The value of social enterprise

Seamus Clancy, Director Rehab Enterprises copy Seamus Clancy, Director of Rehab Enterprises, highlights the significant social and economic benefits of developing social enterprises in Ireland, the important role that big business has to play and how the EU’s public procurement directive can be a catalyst for growth.

A social enterprise can be characterised as a commercial business operating under a social imperative. It is underpinned by clear commercially-driven objectives but, rather than focusing on creating a financial return for shareholders, its ambition is to deliver a social benefit to all of its stakeholders which include its employees, customers, suppliers, and wider society.

While these might sound lofty terms for any business to deliver on, they are some of the core values of the estimated 1,400 social enterprises which exist throughout Ireland. According to Forfás, the social enterprises sector generates an estimated €1.4 billion of income, a significant amount in terms of tax take to the Exchequer, and it is estimated that the sector supports between 25,000 to 33,000 people in employment.

These figures show a burgeoning industry primed for even further expansion given the right environment, something that Seamus Clancy, Director of Rehab Enterprises, the Rehab Group’s commercial division, is very aware of. “I think there may have been an historic perception that existed in the 70s, 80s and even the early 90s that social enterprise may not have been able to deliver or compete in a technical or commercial environment. Since then social enterprises have moved onto a whole new plane and have expanded into a wide range of businesses and industries.

“In the main, social enterprises and particularly Rehab Enterprises, now provide a highly technical, skilled, performance-related service to many multinationals across a wide range of services.

“For example, from a tech industry perspective we provide the printing of keyboards for one of the biggest world suppliers. We do this by managing four million keyboards each year. Over one million of these are in 24 different languages and are provided on a 45 minute call-out basis. This is no different from any other serious logistics business in operation today.”

Operating in commercial markets, Rehab Enterprises is unique among its peers because it creates employment for people with disabilities through an integrated model of employment across a number of sectors, ranging from Rehab Recycle, Rehab Logistics, Rehab Glassco and Rehab Retail and, in the process, employs 536 people, approximately half of whom have a disability. “The simple mission of Rehab Enterprises is to employ as many people with a disability as possible within viable and sustainable commercial businesses,” says Clancy.

“While this mission highlights the core social objective of Rehab Enterprises, if anything it underlines the need to deliver quality and value. He continued: “Like any other business, we have to provide value for money, we have to be professional in our delivery and we have to be sure that the quality of the product is beyond reproach. Otherwise, we will not be able to compete. Within the recycling arena, we work in the high value chain where we are recovering IT equipment, refurbishing and repairing it and putting it back on the market under the original manufacturers name and approved by them.”

The retail section of Rehab Enterprises, under the Smiles Newsagents brand, is the diamond in the crown in terms of highlighting the diversity of social enterprises but also the ability of the sector to give added value to commercial partners: “Smiles Newsagents are the ultimate for me in terms of social inclusion for people with disabilities. We operate ten shops in enclosed corporate headquarter environments where there are more than 1,000 people employed. Smiles staff, all of whom have disabilities, work in some of the best workplaces in Ireland and enjoy the facilities and the opportunities for social and professional engagement that they may otherwise never have had the opportunity to experience. In addition to gaining essential work-related skills, our Smiles staff gain confidence and self-esteem. Many will have experienced long periods of unemployment and may have been unable to complete their education but they gain a real sense of purpose and achievement from working with Rehab Enterprises.

“Companies in the corporate sector in Ireland should look at having an equivalent of a store like our Smiles brand available to them because of their worth and value, not just for the people with disabilities but for the employees of that company as a whole. It gives everybody a different perspective on life and what everyone should cherish and value in their life and the value of work for everybody, including persons with disabilities.”

Pictured at the Rehab Logistics facility in the Raheen Industrial Estate, Limerick.
Picture: Don Moloney / Press 22 While the challenge for Rehab Enterprises and other social enterprises is not convincing existing customers of what they can deliver, like any business, the real issue lies with gaining new customers. The public sector can do a lot to help with this.

Seamus Clancy again: “There’s a great deal that the Irish public sector can do to support the development of social enterprises in Ireland. Article 19 of the EU Public Procurement Directive allows public bodies to reserve public contracts for supported business that employ a majority of people with disabilities. In Ireland, there is enormous potential to create employment for people with disabilities; however, no Irish public body has ever used this provision even though it was transposed into Irish regulations in 2006.

“We would hope that public bodies use this opportunity and create meaningful employment for people with disabilities. Every year, the Irish Government spends €9 billion on services and supplies. Just think what one per cent or even half a per cent of that could do for the employment rates of people with disabilities. Using Article 19 is simple. Commissioning authorities need only identify possible providers who have the skills and competencies to deliver the contract and then note that all or even some, of the contract will be reserved in the tender documents.”

“We know this can work because we’ve witnessed it in other jurisdictions. In Scotland, we have worked closely with partners in the Scottish Government to provide genuine employment opportunities with Haven, one of our UK commercial companies, for people with disabilities in viable, competitive businesses.

“Apart from putting money in people’s pockets, employment has untold benefits for the person, for society and for the economy. We believe that social enterprises offer real potential to create employment for people with disabilities and others who are marginalised.”

Seamus Clancy Director Rehab Enterprises Head Office, Roslyn Park, Sandymount, Dublin 4 Tel: FreeFone 1800 661 551 Web:

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