Social enterprise


Social enterprise is not like normal business - you start one because you want to help a community or the environment. Although they generate profit, it's not really about making money for yourself - but some people find that helping is reward enough. This guide looks at:

  • What social enterprise is
  • Why it might suit you
  • Why it might not suit you
  • The main types of social enterprise
  • Who to consult

What social enterprise is

A social enterprise is an enterprise or business whose core purpose is to help in a social or environmental way. Instead of striving for more shareholder value, it aims to generate profit to achieve social or environmental goals by harnessing market efficiency. Well-known examples include The Big Issue and Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen, which encourages disadvantaged young people into work as chefs.

  • Core purpose is to generate profit to further environmentally or socially helpful aims

Why it might suit you

To run a successful social enterprise, you really do need to believe in your cause. This isn't really the best way to make yourself a millionaire, as most profits are invested in furthering social aims. But if improving your community or changing the world for the better is what drives you, it could just be the perfect thing for you.

  • If you believe in your cause
  • If want to improve your community or the world

Why it might not suit you

If you want to make a lot of money, social enterprise may not be for you, as you need to be willing to reinvest profits into social or environmental causes. This also makes it much more difficult to find investment, as there probably won't be worthwhile return for investors. You also often need to be willing to explore and develop new business models, as it's not a typical form of business.

  • If you want to make a lot of money it's probably not for you
  • Difficult to find investment
  • You need to be willing to explore new business models

The main types of social enteprise

Social enterprises come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a few particularly widespread models. Community development trusts are community led and owned and strive to bring about improvements to their area and community. Housing associations are not-for-profit and help house people in the community. Worker-owned co-operatives are entirely owned by their workers - there are no outside shareholders. And leisure centres provide activities for the community.

  • Community development trusts, housing associations, worker-owned co-operatives, leisure centres

Who to consult

The Social Enterprise Coalition are a group focused entirely on promoting and helping social enterprises - visit their website at or call 020 7793 2324 for information. They have regional networks that can give you information based on your particular area.

  • Contact the Social Enterprise Coalition

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