Social enterprise can be found throughout history and in every corner of the globe.
What’s different today is the scale of activity and depth of understanding relating to social-purpose ventures and social entrepreneurship.
Governments are moving to stimulate the growth of social enterprise; universities are gearing up to research the subject and train the people who create and lead them; while the private sector would like to invest in this emerging market, if we could agree on methods and measures for understanding social impact (and how to capture the return on investment).
The main drivers behind the growth in this field includes a widely held belief that our economy is in crisis and the organisational models we are using today are contributing to the problems, rather than resolving them; and the closely linked increase in the number of people seeking greater meaning in their work.
Social enterprise is about looking for new business models that combine a social purpose with the strengths of enterprise: balancing the heart with the head.
In Australia, there exists a disparity between the quality of life and opportunities enjoyed by the majority and the circumstances most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face in their day-to-day lives. This difference, or gap, is in many respects widening, in spite of well-intended policies and the considerable allocation of resources. Nowhere is this inequality more glaring than in the remote desert regions of the country.
Amidst these conditions, innovation and entrepreneurship are being employed to not only overcome adversity but make headway where governments, the market and charity struggle to meet the needs of the community.
Social enterprise draws on and leverages the best elements from these sectors, relative to the challenge each venture has been designed to overcome, maintaining focus on the social purpose and reinvesting the successes and profits back into the venture and community.
There has been extensive work in recent years towards understanding and supporting social enterprise, with the discussion being informed by definitions, typologies and research into the contribution of the sector.
Here are a selection of useful resources for growing your understanding (and hopefully shaping your own ideas into action).
- One of Australia’s leading supporters of social enterprise, Social Traders, worked with the Queensland University of Technology in 2010 to survey the local social enterprise sector - Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector (FASES), worth a look for the research based definition of social enterprise and the depth of insight.
- Social Traders have created and collated a range of useful guides and tools, including the interactive Social Enterprise Builder and a nuts and bolts approach to defining different types of social enterprises.
- For insight into some of the most innovative startup social enterprises and the people running them, check out the School for Social Entrepreneurs.
- Australian Stories of Social Enterprise, from the Centre for Social Impact and Paramatta City Council (NSW), collates contemporary profiles, giving an accessible starting point for understanding social enterprise in Australia.
- Investment is acutely topical for social enterprises, as they straddle the social economy – philanthropic grants, governemnt funding and procurement and private sector finance. Here’s a benchmark report from Australia’s leading social finance organisation, Foresters Community Finance.
- For starters: the Wikipedia entry for social enterprise is a good stepping off point
- The leading ‘voice’ for social enterprise in the UK, the Social Enterprise Coalition, have developed accessible materials and resources – including the pamphlet Social Enterprise Explained
- The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit is a community-driven ‘wiki’ of information and resources about social entrepreneurship and enterprise
- Drawing on extensive experience, Virtue Ventures have created an excellent typology for social enterprise, along with a range of useful resources and the ‘SE Toolbelt‘ – essential reading
- Where ‘mission meets the marketplace’ is the strapline of the US-based Social Enterprise Alliance, an interesting contrast to the language and emphases of the UK and Australia
- Design-thinking has captured much attention as a popular method and approach to solving social challenges, IDEO – a leading international design firm – has estbalished IDEO.ORG to promote this approach and share resources to enable social innovation through human-centred design: http://www.hcdconnect.org/