TrustLaw, in partnership with the law firm Arthur Cox, brought together leaders of the social enterprise sector in Ireland last week to discuss the challenges they face and the legal frameworks and support available to them.
TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono platform, offers free legal assistance to social enterprises and non-governmental organisations (NGOs ) in more than 173 countries. Arthur Cox, one of Ireland’s largest law firms, has been an active member of TrustLaw since 2014, working pro bono on ten different projects covering a range of legal issues.
Social entrepreneurship is a topical issue in Ireland, with the Irish Department of Community and Rural Affairs coordinating a “Developing the Potential of Social Enterprise in Ireland” consultation with hopes of publishing a strategy later in 2018.
However, as the sector grows and matures, Irish social enterprises encounter various challenges. In 2016, the Thomson Reuters Foundation conducted the world’s first experts’ poll on the best countries for social entrepreneurs. The US, Canada and the UK came in the top three with Ireland ranked second last.
“With the increasing number of people seeking to make an impact and the lack of real legal entities by which to do so, Ireland is potentially missing out on becoming a social innovation world leader,” said Chris Gordon, CEO of the Irish Social Enterprise Network.
According to Rónán Ó’Dálaigh, CEO of SEDCo (Social Enterprise Development Company): “In Ireland there is enormous potential to create jobs, transform communities and end poverty by promoting and facilitating more social enterprises. One report estimates that 65,000 jobs can be created if we reach only the EU average of active social enterprises. I believe we can reach and exceed this target, however, it requires a coming together of private, public and third sector organisations. Companies such as Arthur Cox can play a simple and highly effective role in bringing about a better Ireland.”
Through TrustLaw, Arthur Cox has supported SEDCo with pro bono legal advice for over a year now and has made an “enormous impact” on their work by helping them to grow faster, reach more people and gain confidence in their legal structures and operations.
The panelists at the event included John Evoy (Social Innovation Fund Ireland), Chris Gordon (Irish Social Enterprise Network), Rónán Ó’Dálaigh (SEDCo) and Chris McLaughlin (Arthur Cox), who spoke on a wide range of issues from the current landscape facing social enterprises in Ireland to the funding available for the sector through the newly launched Social Enterprise Development Fund. The panelists and participants deliberated over working within existing social enterprise frameworks and brainstormed innovative ways to encourage the growth of their organisation, including through greater use of community benefit clauses in procurement contracts.
“I am grateful to the team at both the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Arthur Cox for giving me the opportunity to share about our new Social Enterprise Development Fund and more importantly to hear about the fantastic work that they do for social enterprises. The offer of pro-bono legal services to the social enterprises of Ireland is very generous and one that I will be encouraging those in our network at the Social Innovation Fund of Ireland to take up without delay,” said John Evoy, Social Enterprise Development Manager at Social Innovation Fund Ireland.
Social enterprises present also took this opportunity to explain how legal support through TrustLaw has helped them to expand their organisation, launch new initiatives and ensure their legal issues are taken care of, allowing them to focus on their social mission.
If your organisation is interested in receiving pro bono legal advice or if you’re a law firm interested in developing your pro bono work, please contact our TrustLaw team here.