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.
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.
But what makes a social enterprise a social enterprise? The term 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. Social Enterprise UK, the national body for social enterprise, insists on being clear but pragmatic when it comes to defining social enterprise. They represent their members to support and help grow the social enterprise movement. Here are what they 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
And if they do well, they could even win an award. The Social Enterprise UK Awards are now in their 15th year. They recognise the high achieving and ground breaking organisations and people in social enterprise. There are new categories this year, plus the opportunity to nominate social enterprise champions – people who are making a significant contribution to society through social enterprise.
A social enterprise case study:
PM Training is a social enterprise which is tackling one of the key challenges society currently faces: youth unemployment. It does this through providing work opportunities to 16-18 year-olds in Staffordshire through apprenticeships, study programmes, vocational training and industry work experience.
PM Training has a long track record of delivery in the county, and its focus remains on giving young people an opportunity in those local communities where it is needed most. In 2012, 1,175 people from Stoke On Trent, Stafford, Leek and Newcastle Under Lyme joined one of PM Training’s programmes, with 262 real apprenticeships being created with a range of local partners and businesses.
As part of the Aspire Group, PM Training also directly helps improve individual homes, neighbourhoods and estates through its Homeworks services. Annually, Homeworks maintains 1000 gardens, paints and decorates 300 properties, and makes 500 environmental improvements – positively affecting the lives of more than 5000 local residents each year, whilst simultaneously creating jobs and training opportunities.
The problem of youth unemployment remains significant: but PM Training’s approach is one that is increasingly recognised by local businesses, local authorities and central government alike as one that works. And one that demonstrates that all young people, no matter where they live, can have an enterprising future. www.pmtraining.org.uk
- Big Issue – a news and current affairs magazine written by professional journalists and sold on the streets by homeless vendors.
- Divine Chocolate – a Fairtrade company co-owned by the cocoa farmers cooperative Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana, who not only receive a fair price for their cocoa but also a large share in the company’s profit.
- Digibridge -a pioneering IT resource and training company, connecting communities and people with no internet experience or computer access.
- Greenworks – refashions and redirects office furniture that would otherwise end up in landfill, providing organisations including schools, charities and small businesses with discounted wares.
- London Early Years Foundation – runs community childcare centres for children in London where, despite its apparent wealth, extremely high numbers of children are classified as being in need. LEYF supports lower income families by providing subsidised services and helping mums and dads to improve their parenting skills.
All content courtesy of www.socialenterprise.org.uk