Social enterprise is a term used to describe any business that pursues both commercial and social objectives. It is their ‘social mission’ and desire to contribute to the wider social economy that makes them distinct from other businesses and enterprises. There are estimated to be over 70,000 social enterprises in the UK contributing £18.5 billion to the UK economy. Currently it is the biggest business movement worldwide and one which should not be ignored.
Due to the varying legal and organisational models adopted by social enterprises the term is difficult to define in exact terms. However, a business can be considered as a social enterprise if it meets three fundamental criteria.
A social enterprise should…
- generate the majority of its income by selling products and services and not solely rely on donations, grants and funding (as charities do).
- have a clearly defined social objective and mission.
- reinvest their profits to achieve and develop their social mission.
Who are Social Entrepreneurs?
The social entrepreneur is very similar to the traditional entrepreneur in their drive, commitment, passion and creativity but differ in other areas. They typically act on their emotions and feelings as well as their intelligence. They take action to make a difference, not just to make money. They see a social need that is not being addressed and they stop at nothing to resolve it.
Unfortunately a large number of social enterprises fail in the first few years due to the lack of attention they pay to the financial side of the business. Social entrepreneurs are at risk of narrow-mindedly pursing social objectives at the cost of financial gains. Although social value should be a primary objective so too should profit generation as without profit long-term sustainability cannot be achieved. Successful social entrepreneurs manage to strike a balance between the need for financial gains and their pursuit of social objectives but maintain integrity at all times.
Examples of social enterprises in the UK
Three of the biggest and well know social enterprises in the UK are The Big Issue, the Eden Project and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. All of these enterprises have clear social objectives, generate their income through providing products and services and reinvest a significant proportion of their profit.
How can I become a social entrepreneur?
First and foremost you need to have a genuine desire to want to make a difference to society. This desire should be at the heart of your business strategy and ethos. If you already run a business and would like to increase your social value you will need to reflect on your current business practice and financial position and identify ways in which you could reinvest sections of your profits for social gains. Additionally you will need to revise your mission statement and amend your strategic objectives to incorporate a social mission.
Social enterprises should be regarded as the future of business planning as they are self-sufficient and financially independent, non-reliant on donations and grants for survival, and strive to make a real difference within their local and wider social communities. Personally, I am passionate about social entrepreneurship and believe all businesses should add social value where possible for a sustainable future.
Find out more about social enterprise in the UK by visiting the Social Enterprise UK website.