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What is a Social Enterprise?

Social Enterprise definition, meaning

There are many ways to give back, and social enterprise is an excellent all-around way to contribute in new ways.  A social enterprise is a business that is designed to maximize impact looking to create benefit financially, socially and environmentally.

Social Enterprise Definition

A social enterprise is simply businesses in many shapes and forms that look beyond the traditional model and try to have the most significant social impact possible.  They do have high risk, same as any other new business. Still, along the way the supporter can feel good about buying products and services that are designed to have an impact beyond the specific item/service being purchased.

A social enterprise can be structured in many different ways, but the intent behind them is for social good.  They can be set up to make a profit, but often that profit is spun off for some other form of good, or nonprofit focused on the return to society in some other way.  They can be complicated, and simple but their mission is clear to provide benefit to the community beyond the product or service they are providing. The idea is a greater social good, which is very similar to charities and other nonprofits but different because they are often running a business with products or services with a strong focus on maximizing the social good alongside profits for all owners.

Social enterprises can be really appealing for people wanting a great way to give back, which resembles more of a traditional business but with a social impact.

Social Enterprise Examples

As an example of a social enterprise that might be a company that sells lemonade, they partner with a country that has a lot of youth gang violence. They work with them to come up with strategies that will help the lemonade company and the country looking for opportunities for the youth. They decide together that lemons will be picked socially responsibly, and the farmers will hire underprivileged youth to pick lemons, train them in the lemon business to give them future job opportunities giving the youth future job opportunities in a local context perhaps having an impact in the social context.  The lemonade company wins, they get lemons.  The country picking fruits wins, they get job opportunities, and you as a consumer wins because you are supporting a social enterprise that gives back way more than good lemonade.  Your support means that the program can continue to expand; perhaps they decide to grow and start expanding into new areas adjacent or supporting the original idea like oranges or they choose to start a new business developing on the concept but supporting the original intent. 

The beginning of Social Enterprises

The origin of social enterprises have been thought to have come from nonprofits, and are variations of business models that continue to evolve over time. The Social Enterprise Alliance indicates the models have changed over time because of the increases in nonprofit operating costs, need to make more profit in new ways that are beyond the limitation placed on nonprofits.

There has been a global decline in government support for philanthropy, a reduction in public support for generosity. At the same time, increased global competition in the charitable sector with an explosion of new charities and decreased giving globally, and increased demand for services/goods provided in ethical and moral ways beyond the product/service the organization was initially intended to provide.  These new models are varied, but give the supporter of an abundant number of choices.

For-Profit and Nonprofit Social Enterprises

Social enterprises are typically structured as a nonprofit but there are definitely a growing number of for-profit social enterprises. Social enterprises can be set up as for benefits, usually, give back any profit to some charitable extension of their organization are not only a structural element of a nonprofit. This can lead to confusion by supporters, but also in the social enterprise itself as they try and balance the need for profit against the impact and the social mission against the excellent/services.  As with all businesses, there is a degree of risk, and as a supporter, you will find incredibly powerful and surprising stories behind the products/services, and when looking to the owners or entrepreneurs, even more compelling stories behind why the organization was created. Social enterprise the social mission; however, they define it is core to the organization’s mission. Circle Acts hopes to tell stories one day.


What is a Social Enterprise?

About the author

Circle Acts Team

United by a shared passion to make a difference, we're on a joyful mission: to spotlight the wonderful world of nonprofits, charities, and the incredible causes they champion.

Every article we craft is a labor of love, bursting with positivity and hope. We're firm believers in the magic of service and are constantly inspired by the countless unsung heroes working tirelessly for change. By donating our time and energy, we aspire to create ripples of awareness and inspire action. So, every time you read one of our articles, know it's penned with heaps of passion, a dash of joy, and a sprinkle of hope.

Cheers to making the world a brighter place, one story at a time!