After examining the arguments in favour of social economy activities, this article argues that recent initiatives in this area in the Republic of Ireland have not reached maximum potential. Three factors are regarded as holding back performance. One is that the necessary institutional conditions to promote the social economy have not been established. Another is that many initiatives are overburdened with unrealistic objectives, which have given rise to what is termed social economy failures. Finally, many of the community‐based employment initiatives designed to improve labour market access for disadvantaged individuals have not been ambitious enough. Government and civic associations are identified as the main culprits for the underperforming social economy. The conclusion suggests that fresh thinking and new approaches are required on the topic.