What is social enterprise?

Social enterprises are businesses that trade for a social purpose. Rather than maximising value for financial shareholders, the profits of social enterprises are reinvested in the business or the wider community.

There are many legal forms for social enterprise, and they come in all shapes and sizes. There are also lots of debates about vocabulary and definitions in different countries.

At SBI we use the term ‘social enterprise’ interchangeably with ‘social business’. In broad terms we work with the definition of social enterprise developed in the UK by the British Government:

“… businesses with primarily social objectives, whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.”

What do social enterprises do?

Social enterprises can trade in just about any market.

Social enterprises:

  • Create employment
  • Are vehicles for social innovation, especially in improving public services, and tackling environmental challenges
  • Help build resilience into the economy, often at a local level
  • Are a force for economic development and regeneration
  • Help individuals to develop and fulfil their potential
  • Can be a sustainable model for community engagement

The most comprehensive source of information on social enterprise in the UK is the Social EnterpriseUK website. That is best place to start if you want to know more.