Social Enterprises in Rural Communities – Case Study Ireland

A paper presented at the 5th EMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise, ‘Building a scientific field to foster social enterprise eco-system,’ June 30th to July 3rd, 2015, Helsinki, Finland.


In Ireland social enterprises are seen primarily as non-profit organisations driven by social objectives. Irish thinking on the social economy has been influenced by US and European ideas about the nature of social enterprises as organisations. In the US, the activities of nonprofit organisations, philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility and social innovation are all associated with the concepts of social enterprise and the social economy. In Europe, there is more of a focus on the organisational forms of social enterprises, such as mutual organisations, co-operatives, and associations, and there has been greater emphasis on their specific character and value and their governance structures.
Almost half of the Irish population (46%) live outside the five major urban centres. Rural areas have been severely affected by the downturn in the economy, such as high levels of unemployment, out-migration and social exclusion. The impact of the recession on the private sector has led to the closure of many businesses and services while cutbacks in government expenditure have impacted on services to citizens. This is the context in which existing rural-based social enterprises have to operate and which has stimulated the emergence of new initiatives in recent years. The objectives of this case study are to provide short descriptions of a cross-section of rural-based social enterprises, to assess the critical success factors and barriers facing them, and to discuss some of the lessons to be learned from these initiatives.

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Reference list: Patricia O’Hara and Mary O’Shaughnessy. 2015. Retrieved from


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