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 2018

The Annual Social Enterprise NI Gala Awards Dinner took place on 19 October in The Stormont Hotel, Belfast. The awards ceremony, showcasing the Social Enterprise sector in Northern Ireland, was attended by over 400 guests from the social enterprise, private and public sectors. 


Social Enterprises NI Awards 2018
Trevor Connolly (centre, Department for the Economy) presents Acceptable Enterprises Ltd with the Social Enterprise of the Year Award.

In addition to the list of award winners, Social Enterprise NI also awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award to its chair, and CEO of Bryson Charitable Group, Mr John McMullan, who retires at the end of October. The award is in recognition of his role as an advocate for the sector, and in particular for a Social Value Act for Northern Ireland.

There were over one hundred entries this year and below is the list of winners and those who won Highly Commended recognition. 

List of award winners

Award Sponsor Winner(s) Highly Commended
Social Enterprise of the Year Department for the Economy Acceptable Enterprises Ltd, Larne N/A
One to Watch LEDCOM The Good Space, Newry Tre-Eco Belfast
Newly Established NIHE

Jointly: Ballymacash Sports Academy and Ravine

Social Impact Department for Communities USEL N/A
Consumer-facing Ulster Bank Inspire Workplaces OutsideIN
Education, training and jobs Hays Recruitment NOW Group Loveworks Co-operative
Council of the Year NILGA Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council N/A
Credit Union of the Year UCIT Coalisland CU Ballinascreen CU
Stakeholder of the Year Go For It NIHE's Social Housing programme Ashes to Gold and Kilwaughter Lime
Housing Association of the Year Marsh Insurance Clanmil Housing Group N/A
Leader of the Year Co3 David Hunter (Acceptable Enterprises Ltd) Seamus O'Prey (The Ortus Group) and Bill Atkinson (USEL)
Employee of the Year FSB Graham Bowden (Tre-Eco Belfast) Mark Dennison (IFA Foundation)
Volunteer of the Year Edwards & Co Solicitors Maureen Gillespie (Stepping Stones) N/A

For further information on the work of Social Enterprise NI visit its website.

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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