Meet the ESELA Team – Jenny Ebbage

Jenny Ebbage talks about the state of social enterprise law in the Northern Ireland, her personal career motivations, and what the future holds for social enterprise law.

By ESELA Posted 27/01/2017
  • What kind of social enterprise legal work do you do?   

Advising on legal structures that are suitable for carrying out social enterprise in Northern Ireland and advice on commercial law and anything business related such as leases, joint ventures and collaborations.

  • Describe one aspect of social enterprise law in your country which works well and one aspect which needs to change

There is a reasonably good ground level understanding of the use of company structures for social enterprise in Northern Ireland. The label “social enterprise” is used to cover a wide range of activity The company structure works well. We do not have a Social Value Act in Northern Ireland unlike the rest of the United Kingdom (but watch this space). I would like to see more legal underpinning for community asset transfer to release unused assets for community use, particularly around a social enterprise/development trust model.

  • What do you think the future holds for social enterprise law in your country?

It will become more important and relevant. There is real momentum  towards the Social Value Act and a greater understanding is emerging of community share offers and a growing  interest and take up in co-ops and community benefit societies (bencoms).

  • How long have you been working in social enterprise law?

At least 10 years, maybe more!

  • Why did you decide to specialise in social enterprise law?

I have a corporate law background and enjoyed working with the third sector organisations, in particular the charity sector in Northern Ireland. As a result of that I have met a number of innovative individuals and organisations who were exploring social enterprise options and I worked with one of Northern Ireland’s largest leading social enterprises helping them with their legal structures. I also read widely around the subject and could see opportunities emerging in Northern Ireland for this type of enterprise as sustainable business models and community development gained momentum  after a period of grant dependency.

  • Describe an interaction or encounter with a social enterprise that inspired you.

I have worked for a long time with one of Northern Ireland’s leading social enterprises Bryson Charitable Group on their corporate structures. Their Chief Executive, John McMullan, has been an inspirational individual to me and many others in this sector in Northern Ireland. They are at the forefront in innovation and collaboration and have won numerous awards for their social enterprises.

  • If you could describe social enterprise law in one word, what would it be? 


  • What advice do you have for social enterprise legal practitioners in Europe?

Keep challenging the legal boundaries and models and keep innovating to help unlock social value and social impact for the common good. Get to know the people operating in the sector and listen to the way in which law underpins, supports or frustrates their efforts and see what you can do to help to facilitate the changes needed or to support the structures already in place. Look to other fellow practitioners for inspiration and solutions and share your learning and experience.

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