Local sector has all of the key ingredients for success
Whether you're on a bus, in a leisure centre or even eating chocolate, you could be supporting a social enterprise. Social enterprises are businesses that exist to fulfil a social mission.
That mission might be to make the local community a better place to live and work, or it might be to provide work to those who may otherwise be excluded from the job market.
For instance, there are many social enterprises creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities, those without homes or those who have been out of the workplace for a sustained period.
The sector is growing across the UK and globally as consumers take an ever-deeper interest in the products they buy and the companies they support.
To give you an example; there's some research to suggest that social enterprises in the UK were growing at an average of 60% per year and contributing £24bn to the economy - and because they are social enterprises, much of the profits are ploughed back into local communities.
This is an important opportunity for Northern Ireland. Many locally-based enterprises such as Bryson Charitable Group are among the UK's largest and most dynamic, rapidly changing to meet the needs of their service users.
Locally, the sector has many of the key ingredients for future success.
When I spoke earlier in the year at the Social Enterprise Northern Ireland (SENI) conference in Belfast, it was clear that the sector had broad support.
Government, councils, corporates, small business, advisors, bankers, accountants, recruiters and law firms were out in force.
Like us they want to help businesses that are doing good and doing well.
Ulster Bank has a long heritage in supporting the social enterprise sector.
We're pleased to have recently agreed a partnership with Social Enterprise Northern Ireland to help support the development of these local businesses.
As well as a presence at the SENI awards and the annual conference, we'll be running a free event at the Belfast Entrepreneurial Spark hub on November 7 to help social enterprises address some of the challenges they face, including impact measurement, governance and access to finance.
We'll also be introducing Social & Community Capital, the bank's arms-length lending charity, to Northern Ireland to help social enterprises here to access loans, even if they've been turned down for mainstream bank funding.
We've already supported our first local customer and we look forward to helping many more with the funding they need to grow.
We believe there is a lot of potential here in Northern Ireland and we look forward to playing our part, providing meaningful help for the sector.
- Mark Parsons, Community Finance and Social Enterprise, Ulster Bank