Social enterprises working to achieve a fairer Ireland

Pictured at a workshop in Benchspace HQ at Cork's Marina for the announcement of five social enterprises awarded to accelerate change under Rethink Ireland's €700k Step-Up Fund, are Declan Sweeney, St Gabriel's Orthotics; Deirdre Mortell, CEO Rethink Ireland; Alex Stewart, Galway Community Circus; Maeve Murphy, Benchspace, and Anne Maher, The Urban Co-op. (Picture: Michael O'Sullivan)

Five trailblazing social enterprises including a collaborative working hub to overcome disadvantage, accessible community wellbeing supports and essential treatment for people with disabilities are among the projects announced on Monday under Rethink Ireland’s €700,000 Step-Up Fund, with a particular focus on communities in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway.

The Fund focuses on mid-level social enterprises operating successfully to provide vital services in communities across Ireland. Their impact is already evident in how the enterprises deliver valuable benefits to people who are most in need.

Rethink Ireland has awarded social enterprises that are accelerating change nationwide and these will receive a combination of cash grants and business supports to further expand their organisations, supporting people that are most in need.


The Social Enterprise Step-Up Fund 2023-24 is a two-year fund created by Rethink Ireland in partnership with Tomar Trust and the Department of Rural and Community Development via the Dormant Accounts Fund. Rethink Ireland provides cash grants and business supports to charities and social enterprises working in Irish communities across the country.

The Step-Up Fund focuses on elevated funding for social enterprises at the next stage and aims to directly impact the social enterprise ecosystem in Ireland, supporting and expanding this vital sector to drive change.

Awardees announced this week include Benchspace, a collaborative working hub aimed at providing people from disadvantaged backgrounds with resources to start new ventures in Cork; the Shona Project, a social enterprise with nationwide impact based in Waterford aiming to educate, empower, and inspire today’s girls in Ireland; and St Gabriel’s Orthotics in Limerick, a health initiative providing affordable orthotics to children and adults with physical disabilities to improve their participation and quality of life.


Speaking at Monday’s announcement, Maeve Cavanagh, Manager, Tomar Trust, said: “We are delighted to partner with Rethink Ireland on the Step-Up Fund, which looks to promote a thriving social enterprise structure within Ireland. We want to encourage further philanthropy in Ireland, and continue to create a legacy which Tom and Marie Cavanagh believed in.

“The Awardees announced today are some of many organisations that are operating in this field and are growing their social enterprises, aimed at improving the lives of others. We are looking forward to watching them scale their impact over the next number of years.”

The Step-Up Fund provides each Awardee with cash grants of up to €118,750, a business support budget worth €12,000, and a place on Rethink Ireland’s Accelerator Programme.

Targeted supports in areas such as public procurement, developing service level agreements and scaling into new locations are just some of the areas that could make a significant difference to the scalability and sustainability of the awarded enterprises and thus their local social impact.