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 2019

The winners of the annual UK Social Enterprise Awards were announced on 4 December at London’s Guildhall. The national awards, organised by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), shine a spotlight on the leading lights of the social enterprise movement– businesses set up to trade for a social or environmental purpose and which are taking on some of the biggest issues we face, from rising homelessness to the climate emergency.

There are 100,000 of these businesses in the UK, each one set up to make the world a better place and using their profits to further their social and environmental aims. Social enterprises contribute £60bn to UK GDP, employ around 2 million people and can be found in nearly every part of the economy.

The ceremony recognises this diversity with awards highlighting the work carried out by social enterprises in education, retail, health, social care, tech, international development and those working to deal with the environmental crisis.

Northern Ireland social enterprises had success in the following areas:

Education and Training Social Enterprise

For a social enterprise in the education, training or employment sectors that can demonstrate excellence in vision and strategic direction, and clearly evidence their social, environmental and community impact.

Winner: Orchardville Society Ltd

Orchardville is committed to changing the lives of people with learning disabilities and/or autism. They believe that with the right support, any individual with a learning disability and/or autism can reach their full potential and achieve their employment aspirations. Orchardville supports almost 500 participants across Northern Ireland through a range of individualised services and programmes orchardville.com

Women in Social Enterprise

For a woman working in the senior leadership team of a social enterprise who represents excellence in her field of work.

Winner: Marie Marin

Marie Marin is Chief Executive of Employers For Childcare, which is the UK’s only social enterprise childcare voucher company and which has recently opened a new social enterprise indoor adventure centre called High Rise aimed at families and the corporate market. Employers For Childcare aims to make it easier for parents with dependent children to get into, and stay in, work. Marie was recently presented with a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Award by Social Enterprise Northern Ireland in recognition of her contribution to the Social Enterprise sector. In 2013 she received an OBE for her services to Social Enterprise employersforchildcare.org

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.


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