There is almost a small industry grown up on defining what a social enterprise is. Some are short and snappy, some take paragraphs and there are even some definitions that claim there is no such thing actually as a social enterprise anyway! The positive of this is you get to choose the one you like which is exactly what we have done! Ours is “The use of entrepreneurial activity for social impact”. For those interested in such things it came originally from Charles Leadbetter about twenty years ago.
So what does that cover?
To us it covers quite a wide range. It covers a full commercial business where the social piece is targeting simply a market area that commercially alone might not get served e.g. therapeutic toys for autistic kids.
It covers start-ups serving a specific needs of a target group e.g. Specialisteme, the Danish originating “recruitment agency” dealing specifically with Asperger’s spectrum people.
It covers a full commercial business where the “social impact” is in the business model e.g MyMind which seeks to offer equality in access to mental health utilising a charging structure where those most capable of paying willingly subsidise those that can’t.
It can even cover what may seem non-commercial operations such as groups providing commemorative processes for personal loss.
Not dominated by the drive of a completely financially focused business
The common characteristics all have are that they share most of the characteristics of any business enterprise with the exception that they are not dominated by the drive of a completely financially focused business. Like all businesses there will be some “organising group”, working through some operational processes to serve the “market” they are “trading” in.
What it does not include, under our definition are organisations such as pure charities, where the reason for existing is fund raising for distribution to supported bodies, or advocacy groups where sole focus is on awareness and driving changes in public policies or behaviours.
Extra few challenges
Social Enterprises largely have the same set of problems in setting up as a commercial business with an extra few challenges thrown in just to make the job of starting even spicier. This is what gave rise to the idea of BNest, a start-up incubator adapted specifically for social enterprises but drawing on a lot of the different models for commercial incubators out there.
So, that is our definition – deliberately kept broad to embrace diversity of views, one of the cornerstones for innovation, but hopefully still giving clarity on the core – entrepreneurial activity for social impact.