The Social Economy Network was established in the spring of 2003 and is being facilitated by the Social Economy Agency (SEA) with funding from Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) and Department for Social Development (DSD) through the EU Building Sustainable Prosperity.

The network is one of 3 structures established by Government as part of a 3-year strategy to increase awareness of the Social Economy Sector; to establish its value to the local economy; to develop the sector and increase its business strength and to create a supportive and enabling environment for sector development and growth.

The other 2 structures are: an Inter-Departmental Steering Group made of representatives of government departments with the aim of providing an integrated and strategic approach to the social economy and the Social Economy Forum where members of the Inter-departmental steering group and network members are working together to develop policy relevant to the support and growth of the sector.

The Social Economy Agency (SEA) acts as co-ordinating agent to the Social Economy Network under the direction of a representative committee of the network, the Network Management Committee.

Our Vision: A fair Society in which communities are empowered to meet local social and economic needs.

Our Mission: to build an active Social Economy which aims for excellence in meeting community need.

Membership of the Network is free and it is open and inclusive of all social economy organisations and supporting agencies and its 260 members include: community businesses, social enterprises, co-operatives, credit unions, trade unions, housing associations, trading arms of charities, development trusts, local enterprise agencies, local strategy partnerships, neighbourhood partnerships, self-help organisations, sub-sectoral Networks and federations, NIFHA, NICVA, the Rural Community Network, the Community Foundation NI and the Ulster Community Investment Trust.

4 joint working groups (JWGs) emerged from the first meeting of the Social Economy Forum in June 2003 and these have been implementing programmes of work on mapping the sector, financing the sector, business supports and opportunities through public procurement. Significant progress on each of these areas was reported to the second, third and fourth meetings of the Social Economy Forum.

A major study on financing the sector, commissioned by the finance JWG and conducted by Colin Stutt Consulting, was recently completed and a Joint Implementation Group has been set up to progress study recommendations. Forum work on Public Procurement has involved the publication of a guide to public procurement for Social Economy Enterprises and the organisation and implementation of a series of informational and training events on competitive tendering for sector businesses. The April 2005 Forum also agreed the recommendations of the Business Supports study undertaken by the Social Economy Agency, on behalf of the Business Supports JWG and an implementation group is taking forward these recommendations.

Copies of the finance and business supports studies can be downloaded from the Network website and copies of the public procurement guide can be acquired by contacting the Social Economy Agency at the address below.

Network members held their first annual conference in October 2004 and their second Annual General Meeting in February 2005. The annual conference was attended by 180 delegates and speakers included John Pearse, well known advocate of the Social Economy and author of Social Enterprise in Anytown, and Bruce Robinson, Permanent Secretary of DETI. Copies of the conference report and Network Annual Report are also available here on the Network website.