 8 years ago, the Irish Social Enterprise Network is the national body that presents social enterprises in Ireland. The Network aims to support everyone interested in social enterprise, whether they’re studying in the area, thinking about setting up a social enterprise, or if they’re already managing or working in a social enterprise. Of his organisation, Gordon declares, “We listen to social enterprises – their challenges and their opportunities, their hopes and dreams.”
The way in which the Networks supports their members happens in many ways, but their activities are largely aligned three main pillars: network, education and advocacy. Gordon says:
We try to give a voice to social enterprises so they can speak for themselves and not through funders or financiers. We try and educate the educators and the people that need to know what social enterprise is and can be and we develop our network, which is about events and training, lobbying and network.
These activities, of course, come with their own challenges some of which are unique to the landscape of social enterprises in Ireland. In Ireland, they struggle with governance, procurement and the lack of a distinct legal identity. According to Gordon:
[The government] has difficulties in not being able to get all of the support that other businesses get. We believe that they should have every support that a normal enterprise would have, plus more. Procurement is a really difficult one. It’s all about how do you make sure that there’s an avenue to sell products and services [offered by social enterprises]. And the third thing we’ve been very conscious about is legal entity. There is no legal entity for social enterprise in Ireland.
Social enterprises in Ireland sit in the middle – being neither a charity nor a for-profit business. The recent National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019 – 2022, which the Network had a hand in shaping, has officially defined social enterprises. The government is now starting to recognise and support the sector but progress is slow and perhaps a decade behind Europe.
This is exactly why the Irish Social Enterprise Network has decided to join the Euclid Network. As they have grown, survival has meant partnering with other organisations that want to work with social enterprises and trying to generate interest amongst European projects. Gordon:
One of the ways we look to support organisations is to try to bring in European contacts. We have been admiring [The Euclid Network] from afar. You seem to be very focused on great things that will affect us in the future and we want to be part of that conversation and hopefully, benefit from your experiences. We’re very keen on learning from what everyone else does across Europe and [EN] seems to be very connected in that space. We’re looking forward to being part of the family and seeing what we might be able to work on together.
Knowledge sharing and peer learning within the network and beyond is what the Euclid Network is all about. Every single one of our members has a slightly different experience to offer the sphere of social enterprises and social entrepreneurs, so only by learning and incorporating all of those points of view can we as social impact practitioners drive meaningful change. Let us hope that this is just the beginning of many collaborations to come with the Irish Social Enterprise Network, us and our network members.