Social Enterprise Overview
Social Enterprise refers to organizations with primarily social or environmental objectives where surpluses are reinvested into the business or used for community benefit. These ventures provide goods and services to the market for the purpose of creating a blended return on investment (both financial and social/environmental). Rather than maximizing shareholder value, the main aim of a social enterprise is to generate revenue to further their social or environmental goals.
Social enterprise has been embraced by many not-for-profit and charitable organizations in the social services sector, but more and more it is seen as a viable option for for-profit businesses to make positive contributions to the environment.
For businesses, social enterprise goes beyond corporate social responsibility and views environmental activities as a source of revenue rather than a cost. In these cases, the business aims to create a blended return on investment (see Fig. 1) where there is no tradeoff between economic gains and environmental outcomes, but where economic gains are intrinsically linked to environmental benefit.
Social enterprises can address social and environmental issues while stimulating economic revitalization and the building of natural, social, and cultural capital. Each of the above examples provides an example of how social enterprises can contribute to the development of sustainable communities.
The combination of innovative ways that not-for-profits and charities are achieving their social and environmental missions and businesses that are adopting a triple-bottom line approach has begun to blur the lines between business and not-for-profit organizations. This has created the conditions for social enterprises to grow. These organizations are concerned with creating value that is shared between shareholders and communities, and there are numerous opportunities in the green economy for social enterprises to thrive.