So, What is Social Enterprise?

Whenever society is stuck or has an opportunity to seize a new opportunity, it needs an entrepreneur to see the opportunity and then to turn that vision into a realistic idea and then a reality and then, indeed, the new pattern all across society. We need such entrepreneurial leadership at least as much in education and human rights as we do in communications and hotels. This is the work of social entrepreneurs.
– Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public

Social enterprise is not easy to define. There are dozens of explanations that muddy the waters of social enterprise by bringing together business, nonprofits, and the government sectors to define what a social enterprise can be. This resonates with me:

I like to think of it as the very intersection of where business and social change lives. It is the impact that a business owner wants to have not only on their bottom line but in their community or to change a social issue for the better. No matter how big or small your business is or how green or social it is, there are some common themes that likely connect you to people you didn’t expect.

Passion and purpose are key.

The social entrepreneur’s story is pretty simple, really. It starts with passion and builds with learning new skills to make things happen (“I’ll sort it out later!” is often a mantra for many of us) and it ends with passion. At our core, social entrepreneurs have a deep passion for their work and cause: creating meaningful employment for society’s unemployable populations; sourcing from fair trade coops in developing countries to help a local economy; educating people on the value of going green; saving the planet through the installation of solar panels on massive buildings in urban centers. Those are passions we cannot deny.

Local is social enterprise.

In recent years, I’ve come to believe strongly that locally owned businesses by their very nature of being local – paying better wages, providing health care and better benefits, sourcing from their own neighbors’ businesses, keeping money in our towns – are actually social enterprises. Many of them think about people, the planet, and their profit equally, and are sometimes deeply rooted in communities and neighborhoods for generations. These are the places where summer jobs turn into learning experiences and eventually careers for local teens, or where a single mom gets back into the workforce to get a new start. This is where local food gets delivered to the back door of a restaurant with a smile, a handshake, and cash that goes back home to that farmer’s family. These are the businesses that put more money into our local nonprofits per dollar than Big Box stores with donations of goods, services, sponsorships. They also volunteer more hours than most corporations, participating in events, on boards, and committees. This is social capital. It is what keeps our communities strong. This is social enterprise, redefined. Get to know your local businesses and the social enterprises in your community, intimately. They will probably be your best teachers.

Next-gen localists are social entrepreneurs.

I had the good fortune of being a mentor at a local economy business conference, setting up 30-minute sessions with localists who wanted guidance in their work. I met more young localists than ever before, who care deeply about their place, their communities, and doing business for good. Most of them were young women under 35 and ready to take on their community’s most pressing needs and solve them with innovative business solutions. One woman came to me with a plan for a repair shop incubator that would bring together all the businesses we overlook in our consumable culture; leather repairs, sewing, watch repairs, small appliance repairs – these are things we have learned to toss instead of repair and therefore are losing hands-on skills and local jobs. Creating an incubator business like this that helps older generation craftspeople transfer skills and knowledge to a new generation not only creates jobs with skills but preserves our sense of community and keeps money right in our neighborhoods. Creativity in planning a business is driving these young localists to do good.

Doing business with kindness is social enterprise.

Compassion in business is not something we discuss often but imagine if we were thinking through our business plans with compassionate business practices and sourcing; finding other businesses that are fair trade manufacturers, practice equality, and humanely sourced and raised food are just some compassionate ways forward in local business. Sharing our best practices with one another is good business. Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Café and author of “Good Morning, Beautiful Business” built her business on these values and founded BALLE, too, so that we all may learn from each other that, “it’s not the coin that counts; it’s the warmth of the hand that gives it. Business isn’t about money; it’s about relationships.” Just because capitalism is a dirty word to some people doesn’t mean others aren’t doing it with kindness.

Social Enterprise. Local Economy. Local Living Economy. Fourth Sector. Benefit Business. Social Entrepreneur. Impact Economy. Green Sector. Socially Responsible Business. Corporate Responsibility. Independently Owned. Social Capital. Social Impact. Fair Trade. Sustainable Business. Regional Economy. New Economy. Transition Economy. Sustainable Economy. Local Self Reliance. Resilient Economy. Post Carbon Economy. Place-based Economics. Nurture Capital. Gift Economy. Sacred Economics. The Sharing Economy. Collaborative Economics. Cooperative Ownership. Social Venture. Profits With Purpose. The Circular Economy. Triple Bottom Line. Disruptive Economy. Social Innovation. Local Currency. Alternative Currency. Localism. Social Currency. Barter Economy. Time Banking. Social Change Movement. Inclusive Economy. Shared Value. Purpose-Driven. Mission- Driven. Value-Driven. Food System. Food Miles. Food Desert. Bio-Region. Foodshed. In-sourcing. On-shoring. Paradigm Shift. Farm to Fork. Dirt to Shirt. Farm to Table. Green. Local. Localist.

I could go on . . .
So many versions of the same thing, so many terms, so many definitions, missions, values statements. But if you see yourself in there somewhere, you are a social entrepreneur. Welcome to the tribe!