Key Elements of a social enterprise

Separating us from the private and third sector

Some charities call themselves a social enterprise, and some corporates call themselves a social enterprise. Then social enterprises call themselves social enterprises.

Confused already? That’s the problem, many people can’t really differentiate what is really a social enterprise which can then lead to a lack of trust in the sector. There are standards such as B Corp certification, and legal structures such as CIC that can demonstrate who is and who isn’t, however these aren’t necessarily available or accessible all over the world.

Here I discuss the key elements of social enterprise, based on legal structures, certification and strategies from around the world. When deciding if a company/charity/social enterprise is or isn’t what they say, ask yourself these questions.

Who is/are their priority/priorities?

Stakeholders should be the number one priority for a social enterprise. These stakeholders are often defined by the mission or goals of the social enterprise, and can be a group of people or part of the environment. These stakeholders will have some sort of say on how the social enterprise is run. Obviously, the Amazon Rainforest can’t fill in a questionnaire or attend an AGM, but it is still able to tell us its needs.

After that priority, which can be multidimensional, it’s profit, which we will look at later on.

If you answered that SHAREholders were their priority, then I’m doubtful that they’re a social enterprise. To maximise shareholder satisfaction, you normally need to increase profits and are willing to sacrifice certain social or environmental responsibilities to do so. Could Shell, Google or Nestle really claim they were a social enterprise, when ultimately it’s about profit?

How do they make and spend their profit?

Profit isn’t a dirty word, it’s a positive word when used in the right way, and the majority social enterprises around the world commit to investing a percentage of their profit into their goals. It varies from state to state, and country to country. A rough guide would say at least 50% should be spent in such a way. The rest can be paid out to shareholders or co-operative members, but maximising that profit hasn’t negatively effected your stakeholders. If they’re not making any money on the market, often defined as at least 50% of income, and therefore any profit, they’re not a social enterprise.

What does their social impact report look like?

Transparency and accountability are important for charities and social enterprises. If they’re doing something good in a right way, they will be able to open up their books for everyone to see. Their director won’t get ridiculous bonuses and people shouldn’t be kept on zero-hour contracts. They won’t need to greenwash what they do, and can demonstrate their services and products have their goals running through them. The most organised and developed social enterprises have great social impact reports with social return of investment numbers, social SMEs often do something less impressive, but still take time to report (we’re working on being more impressive in the future!).

Are the board, on board, or is it just one section?

A social enterprise is named that way for a reason. It’s not an enterprise with a socially responsible department. Whoever started it, did so because they believed in a better more equitable and less harmful way of doing business. If the whole organisation is leading by example and dedicated to a cause, you’re onto a winner.


Four questions and you should be able to differentiate between a social enterprise, a charity and a traditional company. If the lines seemed blurred before, then they shouldn’t with the 50% income from sales, 50% profit to a good cause general rule.

Are you a social enterprise and want to argue with the questions and points made above? Send us a message or comment, we’d love to debate this a bit more, and create the much needed clarity.

Making funded projects more sustainable

Shift your short term thinking

Having dedicated my career to the third sector and social enterprise sector, I have seen a lot of funding pass through either the organisation I’ve worked at or organisations around me. 

These projects have been funded by a variety of grants, small local ones from the local city, larger ones from national foundations or bodies, and others valued at 6 or 7 figures from European or International funds.

I cannot deny the impact that the majority of these projects have had is excellent, however one thing that always seems to be severely lacking is the sustainability of each project. The question of sustainability is always on the funding application, usually towards the end, however the weight it carries changes from case to case. 

Often the mentality on these projects is limited to the project life cycle, it is seen as part of the organisation yet doesn’t fully connect to the before or after. Most probably if there is no funding for after, the project will cease to exist, and the impact of all that money spent on developing x or y, will also stop.

What do you write in that box for sustainability? How often do you actually do what you write? Isn’t all that money a missed opportunity for lasting change?

Sustainability hacks

We need a new mindset when running these projects. We need to look at each part of it and think how can we make it last for longer. There are limitations which I will look at after, but for now, here are a few hacks.

Leaflets, posters, banners, t-shirts…

Visibility is always important for the funders, so you are often faced with all these rules of what has to be put on any printed material. Despite these we can still design things in a smarter way. 

Think of all those banners you have stacked away somewhere, never to be used again but at the same time you’re unsure what to do with them. The project is over, the event has ended and they’re useless. 

Why so? On those banners you put a project name that’s over, a date that has passed or something related to that short-term project that is finished. 

Next time you design, don’t include a date, focus on text that is timeless, and if there is a project name that must be on there, make sure it’s smaller than your organisation name. Suddenly the banner can be used at any event to promote you.

The same with leaflets, instead of just focusing on the project, you can make it generic enough that can be still read, used and distributed afterwards.  

Your online media can be used to promote events or time limited projects, or short term media such as newspapers, flyers and posters.

Websites + social media

Most projects demand a website, so organisations go out, buy a domain name and some hosting, spend money on design and have a new website built from scratch. Two years later and the only thing that remains are the deliverables. They might also disappear once the hosting runs out, or are lost when the domain name expires.

Instead of this, you can buy a domain name that redirects to an existing website of the organisation, or a subdomain. Your IT guys will know how to do this if you don’t. This means all the information and deliverables will be stored on your central hosting and be on your main website, which you won’t let die like a project site, unless your nonprofit folds.

Social media provides some further problems, because posting needs to be regular and consistent. Creating new social media profiles for a project is often a necessity, but again they aren’t maintained once the marketing manager has gone, unless the project itself has sustainability. 

Think about using hashtags to identify a project, rather than a page itself, and also think about groups which spark more conversation than a page which is fairly passive.

Deliverables — toolkits, handbooks etc.

Quite often there is some printed material that is made during these projects. Whatever they are, arrive in a box and are put in a cupboard, sometimes remembered when there are fairs or conferences where they can be shared. 

Just with the materials above, it’s good to keep them as time neutral as possible. Where references are made to something that might be time limited, you could think about putting in links to more generic things instead. 

For example, if you want to talk about an upcoming conference, you can talk about it being annual, if you want to talk about some legislation, you can encourage the reader to check a website for updates or changes to that legislation.

Then when it comes to using them, first of all make sure they are digitally available on your website for downloading, and that they’re clearly listed and easy to find. People might search for something similar and come across the materials. 

In terms of all the material, make sure you’ve factored in the cost in the application for posting them, then you can pull together a list of schools, nonprofits, government agencies, doctors surgeries — wherever your resources might be useful — and send them out. Create a pack of these materials for you to take to conferences, meetings or other projects, so you can simply pick them up and go, instead of rifling through the cupboards.

Limitations

Staff

One of the dilemmas of being in the project cycle is that you’re always looking for the next piece of funding to keep your staff employed. This is similar to how private companies are always looking for more customers to keep the business going. But only similar, because as we know, the competition for funds has increased as the funds have decreased, plus the time before applying and getting results can vary drastically. 

That’s where social enterprise might come in. Is there any way you can use the funds to develop a service or product that can be sold on the market? When you are creating these materials, are you looking at it to tick an output box, or to fill a need?

For example, in the project you hired a video maker to create YouTube tutorials about a subject. Could you create additional videos or masterclasses outside the project outline that could be monetised?

Or say the project funds enabled you to buy some equipment, make sure you buy something that might be of use to others. Sports equipment or tech could be rented out or fire ovens and packaging equipment used to produce something different.

Finally, if you receive project funding for something that is meant to become sustainable, say production of gifts or sewing machines for upcycling, make sure you don’t overemploy and set yourself up for failure. Be lean, and be realistic.

Measuring beyond project life

The final limitation we come across is the ability to measure the impact long term. This is normally for one simple reason — it’s not something we are measuring within our organisation and therefore no-one is responsible for it. Perhaps because we don’t have the finances for it, or perhaps we don’t all have the skillset within the organisation.

However it’s very important. It demonstrates to future funders that you do actually care about sustainability and impact. It demonstrates that you are committed to showing how everything you do, creates positive and lasting change, which should complement your theory of change.


By working smarter with the funds we can access, we can slowly shift away from the reliability of funding some organisations currently have. We can relieve those cash flow problems as we wait for tranches to be released, and we can develop materials because they are truly needed. 

All of the above might not apply to your organisation, however there are always bits that we can take, implement and improve how we work and save time, money or waste long-term.

Clarifying positive impact

Finding the real meaning

As the effect of Silicon Valley ripples through each country, sector and entrepreneur, I’ve witnessed both the positive and negative changes.

An abundance of money is being pumped into startups all over the world, whether or not they actually have a working prototype or in some cases, a feasible idea. Fine, it’s your money (well kinda), you can invest it where you want.

Then you had the philanthropists, who were looking to donate large amounts of money to green or social projects. Excellent, with both government funding and donations decreasing, there’s a funding gap to be filled.

More recently, social entrepreneurship has found its footing and is starting to become prevalent in some countries. Legal structures have been formed, governments have set up policies and strategies, and universities have started teaching it. Now we have impact investment, and funds for impact companies.

What is impact investment?

In a nutshell, impact investment follows the usual rules of any investment. The investors are looking for a return over a number of years and will also have equity in the company.

However with impact investment the return isn’t just financial, but can be linked to a number of social or environmental indicators. These indicators tie in nicely with what the organisation sets out to do generally, or through a specific project.

For example, if an impact fund invests in a company selling affordable water filters, the fund will look for two things:

A financial return — the product itself has to make a profit in order for the company to be able to offer a return on investment at a certain percentage

A social or environmental return — the product has to have a positive impact on the buyers life that can be measured and thus relayed back to the fund.

What’s happening now?

As more and more funds have opened across Europe and the world, we have started to see a large change in the way they classify impact and social return.

You have the ‘purists’ who focus on specific problems such as hunger, housing or education, but then there are other funds that leave it open to interpretation.

Is xyz, a tea company really having a positive social impact on their drinkers so much so that they receive these funds? Perhaps if they are employing a certain community, developing educational opportunities there and paying them a living wage, most of which wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Is abc, a new taxi app really changing the way we commute in a way that returns something valuable to all? Perhaps if the fleet is only made up of electric cars, or there are subsidised services for certain customers.

Have a think yourself at recently awarded funds. Would you class them all as impact-focused companies?

Impact is impact, no matter large or small though.

That’s the argument put to me when I ask. As long as you can come up with an appropriate reason for getting the funds, then it seems that any impact flies.

I think we have to really ask ourselves a few questions:

Are there not enough social entrepreneurs out there generally?
Or not enough applying for these funds that impact gets diluted?
Or do the funds want to prioritise the financial return that ‘purists’ may simply not be able to offer?

Whatever the reason, and whatever your point of view, it’s great to see that there are funds now for the causes, projects and organisations that are committed to producing real, positive, social and environmental impact. If you’re one of them, make sure you access the finance made for you, and stop abc and xyz to it!

Do social enterprises have an exit plan?

Create, pitch, sell, retire…

Photo by Dustin Tramel on Unsplash

As an entrepreneur, I like to keep abreast of the general world of business and startups. I read the latest news from huge corporations, keep my finger on the local, national and European startup scene, and spend the most amount of time reading about social enterprise developments.

Recently I was having a conversation about exit plans, and how the lack of them can lead to investors not being interested in the business, because after all, that can be their big payday. I was then asked about social enterprise exit plans, and it got me thinking.

Traditional startups

Despite the startup scene being so diverse across the world, we often see similarities in the way they are financed.

The bootstrappers like to build responsibly. They invest their own money, move at a steady pace, sometimes have the need to have a full-time job elsewhere whilst developing their business, but can be quite against getting investment from outside.

Then you have the fun[d] seekers. They got so far with their own input, but then look for angels, VCs, or whatever money they can get their hands on. They often go to pitch events, or reach out to high worth investors, trying to sell their vision.

The IPO or the exit plan

Both of these groups often have some sort of exit plan. It could be going public with their product or service, being bought out by a bigger company or selling it onto someone else to run.

Whichever end might be in sight, it’s effectively about giving up control, getting a nice reward for what you’ve done, and for many, moving onto he next thing.

The social enterprise way of thinking

Social entrepreneurs aren’t averse to this, as we can see through funding options these days.

There’s this new dawn of impact investment, which you have to presume was driven by demand from social entrepreneurs rather than by the impact investors and philanthropists.

If they were against it, we wouldn’t see the amount of funding available locally, nationally and for example, from the EU. You can find something for all stages of social enterprise, from idea development to scaling.

However the difference is that these funds often come with a lot of requirements. They have to meet both financial and social outputs, outcomes and returns. There aren’t many people offering £4m no-strings-attached to social enterprises, as profit isn’t the sole reason for the enterprise to exist.

Furthermore, many social enterprises are based on a community need, a community that the owner knows well and is invested in emotionally.

When you take these two reasons into account, you start to understand why many social enterprise stay relatively small, manageable and to a certain degree — bootstrapped. You start to see why maybe social enterprises don’t think too much about an exit strategy, an IPO or a buy-out.

A history of social exits

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, so here are two examples of well-known social enterprises being bought out.

Ben & Jerry’s was initially established to provide high quality products based on the superb source of milk it had. The key was making sure their community was fully motivated — the staff well looked after, the cows healthy and ‘happy’, and the farmers ensured this and were well compensated for their work.

Just over twenty years later, there product was so good that Unilever came in with an offer which was accepted. $326 million was paid[1], with employees protected and the social causes remaining at the forefront.

They are still a certified BCorp today, showing they do still hold that social enterprise status.

The Body Shop on the other hand, has been sold more than once. Originally set-up in the 70’s, its goal was to stop animal cruelty, source local products and use natural ingredients. Seeing the success, encouraged the owners to look at franchising, something some existing social enterprises do today.

The Body Shop then went public in the 80’s, was taken over by L’Oreal in the 2000s and just two years ago was sold on again by Natura. Interestingly, they only recently became a certified BCorp, as their commitment to social causes has fluctuated over the years.

Key takeaways

  1. We can have an exit plan as a social enterprise — but we have to offer something with a great brand and high quality.
  2. We have to be prepared to let go of whatever it was we set out to do, if we do want to exit. (But this is the same as any company!)
  3. There is a chance that after 10, 20 or 30 years, if the sale is done in the right way, that the social causes will remain intact and relevant.

If you’ve exited a social enterprise, we’d love to hear from you.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/13/business/ben-jerry-s-to-unilever-with-attitude.html

Social Enterprise in Focus : ImpacTrip, Portugal

With social entrepreneurship a fairly underdeveloped sector in Croatia, it’s no surprise that whenever there is a social entrepreneur in town you soon hear about them.

That’s what happened recently with ImpactTrip, as they were in Split to look at expanding their operations. As a registered B Corp, they run a hostel in Portugal as well as offering voluntourism trips to a number of locations.

We caught up with one of their employees to find out more, their history, plans today and plan for the future.

Where did the idea for ImpacTrip come from?

In 2013 Rita, one of ImpacTrip founders traveled through Asia and returned to Portugal with the idea of creating a positive impact in the communities where travelers are. Rita is a “serial traveler” and her previous experiences around the world made her understand that it is necessary a shift in the way people travel, it is important to do it in a responsible and sustainable way. Later Diogo joined her, and both understood that the best way to achieve it would be through volunteering experiences in local non-profit projects, in a way that both, travelers and local organizations could benefit from it. 

What are the main social and environmental goals of ImpacTrip?

Traveling in a responsible and sustainable way creating positive social and environmental impact locally is the main social/environmental goal of ImpacTrip. We can achieve it by supporting our social and environmental partners, giving them the human resources needed to achieve their goals and their mission, and stimulating new connections between causes and non-profits These partners are chosen according to their relevance and mission, so they need to be in accordance with at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

How are you hoping to improve your BCorp score in the future?

We are working hard on the quality of our project processes. We believe that improving our evaluation methods and working even closer to our social and environmental partner our impact will grow continuously. Moreover, by expanding our operational area, we will be able to reinvest in more projects, built a bigger team and it will allow us to improve our score. 

What advice would you offer anyone thinking about going into the world of social enterprise?

Be, above all, idealist and resilient. It is very important to have clear in our mind our goals and what we want to achieve; then we can’t give up. There will be a lot of ups and downs, a lot of challenges, obstacles but the results give us enormous satisfaction and motivation to keep going and doing a positive impact everywhere and on everyone around us. 


So if you’re thinking about travelling more conscientiously, why not check out what ImpacTrip have to offer, or at least take a leaf out of their book and think about the way you travel.

The least well-known yet most famous social enterprises

Hidden in plain sight

Photo by Kris Mikael Krister on Unsplash

Most of my presentations start off in the same way.

“Do you know what a social enterprise is?”

Normally the answer is either a ‘no’ or a ‘kinda’. However as soon as I mention a few companies as examples, most of the audience has a better idea, whilst others are in shock. They ask how it’s possible that they know of the company, and in some cases shop their regularly, but never knew they were a social enterprise.

The answer is simple. Social enterprise is such a new term that it’s easier to market the specific things you do, rather than using an umbrella term which should hit the nail on the head.

Patagonia

A certified B-Corp which just gets better and better each year in terms of their social and environmental impact, this global brand sells high quality outdoor clothing and gear.

In 8 years, their B Corp Impact score has increased from an inspiring 107.3 to a whopping 151.5. Considering most businesses score around 51 points, shows you how much they do.

They are on a constant adventure to stop the negative impact their business may have on the environment, analysing the way they design, manufacture and transport goods, improving and solving the problems they face.

None of this would have been possible, if it weren’t for the original founders of the clothing brand, along with partners from similar clothing lines. Mostly adrenalin junkies with a passion for nature, wildlife and conservation, their personal mission meant that the company has always lived and breathed its mission.

The Tompkins couple bought up land in the Patagonia region over the last 30 years to ensure it didn’t fall foul of private exploitation. Then recently their NGO donated 1 million acres of this land back to the government as national park land.

Ben & Jerry’s

Many people are surprised to hear that Ben & Jerry’s are a social enterprise, given that the company that actually owns them is the corporate beast Unilever.

However, when the Ben & Jerry’s story began, both Ben and Jerry created the company for financial, social and environmental purposes. They wanted the best conditions for their staff and only to have a relationship with farmers who raised and treated their dairy cows in a way that met their standards.

Ben & Jerry’s were bought out, chopped and changed for sure, however they exist as their own legal entity, and have always maintained their social mission to buy the best milk from the farmers that care. The proof is in the pudding — as they say — so check out their B Corp page where they scored 100 last time round.

HCT Group

One for our English readers more than anyone else, and even they might be a bit confused.

Surely you’ve heard of Transport for London (TfL), Metro in Leeds and MCT in Manchester?

HCT Group run a number of services up and down England, including bus services for these big players. Alongside this mainstream business, they run school buses, and transportation for people with special needs, be it physical or learning.

Being owned by a charity means that their profits are put back into even more community transportation projects, meaning the most isolated and most vulnerable can live independently.

Check out their routes here, who knows you may be using them already!


These are just a few examples of famous social enterprises who many people didn’t know the good they were doing. Within the sector, we often say at how bad we are at marketing ourselves. Therefore we’re always grateful when you, our customers, can share our cause and recommend us to those around you.

If you buy from a company that has a great social or environmental cause at its core, remember to tell everyone about them!

Encouraging Entrepreneurship in Teenagers

Through engaging, interactive and hands-on workshops

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

I was fortunate to have an amazing Business Studies teacher at secondary school. She inspired me to explore the world of business as I do today. She had the right approach with us, spoke with enthusiasm and energy and made her own clothes. She stood out from the rest for a number of other reasons too.

This was despite the fact that the majority of our work was paper or case study based.

We never set up a lemonade stand.

We never sold cookies door to door.

We only once had to come up with business ideas.

[Mine were a penbrella and bodybrella, I don’t think I need to elaborate further. Perhaps both more revealing of where I grew up rather than my business acumen at that age.]

Fast forward 18 years, and I find myself teaching teenagers very similar things albeit with the modern jargon, theories and tools. What I did decide though, was things would be more teenager proof, and to do this I shook things up.

Make it relevant

‘Sir, I’m never gonna use this in the future.’

We’ve all heard it, and some of you may have said it, but when you’re doing Pythagorean theorem for the 124th time you do start to wonder whether you’ll need to remember those equations in your adult life.

There has been a shift to show students how they will use things they learn in school later on, but let’s be honest, at 15 you’re only thinking about liking posts on Instagram, playing on your PlayStation, hanging out with friends etc. Your future is far from your mind.

So, in order to make entrepreneurship relevant, we come up with a product or service that they can actually offer or produce. A lot easier when working with vocational schools for sure, but normally you’ll find two or three students that have a skill or hobby which can be used. If there really isn’t anything then let the students come up with something new. Even if it’s not reasonable they’ll soon realise this and change.

Once the product is theirs, and they want it to succeed, everything they do is now relevant. They’re not being asked to think about a case study of another business, or fake numbers from a book, but instead really look into their own idea and see whether it’s feasible or not.

Accountability

Normally we use exams as a way to get kids studying. As the exam period nears, stress increases and for the majority, so does the amount of studying. However, as we know, stress isn’t a great thing and we’d all prefer to avoid that dread. Luckily, accountability can come in many forms.

To do this with entrepreneurship, we set an initial date to launch their product or idea. In some cases, I must admit, this date has been delayed, but that accountability ensured buy-in from the students. Stress still plays a part, as they are mainly motivated by the air of worry that if they didn’t have something to show, they’d be stood there in front of hundreds of people expecting something. When they are engaged though, they want something to be proud of instead.

Further to that, and since I focus on social entrepreneurship, we stick to a promise that they decide how the profit is spent, as long as it is school related — a trip, a party, contributions to their graduation ball, it’s all in their hands. Most recently the class decided to plant a tree and have a class party.

The more work they put in, the higher chance of success, and therefore the potential to fund something amazing from their profits.

Feed them the way they like

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Viber, YouTube. The list goes on. Messaging, images and videos. Read or record and send. Flick through. Double tap. Like, love, laugh, get angry or cry. Three seconds to make that decision. Next video, next photo.

Whether you agree with it or not, this is how teens access information these days. I asked a 15 year old which site she reads the news on. Her answer was Instagram, as it was quick and easy to understand. No wonder certain celebrities or politicians do so well.

How do you translate this into the classroom?

Fast decision-making, but with the knowledge that you can always improve or change them later on.

Short, snappy tasks with a time limit no longer than a YouTube video or pop song. That’s all the attention you’ll probably get. If you have a bigger task, break it down.

Individual, partner work or small teams, just like on SnapChat. Be clear which one you are after from the outset.

Let’s not forget, actually utilising the tools they use. Record them practising their pitch and put it on a private YouTube link for them to watch. Get them creating advertising campaigns including photos and videos using hashtags.

This is their domain, listen to their ideas.

I’m not a teacher

I’m in a lucky position. With most of the students I work with, I’m only there for half a day every two weeks, at most. The ‘teacher’ effect never has a chance to sink in. Similar to the differences between being the parent or the uncle/aunt, I benefit from being fairly novel and never the disciplinarian.

Since entrepreneurship is a process of trial and error, test and improve, you need to adopt a slightly different role anyway. There are steps we can follow, but there is no single equation that will lead to success. There are gut feelings and sometimes a sense of doing things for the sake of it. You can’t teach these things, and therefore your role here is as a mentor or guide.

Decision-making should be taken on by all, success or failure is a shared concept and you’re there to introduce themes or topics, keep things moving forward and provide structure. If you feel you’re propping the project up, then you’ve gone wrong somewhere. If you’re the only one running around before the launch day, you haven’t removed your teacher shackles.

So make sure you start as you mean to go on, get the students owning the project, making the decision and doing the work largely without your input.


I hope you’ve been extremely underwhelmed by the suggestions above. They are nothing novel, unique, and have been done numerous times in many places.

Ask yourself, are they being done at my local school, are the teachers doing similar things, are the students learning in an engaging way.

If the answer is no, then it’s time to try and change it, and demand a better, more hands-on, interesting and revitalised way of teaching.

Balancing your head and your heart

The battle of social entrepreneurship

Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

I was recently training a group of current and potential social entrepreneurs about key stakeholders and how to ensure their buy-in at all stages from idea to execution. We discussed various methods, channels of communication, tools such as Social Return on Investment and how to share stories in a convincing and moving way.

I also got the participants to do a small quiz on how they make decisions. Overwhelmingly, the outcome was that most people supposedly used their head rather than their heart, however at the end of the workshop one lady came up to me and shared her current situation.

She had been running her own social enterprise for 9 years, with success, ensuring schools have access to clean water in Tanzania. However the idea came from the need for social change and better resources, with the financial side, and thus the business, following this. She had recognised herself in what I had said during the workshop.

“With a large numbers of social enterprise coming from the third sector, quite often people care so much about the social goal, they might, to some degree, neglect the financial sustainability.”

Her question was simple — how do you solve this problem?

Having been seen as both ‘the capitalist’ and ‘the socialist’ in different organisations, I offered up three solutions.

Get some sales training

One big problem is simply that owners or employees of social enterprises have never done any selling in their lives. They’re not equipped to sell, they don’t know the basic tricks of the trade and because of this lack of education and experience, they avoid selling as it’s out of their comfort zone.

If this sounds like you, then think about how you could improve your sales technique. Perhaps it’s about learning how to use persuasive language, storytelling or valuing what you have to offer, or a combination of these things and more. Put together a list of your strengths and weaknesses of your selling style, fill in the gaps through coaching and education and then get the experience through getting out there and doing it.

Set financial goals for yourself linked to your social outcomes

You may be a great salesperson but making a lot more money than you actually need to, might not be in your psyche. If you’re not motivated by money then sometimes it’s pointless setting sales targets. Each month you have a good idea of your outgoings, so you probably settle when you sell enough to cover those costs and nothing more.

Instead of having sales targets, have impact targets. Remember that every sale you make could lead to a great impact. For example, if you sell another water filter, that’s 10 more people with access to clean water or if you provide consultancy to one more business, that’s a further x amount to spend on an awareness raising campaign.

By swapping the sales target with an impact target, you’re appealing to your ‘heart’ more than your ‘head’.

Get someone else on board

They say fake it until you make it, but perhaps even when you swap the cold hard cash for warm fluffy (but still concrete!) outcomes, there’s still no faking it. Instead, you just want to work on the product, the story and the impact.

The last option for you is to think about getting a salesperson on board. It could be in the form of a business partner or an employee, but either way you’ll have to work closely with them to ensure the ethos of the company is present throughout.

This was one of the fears of the participant, that by getting a salesperson who is driven by the dollars, the social side may be undermined. This definitely doesn’t have to be the case, it’ll just be down to you to find balance, communication and results.


Need to work on your pitching skills, or to figure out what to charge for your product or service?

Types of Social Enterprise — WISE

A people-centred approach

Photo by Raoul Ortega on Unsplash

One of the oldest forms of social enterprise is called WISE — a work integration social enterprise. This is a social enterprise whose main priority is to provide employment to a specific group of people, often hard-to-employ or vulnerable.

Existing WISEs cover a wide spectrum of sectors, from clothes-making to factory-line work, and from landscaping companies to massage parlours. Just like social enterprise, you will find examples of WISE across the world, and perhaps in your own back yard.

WISEs used to be predominantly run adjacent to a non-profit organisation. This way they could provide tailor made work positions so their service users could find employment. It also meant that care could also be delivered at the same time, increasing the chances of successful employment and sustainability for both the company and individual.

Every WISE is different with its reasons for establishing itself for the sole person of employing a certain group of people.

Here are some examples as to why WISEs might be set up.

To provide a safe and stable route back to work

Imagine you’ve been out of work for over two years. You haven’t had a steady income, nor have you done a nine-to-five for a long time. Your skills might be a rusty, and maybe you’ve sort of forgotten how to socialise or behave in the workplace.

This description could be someone returning from maternity leave, someone off sick for a long period, someone leaving jail, or someone recovering from an addiction, to name a few examples. Such a wide range of individuals yet all with a similar common need — a safe place to work where they know the people and the pressure is off a little.

Many WISEs have been set up just for this — a stepping stone to get back into the working world. Perhaps through a contract job to give the person the confidence to find a job after. Or maybe that individual will always work in this safe and stable place. In some cases, certain WISEs crossover with support workers from their or another non-profit to provide a holistic service so that those starting work again are fully supported.

To offer flexible job positions

Not everyone has the ability to work full time, nor regular hours. This could be down to health, time availability, other responsibilities as well as many other factors.

With this in mind, some WISEs were set up that understood the needs of their workers, and could offer the flexible job position that meant those individuals could work to the best of their abilities or to a timetable that suited them.

It may sound like a nightmare to some business owners — a workforce of flexible work positions. However with a bit of ingenuity and innovation, and when your first priority isn’t profit, these WISEs were able to flourish to provide immense social impact. Don’t forget though — WISEs are generally still for profit organisations.

Fortunately, we have seen a shift within the private sector to be more flexible when it comes to working hours and contracts, meaning employment is a lot more accessible than it used to be. Therefore the need for this sort of WISE has decreased over the years.

To meet a need in the labour market

With sectors fluctuating, governments changing their employment priorities and different occupations moving in and out of fashion, there are often skilled people who find themselves out of demand.

Shipping communities, mining communities or where the garment industry was once rife, have all changed. These industries have, for the most part, vanished or moved abroad. Where they used to employ half a village or town, we find large groups of unemployed people.

Certain WISEs have set up to reemploy them in the same industry. You see this quite often happen with tailors, craftspeople and farmers. WISEs saw the opportunity to harness the local human capital and turn it into a sustainable business.

On top of this, we can think about all the skills needed in the aforementioned industries. Instead of creating the same sector, some WISEs take this certain group of people and reskill them. By using their basic knowledge from their previous profession yet applying it in a different way, they can create new sectors and new jobs for them.


If you work with individuals needing help to return to work , or if you’re thinking about starting a social enterprise to meet one of the needs above, then perhaps you should look at existing WISEs to see what models work for them. Reach out, do a bit of research, and make a good plan so your social enterprise will thrive. 

Solving problems through social enterprise

Using the five whys to break things down

If you start thinking about all the global issues out there, you’re likely to get pretty depressed. They’re so big that you sometimes feel unable to change anything, and even if you try to change things it’s on such a small scale that it’s hard to see the impact.

Instead, take a step back from that and look at your local issues — either in your country, city or street. Now things should be looking a bit more manageable and hopefully more rewarding when it comes to getting out what you put in.

Whichever problem you end up choosing to tackle, it’s how you break it down that makes sure you are able to change it and have a wider effect, or even, a ripple effect.

Activism in action

Recently in the British news we’ve heard a lot about Greta Thunberg, an activist who started by simply refusing to go to school every Friday. This was all in protest against how corporates and governments were not safeguarding her future due to their environmental policies. Fast forward six months, and over a million students worldwide have joined in with her protest.

Sure, she is the exception to the rule, but she broke things down and looked at how she could make in impact. Instead of writing letters to large companies or the EU, or her Prime Minister, or the local Mayor, she thought about where she could make a bigger impact — at her school and in her community. She turned a problem where so many people feel helpless into one where she feels empowered. Now she’s having those talks with decision-makers, and we’ll see whether she can have any impact at that level.

Tackling your own problems

Before thinking about potential social enterprise ideas, we need to think about a few problems happening locally, as many feed into global problems. I recently asked students at my former school to name a global, national and local problem.

Here is what they came up with:

  • plastic waste
  • Brexit social divide
  • growing knife crime

Three problems that international bodies, governments, and whole civil sectors are trying to solve on a daily basis. The only way we, as individuals, can really have an impact on these is to dig further. For this we can use the 5 why method, a technique originally used by Toyota to help with rooting out faults and errors in their production and manufacturing.

Problem: Growing knife crime
Why 1: More young people carrying knives
Why 2: To protect themselves
Why 3: Scared of being mugged
Why 4: Don’t be feel safe on the streets
Why 5: Lack of police presence

Creating solutions

Now the bigger problem has been broken down into five reasons, some of which are easier to try to resolve than others as us as individuals.

For example, in order to feel safer on the streets, there could be some self-defense and conflict management training. To reduce the number of those carrying knives, there could be knife amnesty days and awareness building around the dangers of carrying your own knife. To protest or counteract the lack of police presence, there could be petitions, research on hotspots, community action to create safe routes or walking groups.

There are many ways to answer the ‘whys’ for this question, and we can do this exercise a few times to come up with different reasons.

How about social enterprise

You could argue that most of the solutions above are things that should get government funding or be delivered by the civil sector, and therefore turning them into a business idea is a lot harder.

This said, with the three models of social enterprise, there are many ways in which the above solutions could be funded.

Self-defence or similar training could be run on a profit-basis, which could then fund free training for the target audience of this problem. Kapap Academy from Singapore do just this.

The knives handed in as part of the amnesty could be upcycled into other products or resold appropriately, and the profits could go towards further amnesties or awareness days. One charity doing something similar is Steel Warriors, turning these knives into outdoor gyms.


Think about the problems that you and your community facing. Break them down individually by asking five whys, and see what solutions you can put to those smaller causes. Once you have some ideas, you can start thinking about completing your business model canvas — could it make money from trading on the market? Then you’re onto something social enterprise. If not, then you still might have a good idea for a nonprofit or charity.