As of 2022, The Wheel celebrates 23 years of serving the Irish charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises. As the newest member of the Euclid Network, we were keen to learn about the work of The Wheel and its overall vision for the Irish nonprofit sector. We spoke their social enterprise officer, Sean Darcy to find out more:
Introducing The Wheel
Established in 1999, The Wheel originated from the idea that there was a need for a network to represent and connect people working and volunteering in Ireland’s community, voluntary and charity sector. Since then, it has grown to approx 30 staff and over 2000 members, and provides a range of services in the areas of public policy and campaigning, skills and leadership development, networking, and information and advice. The Wheel is now the largest sector representative and support body in Ireland and has successfully advocated for better funding, regulation and relationships between sector and state.
As the representative voice for such a diverse and vibrant sector, The Wheel focuses on bringing together organisations that may vary in identity or legal form but together make up the “social economy” or “third sector”. Sean defines this as “outside the public and private sector, including social economy organisations, charities and social enterprises, etc”, and says “we allow members to identify themselves”.
Whether organisations identify as charities, social enterprises, cooperatives, or one of many other forms, what unites the social economy is prioritising people and the planet before profit. This is what The Wheel works to support.
The Wheel runs a variety of programmes to deliver on their role as a “one-stop shop” for anything related to the Irish social economy. At national level, this includes a comprehensive skills development programme that offers over 150 trainings and events each year, and their ambitious new Leadership Academy where sector leaders can come together learn, network and access training and resources. At EU level, it includes Access Europe, a support programme for Irish nonprofit organisations to better access EU funds (check out their partner database of Irish EU project partners here) as well as several Erasmus+ funded projects. A key project that is currently underway is RevitaLESE, which aims to develop new supports for Irish social enterprises.
Social Enterprises in The Wheel
Sean is responsible for all things social enterprise in the organisation. His interest in social entrepreneurship emerged before his time at The Wheel. Sean worked with a social enterprise that was set up to create full-time employment for people who are distant from the labour market because of prior incarceration. Sean, with the rest of his team, started collecting and fixing old bikes that were donated, and sold them at a lower cost to those who were unable to afford any other forms of transportation. Already possessing on-the-ground experience and having a strong network in place, Sean continued working towards his passion and became the Social Enterprise Officer at The Wheel.
“On a personal note, even though I loved working in a social enterprise, I always wanted to contribute on a national scale,” he says.
Now, Sean works with the growing number of social enterprises that are members of The Wheel. He believes it is crucial to keep in touch with members in order to understand their needs and develop ways to provide meaningful support.
Over the last decade, people have begun to understand what the term social enterprise means in Ireland. Thanks to strong efforts from the practitioners and national support organisations, the term has become more influential and is commonly used. Sean explained that in the current climate, people are increasingly moving away from traditional business models in favour of social entrepreneurship and the opportunity to focus on sustainability and social impact. The National Social Enterprise Census will be launched in Ireland later this year in order to gather salient data about social enterprises in Ireland and will help create a picture of the entire social enterprise landscape in Ireland. This rich data, together with the data form the Irish Social Enterprise Monitor, will be beneficial to the ecosystem as organisations will be able to develop connections and share their own learnings.
“We are interested to see how the census goes and react to that, and are open to see how the sector evolves,” says Sean.
What’s in store for The Wheel?
The Wheel aims to stay true to their initial role as a connecting mechanism for their community and voluntary, charity and social enterprise sector in large. Amongst their involvement in several projects, The Wheel is also working with other EU organisations to add a European focus into their work. Through this, as well as their cooperation with Euclid Network, the organisation wishes to be connected to similar organisations across the continent and beyond. Now, with a dedicated social enterprise capacity, The Wheel is eager to seize the opportunity.
“We are interested in learning from other [Euclid Network] members about how the social economy works in their own countries, and what their learning and experiences have been like.”
“It is only just getting started…it is an exciting time for Social Enterprises in Ireland, we are moving in the right direction,” says Sean.