The voice for Social Enterprises & Social Entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland. Connecting, supporting, developing and sustaining vibrant businesses to create social change.


Re-Balancing the NI Economy Report 2019

Social enterprise represents a major new growth area within the economy and has become a fundamental element of a rebalanced and more plural economy in Northern Ireland, according to the latest survey of the sector.


The social enterprise sector makes a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and is worth £625 million to the local economy, according to the first comprehensive survey of the social enterprise sector since 2013.


The ‘Rebalancing the NI Economy – 2019 report on social enterprise’ found that the social enterprise employment base has grown from 12,200 in 2013 to 24,860 in 2018; and equivalent growth in turnover has increased from £592.7 million in 2013 to £980 million in 2018. This clearly demonstrates economic growth in the sector in very difficult political and economic conditions.


Social enterprise represents a major new growth area within the economy, with 44% of the organisations surveyed commencing trade in the last five years and 25% within the last two years. 43% of the organisations surveyed are led by women.  This is consistent with social enterprise sector in the UK as a whole.


Social enterprises are operating across every industry and often work with the most vulnerable in society including the homeless, the unemployed, young offenders and people living with learning difficulties and disabilities.


53% of organisations employ half their workforce from their immediate locality and this places the sector as an important vehicle for delivering draft Programme for Government (PfG) outcomes around disadvantage, deprivation, reducing economic inactivity and delivering greater innovation.


Colin Jess, Director of Social Enterprise NI said,


“This report into the social enterprise work in Northern Ireland is significant in helping shape the future priorities for the sector.


Social enterprises in Northern Ireland have a real appetite for growth and expansion, however they need support, like any business to enable them to do this.  At Social Enterprise NI, we connect, support, develop and help sustain vibrant businesses to create social change throughout Northern Ireland.


Social Enterprises are telling us they need more support in the form of strategic planning, management training, marketing and advocacy to help organisations maximise their capacity to grow, access external markets and become strong and equal trading partners to private businesses.


Social Enterprise NI will continue to support these organisations as well as lobby for the introduction of a Social Value Act and work closely with local and central government and its agencies to help position social enterprise with mainstream economic policy and thinking.


We know that the social enterprise sector makes a difference to people’s lives and we want them to make even more of a positive impact to the lives of people in Northern Ireland”.


Welcoming the report, Social Enterprise NI Chair John McMullan said


“This report establishes the growth of social enterprise over the last five years and highlights its distinct social and economic contribution, making the case as to why the Government should invest in its continued growth.


It reinforces that social enterprises are real businesses, but their overriding social purpose ensures that they do business differently, making a real and lasting difference to peoples’ lives.


As Northern Ireland moves towards a more plural re-balancing of its economy, there remains a missing piece in our economic jigsaw. We need an economic model that values social impact as an equivalent to price and quality. 


To achieve this, we need to align Northern Ireland with the other regions of the UK by introducing a Social Value Act, putting a statutory duty on the public sector to demonstrate and maximise the social impact of its spending priorities.”





Notes for editors


  1. For media enquiries including interviews with local social enterprises, please contact Claire Flynn at or 07920162100 or alternatively Colin Jess at or 07872 470 327
  2. A social enterprise is like any other business in that it works to deliver goods and services to make a profit. The difference is that they are driven by their social and environmental purposes and any profit made is reinvested towards achieving these purposes.
  3. Social Enterprise NI is the representative body for social enterprises and social entrepreneurs across Northern Ireland. It is an independent, member-led organisation and a gateway for social enterprises in Northern Ireland and it is run by a consortium of social enterprises and social entrepreneurs.

Social Enterprise NI commissioned Stratagem in 2018 to carry out a mapping exercise of the social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland with the final report ‘Rebalancing the NI Economy – 2019 report on social enterprise’


Download the report Click Here