When it comes to giving back to your community through your business, social enterprises are different from corporate giving strategies, though both place a focus on the greater good.

But, what is a social enterprise?

Social enterprises are organizations or businesses that are providing goods or services to the public marketplace, but have a dual purpose of “generating income and achieving a social, cultural or environmental mission.” 

Though not technically a new development, social enterprises have been on the rise in recent years. More and more companies and organizations are turning their focus – rather than just a bit of residual cash – toward their communities, and it is estimated that more than 25,000 social enterprises exist in Canada today.

What is a Social Enterprise?

Social enterprises are organizations or businesses that are providing goods or services to the public marketplace, but have a dual purpose of “generating income and achieving a social, cultural or environmental mission.”  

Most people think of a social enterprise as  a non-profit organization.  Many nonprofits have another arm of their organization that acts a small business:

  1. YMCA and YWCA. You’ve heard of these organizations, of course, but it may not have occurred to you that they’re original examples of social enterprise. Both groups sell memberships and program offerings, and put much of this income into their charitable initiatives.
  2. Most museums and art galleries are non-profit organizations, and they have found a successful way to generate extra income not gleaned from donations: gift shops!
  3. The Health and Home Care Society of BC sells immunization clinics and health education to communities across the province, enabling their clients to educate employees on living healthier lives. The money earned from the clinics goes to the Meals on Wheels organization.

However, there’s a rise of social entrepreneurs and with that — a rise of social enterprises within the business sector.  A for-profit businesses can start social enterprises. Simply put, in order to be deemed a social enterprise, the primary goal of the organization must be social good, with much of the earned income designated to social programs or services. 

In other words, it doesn’t matter how much a business gives to charity in a year – if the stated mission of their company isn’t “giving back”, they cannot be termed a social enterprise. That said, giving back includes non-monetary efforts such as training or hiring marginalized demographics. 

Often, non-profit organizations begin separate businesses with the goal of further funding their community initiatives. But regardless of who starts the business, social enterprises combine “business with social justice, [using their business] as a force for good and a way of making change.”

Some examples of the work undertaken by social enterprises include:

  • reducing poverty
  • immigrant integration
  • economic revitalization
  • environmental issues
  • services to underserved communities
  • accessible health care 
Examples of For-Profit Social Enterprises

It is estimated that more than 25,000 social enterprises exist in Canada today. Here are just a few examples of companies who may appear on the surface to be regular commercial entities, but have designated part of their income to social good:

  1. Tentree: A Saskatchewan-based clothing brand with the goal of becoming “the most environmentally progressive brand on the planet”, tentree began with a simple promise: they would plant ten trees for every piece of clothing they sold. They aim to have planted 1 billion trees by 2030 and use eco-friendly materials for their products.
  2. TOMS: One of the earliest widely known social enterprises, TOMS Shoes started out with a similarly simple notion: for each pair of shoes they sold, they would give a pair of shoes to a child in need. Today, they have expanded their mission to one-for-one eyewear and fresh water for people in more than 70 countries worldwide. 
  3. ITTI Soap: A bath products line with heart, SITTI employs the women of a refugee camp in Jordan – and pays them fair wages – to create beautiful soaps and other bath essentials. All their products are vegan and ethically sourced. 
  4. LSTN: This company makes high-quality headphones, with the proceeds of each sale going to a charity they started that gives hearing aids to people in the US and dozens of other countries. They recently partnered up with Delta airlines to be the in-flight headphone provider for the company, which will only help them further expand their mission.  LSTN                                                                                                                                                                 
  5. Solo Eyewear: Much like TOMS and tentree, this company donates 10% of sales of their eco-friendly sunglasses toward eye exams, surgeries, and glasses for those who can’t afford them. They’ve helped more than 13,000 people so far, in more than 30 countries.
  6. GoJava: After taking note of the excessive waste from single-use coffee pods, a team in Ontario developed GoJava. They provide coffee pod recycling bins to businesses, in addition to selling coffee machines and pods. When the bins are picked up, the coffee grounds are composted and the plastic pods are turned into plastic lumber for building. The company also plants a tree for every order placed.

 

Want to learn more about social enterprises and how you can make a difference by giving back to your community?

Talk to the team at HeartPress PR for a free consult.