About social enterprise

WHAT ARE SOCIAL ENTERPRISES?

Have you ever bought the Big Issue? Read it over a bar of Divine chocolate? Watched Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen? Visited the Eden Project? Shopped at the Co-op? 

Well, then you already know a bit about social enterprises: businesses that are changing the world for the better.  

Social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment.  They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community.  And so when they profit, society profits.  Scroll down if you want to get technical.

Social enterprises are in our communities and on our high streets – from coffee shops and cinemas, to pubs and leisure centres, banks and bus companies. 

New to social enterprise? Read our FAQs.

THREE MINUTE FILM

Take a look at the short film below for a glimpse of social enterprises in action. It features social enterprises Stour Space, The People's Supermarket and Fifteen. 


WHAT MAKES A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE?

The term ‘social enterprise’ came about from recognition that in the UK and across the world, there were organisations using the power of business to bring about social and environmental change without a single term to unite them.

Since the term started being more widely used in the mid 1990s, there has been a lot of discussion and sometimes confusion about what social enterprise is.  At Social Enterprise UK we feel we must be clear but pragmatic when it comes to defining social enterprise.  Here are what we believe are the characteristics of a social enterprise.

SOCIAL ENTERPRISES SHOULD: 

  • Have a clear social and/or environmental mission set out in their governing documents
  • Generate the majority of their income through trade
  • Reinvest the majority of their profits
  • Be autonomous of state
  • Be majority controlled in the interests of the social mission
  • Be accountable and transparent

Read more about this in the short paper What makes a social enterprise a social enterprise?

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE UK

We are the national body for social enterprise. We represent our members and help grow the social enterprise movement. Find out more about what we do. Check out the benefits of being a member.