Opportunity knocks: graduates creating their own jobs through social enterprise



Social enterprise is a sector that offers a wide range of versatile opportunities for graduates, particularly those who are dynamic and innovative with a social conscience and a head for business. The sector offers graduates unparalleled job satisfaction as they both make money and help their communities.

The social enterprise sector is rapidly expanding in Ireland; a Forfás report published last week has shown that the social enterprise sector has the capacity to create 25,000 extra jobs by 2020.

‘… the social enterprise sector, which currently employs between 25,000 and 33,000 people in approximately 1,400 social enterprises with a total income of approximately €1.4 billion, has the potential to double by 2020.’

What is a social enterprise?

The report defines a social enterprise as ‘an enterprise that trades for a social/societal purpose, where at least part of its income is earned from its trading activity, is separate from government, and where the surplus is primarily reinvested in the social objective’. The report also names the four main types of social enterprise in Ireland, see diagram below.


The success of social enterprises shows how all aspects of the community and society can contribute to Ireland’s economic revival, a fact that the government is also acknowledging by investing in the sector:

‘Social enterprise is a small but growing part of the enterprise base and ecosystem that has potential to bring further job gains and deliver economic potential. There is both a demonstrated need, and a market for, social enterprise in Ireland. With the appropriate enabling and promotional effort, there appears to be scope for increasing jobs in the sector.’

Due to the demand for social enterprises, it is unsurprising that there are many graduate opportunities within the sector. There are specific social enterprise postgraduate degrees, where students learn about both the commercial and social aspects of the sector. Graduates can go on to set up their own social enterprises, giving them a chance to work towards social issues they are concerned with while also making money. They put their university-learned skills into practice in order to help their communities, the economy or the environment, therefore job satisfaction is a huge perk to working in social enterprises, particularly if the graduates set up the businesses themselves. They provide jobs for the marginalised in society, and have the strong potential to become self-sustainable business models, according to the report:

‘The social enterprise sector in Ireland has the potential to develop enterprises that can be self-sustainable. Such sustainable, self-reliant business models are important to the survival and development of social enterprises and it is in the shifting of the sector towards the commercially oriented model that job creation potential is foreseen.’

Case study

Dunhill Rural Enterprises Ltd (DREL) was formed in 1999 in Dunhill, Co Waterford and is part of the ACTION project. It is a not for profit organisation, dedicated to developing entrepreneurial culture and sustainable rural regeneration. DREL is a member of a community network called Dunhill, Fenor, Boatstrang and Annestown (DFBA) Community Enterprises Ltd., whose mission statement is ‘to develop our community socially, economically and culturally by harnessing the talents of our people and the resources available’. The belief of this organisation is that jobs can be created and sustained at a micro-economic level. DREL assists entrepreneurs in establishing new businesses with a self-reliant business model. The profits made from the ACTION project are regenerated into improving the social enterprise and benefiting the community, rather than being given to the shareholders.

Getting involved in social enterprise is hugely beneficial to graduates, whether they see themselves working in the sector long-term or not. Social enterprises allow graduates to build up key skills such as leadership skills and entrepreneurship. Graduates who have worked in the sector automatically become more attractive candidates to employers, as they typically show resilience, innovation and initiative. Graduates can experience a sense of independence by creating their own jobs, rather than waiting for a job to come to them; therefore no matter how small the venture, involvement with social enterprise is always a worthwhile option for graduates.

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