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Social Economy Conference


Could a social economy business help sustain your group? That is the question women from Belfast considered at the event organised by the Women's Centres Regional Partnership in St Luke's Hall on Tuesday, 29th March.


Helen Crickard at Social Economy Conference Belfast

A range of speakers spoke at the event to explain how a social economy business actually works and to demystify this commonly used term. Women heard about how social enterprise can be used to support community groups and charities to help sustain projects and services that benefit people in Belfast and beyond.

As the austerity cuts in funding continue to be implemented, starting and running a social enterprise business could prove valuable to ensure that vital services continue.

Margaret Ward, Chair, Women's Centres Regional Partnership (WCRP) comments,
"The community based women's sector has already made a valuable contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and to the lives of women and their families. The event showcased a number of organisations whose social economy enterprises are helping to sustain their work while also providing significant employment opportunities. Women are running organisations providing childcare, outside catering, community facilitation, plumbing and carpentry services. These examples show that women can be innovative and entrepreneurial. 26% of social enterprises could be described as 'women-led' - almost twice as many compared to small businesses. In Northern Ireland social enterprises account for between 5-8% of economic activity, which is comparable to the tourism industry (5.6%) or construction industry (5.1%). As we look toward the future we hope to encourage more organisations to look at social economy methods in order to sustain community development and service delivery in disadvantaged communities. The social enterprise business model is one with primarily social objectives whose profits are reinvested to support a community project, charity or jobs creation scheme, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners."

A number of successful social economy businesses are already up and running in Belfast and at the conference, some of these groups explained their reasons for setting up, why they chose a social economy business model and the challenges faced and benefits for the local community.

Helen Crickard spoke at the event on the value of non-traditional skills training for women, commenting, "In a recent Equality Commission Report 74% of women in NI cited a lack of confidence in engaging with the construction industry. WOMEN'STEC is the only non-traditional skills training social economy in Northern Ireland. We work in partnership with other organisations to ensure there are work placements for women and that women can develop the necessary skills and qualifications to compete effectively in the marketplace."

Betty Carlisle, MBE, Shankill Women's Centre, comments, "We're delighted the WCRP social economy event showcased our new social economy building 'Small Wonders II' located between the peace line, and set up to provide a neutral base for childcare and educational services. The previously derelict building, funded by the EU Peace III Programme, will soon provide local employment and services for North and West Belfast."

Anne Graham, Director of Social Economy Network, offered support to new ventures, "Successful social economy organisations have a unique contribution to make to the Northern Ireland economy in regenerating disadvantaged communities and areas. Many people have good business ideas but lack confidence or know-how. People may be put off by the current uncertain economic climate, but new businesses can thrive even when economic conditions are tough."


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