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This purpose of this paper is to concern with the extent to which social economies can be constructed as alternatives to private and state markets and their purported neoliberal tendencies.
The paper presents a meta-evaluation of an integrated set of projects supported by philanthropic investment to build finance, skills, entrepreneurship, social enterprises and non-monetised trading in the age sector in Northern Ireland.
The programme had important successes in stimulating social entrepreneurship, improving employability and showing how social enterprises can be incubated and scaled to offer new services for older people. It also improved skills in contract readiness, but this did not translate into new borrowing or trading models, even among larger NGOs.
In that all economies are, to some extent, constructed and socially mediated, there is value in thinking through the components, relationships and projects that might make the ecosystem work more effectively. This should not just offer a counterweight to the market but could explore how an alternative arena for producing and consuming goods and services can be formed, especially among potentially vulnerable age communities.
The albeit, small-scale investment in a range of interrelated projects shows not only the value in experimentation but also the limits in planned attempts to construct social markets. The analysis shows that social economies need to respond to the priorities of older people, grown from community initiatives and better connected to the capabilities and resources of the sector.