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Social Entrepreneurship in Ireland versus Sweden


Trinity Business School hosted 25 non-profit leaders in Dublin to compare and contrast non-profit sectors in Sweden versus Ireland on 9-10 of May 2017.  Assistant Professors Dr Gemma Donnelly-Cox and Dr Sheila Cannon hosted a two day seminar on civil society in Ireland, showing background context, as well as future directions for nonprofits in Ireland, and facilitating discussions to compare similarities and differences.  The seminar was part of the Fenix Programme run by Ideell Arena (, Swedish Network of Nonprofit Organisations. 


The main differences between non-profits in the two countries are that in Ireland much of the public services are still delivered by the Catholic Church, while it is also more common for individuals to set up as Social Entrepreneurs and try to solve social problems through creative and innovative new businesses. While in Sweden, Membership organisations are the most common way of organising, and these associations have local, regional and national chapters. Swedes expect and trust their government to provide fair and equal public services.

The context-setting started out from a broad perspective, as the participants were introduced to some current changes in Ireland, such as the Marriage Referendum, Brexit, increasing homelessness and responses to issues of mental health.  Then we focussed in on the Nonprofit sector.  Based on recent research by Benefacts (, there are over 19,000 civil society organisations in Ireland, from tiny community associations, to large publically funded hospitals.  It is a big, diverse and active sector; 310 of these organisations deliver public services, such as schools and hospitals. 

We facilitated a discussion on Social Entrepreneurship, a growing trend in Ireland and globally.  Alexis Donnelly, Assistant Professor in TCD Department of Computer Science, provided insight into his experiences on an International MS Research Project, an example of including those with a disease in the research projects of those studying the disease. Mary Lawler, Trinity Business School Adjunct Professor, explained how she and colleagues have used creativity and ingenuity to defend Human Rights defenders around the world, though the organisation that she founded, Frontline Defenders.

We held the second day of the seminar in the Carmelite Orders at Whitefriar’s Church in Dublin, a Community Centre that provides a range of local community services, such as training, childcare, a primary school, and two coffee shops. Participants learned about the community centre, its role in the community, and way it is run. Sheila Cannon presented an analysis of Peacebuilding in Ireland, and the way that peacebuilding organisations have adapted to the perception of a successful peace process.

Some interesting take away points:

Overall, the Swedish participants were very surprised that Ireland still has single-sex schools! They were disappointed that in Ireland we don’t have a stronger human rights basis for demanding fair public services. And they really liked the way individuals took on social challenges in a very innovative and pro-active way, the Social Entrepreneurs.