DfE and the Social Economy

The Department for the Economy (DfE) leads on the development of social economy policy for Northern Ireland on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.

DfE's role in Social Economy

Developing the social economy sector has been a priority for the Executive for some time and the Executive is well aware of the important and unique contribution which the sector can and does make to the local economy.

This is evidenced by the Executive reaffirming its commitment to the sector by including in the Programme for Government measures to boost and grow Northern Ireland’s 'strong entrepreneurial tradition'. One of the key priorities is to ‘Grow a Sustainable Economy and Invest in the Future’ and continued investment in Social Enterprise growth is an important element of this work as we seek to increase the sustainability of the social economy sector.

Social Enterprise NI report

Social Enterprise NI launched its report on the size and scale of the SE sector on Thursday 27 June 2019. The 'Re-balancing the NI Economy Report 2019' is the first comprehensive survey of the social enterprise sector since 2013. The report is available:

Support for the Social Economy

Social Enterprise UK Awards 2018

The Social Enterprise UK Awards took place on Wednesday 28 November at London’s Guild Hall. This year’s awards had over 90 shortlisted organisations and individuals across the 14 categories. Northern Ireland was well represented at this year’s Awards with six of our own Social Enterprise organisations shortlisted.  

Madlug won the Consumer Facing Social Enterprise of The Year Award by a Public Vote, receiving over 7,000 votes.

NOW Group was also a winner on the night, collecting the Tech for Good Social Enterprise of the Year Award in recognition of the JAM Card initiative.

Special mentions must also go to Access Employment Larne (AEL), on being shortlisted for UK Social Enterprise of The Year, Space NI Newry, who were shortlisted for the One to Watch Award, USEL who were shortlisted for the Prove It: Social Impact Award, further recognition after winning Social Impact Award at this year’s Northern Ireland Awards, and also Choice Housing, who were shortlisted for the Transformative Community Business Award.

The former Chair of Social Enterprise NI and CEO of Employers For Childcare, Marie Marin was also shortlisted for the Women in Social Enterprise Award.

Ashton Community Trust CEO, Paul Roberts, was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Honorary Fellows.

For more Information on the awards, visit the Social Enterprise UK website.

Social Enterprise NI Awards 2019

The Annual Social Enterprise NI Gala Awards Dinner, in association with Sparq AV, took place on Friday 11 October in The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast. The awards, showcasing the Social Enterprise Sector in Northern Ireland, was attended by over 470 guests from Social Enterprise, Private, Public and Educational Sectors. The awards ceremony was hosted by UTVs Paul Clark.

Social Enterprise NI awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award to its former chair and CEO of Lisburn-based Employers For Childcare, Marie Marin. Marie has over 20 years’ experience as a Social Entrepreneur. 

On the evening there were thirteen categories with the introduction of a new category for Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

The big winners on the night were IncredABLE from the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon area, who scooped four awards in total including Employee of the Year for Samantha McCartney with their CEO Nigel Hampton being named Joint Social Enterprise Leader of the Year alongside Leigh Carey of The Hummingbird Project.

There was also a Double Celebration for Jubilee Farm CIC from Larne which won the “One to Watch” category and saw its Founder, Jonny Hanson win the first “Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year" award.

Social Enterprise NI Awards 2019
Dan Cartland (Department for the Economy) is pictured presenting Employers for Childcare with the Social Enterprise of the Year Award.

Commenting on the evening, Colin Jess Director of Social Enterprise NI said: "Our Annual Awards evening is always the highlight of the social enterprise year however this year’s event exceeded all expectations. We are delighted by the numbers who entered, attended and supported the Awards, particularly those new and existing sponsors of the event. The social enterprise sector in NI is making great strides forward and we are delighted to play our part in this. Well done and congratulations to all who entered and were shortlisted with a special shout out to those who were successful”.









Social Enterprise of the Year

Department for the Economy

Employers for Childcare


One to watch

Go for It Programme

Jubilee Farm CIC

Roar & Explore

Social Impact

Department for Communities

The NOW Group


Health and Social Care

Ulster Bank

Stepping Stones NI


Education, Training and Jobs

Hays Recruitment

Orchardville Society

Open College Network Northern & Ireland Network Personnel (joint)

Local Council of the Year


Belfast City Council


Credit Union of the year


Coalisland Credit Union


Stakeholder of the Year

Lockton Companies LLP

Queens University Belfast Graduate School


Housing Association of the year

Sparg AV

Apex Housing Association


Young Social Entrepreneur of the year

NI Housing Executive

Jonny Hanson , Jubilee Farm CIC


Leader of the Year


Nigel Hampton, IncredABLE and Leigh Carey, The Hummingbird Project CIC (joint)

Alison Blayney, Kilcooley Womens Centre

Employee of the Year

Firmus Energy

Samantha McCartney, IncredABLE


Volunteer of the Year

Edwards and Co, Solicitors


Tony Quinn, GLL/Better

Peter Hanna, IncredABLE

Third Sector mapping exercise

The findings of a mapping exercise into the third sector in Northern Ireland were announced by the former Enterprise Minister and the former Social Development Minister.

Social Economy Work Programme

In April 2019, the Department granted a one year contract extension to Social Enterprise NI to deliver the Social Economy Work Programme (SEWP). The main objective of the SEWP is to develop and implement an agreed programme of initiatives to enable the continued growth of a sustainable social economy sector.

Social Enterprise NI is a consortium of social enterprises and social entrepreneurs which have come together to design, manage and deliver a programme of initiatives to support the continued development of a sustainable Northern Ireland social economy sector and to develop an environment where society profits and social enterprises excel at meeting community need.

Social Enterprise NI was subject to an evaluation undertaken by the Department during 2015 - see attached report.

Social Enterprise NI Evaluation


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