What is Social Enterprise?

Definitions of social enterprise

There are many definitions of social enterprise. Social Enterprise Matters have two clear indicators for a social enterprise. These are:

  • Social enterprises are businesses which exist to address social or environmental need.
  •  Rather than maximising profit for shareholders or owners, profits are reinvested into the community or back into the business.


Social Enterprise UK’s definition of a social enterprise is:

A social enterprise is a business that trades for a social and/or environmental purpose.

  • It will have a clear sense of its ‘social mission’: which means it will know what difference it is trying to make, who it aims to help, and how it plans to do it.
  • It will bring in most or all of its income through selling goods or services.
  • It will also have clear rules about what it does with its profits, reinvesting these to further the ‘social mission’

The history of social enterprise

The pioneers of social enterprise can be traced at least as far back as the 1840s, in Rochdale, where a workers’ co-operative was set up to provide high-quality affordable food in response to factory conditions that were considered to be exploitative.

In the UK, a resurgence of social enterprise started in the mid 1990s with the coming together of different organisations, including co-operatives, community enterprises, enterprising charities and other forms of social business, all united by the prospect of using business to create social change.

If you want to find out more about Social Enterprise go to the Social Enterprise UK website: