Social Enterprise and You

Social Enterprise is a broad term that encompasses many different types of enterprises, which exist to change the world for the better, by tackling social issues, helping communities to thrive, helping individuals to better their lives, and helping the environment. Social enterprises are not charities – they trade like a normal business would and generate a profit – but they do business and use these profits in a way that benefits others.

There are many examples of well known social enterprises, and it’s likely you’ve encountered a fair few! One of the most well known is the Co-op Group – including the Co-op supermarkets, funeral care, Co-operative Travel, etc – as well as many others you may know, including the Big Issue, Divine Chocolate, and the Eden Project.

Social enterprise is an umbrella term for many different types of organisations, including:

  • Co-operatives: owned, controlled, and run for the benefit of members.
  • Community businesses: serve a geographical community or community of interest, with representatives of the community on their board
  • Credit Unions: community based financial institutions providing saving and loan facilities to members
  • Development Trusts: community enterprises which aim to develop communities, usually through ownership and management of property
  • Trading arms of charities: trade to raise money for their charities
  • Fair Trade organisations: committed to ensuring that producers are paid a fair price

As well as others. There are a range of different legal structures that each of these can adopt – including community benefit societies and community interest companies – which can affect the way the enterprise is governed and trades.

There are a huge variety of social enterprises, trading in all different areas – including renewable energy, farming and agriculture, retail businesses, housing, among others. These enterprises can provide employment and income to people who have previously been unable to find employment, as well as offering volunteering opportunities. Some social enterprises are also created in response to a need – for example, a need for, or a need to save a local asset (e.g., a park, building, facility). Community pubs are a good example of these, where people have come together to save their local pubs.

Setting up any type of business can seem hugely daunting, but there is a wealth of advice and support available to people looking to develop a social enterprise, as well as networks of social enterprises that can offer help and experience. If you want to get involved in social enterprise but do not want to set your own up, there are many opportunities to volunteer within social enterprises.

If you would like to learn more about social enterprises, Social Enterprise UK is a great resource, and can help you to access the help and support you need to start your own social enterprise – whether you are just at the ideas stage, or if you have a plan. They have a range of publications, including the “start your social enterprise” guide, which you can find here.

Here at Co-operative Futures, we offer support and guidance to social enterprises. More information, and our contact details, can be found on our website.