Types of Social Enterprise — Embedded Models

A seamless model of impact and profit

Having previously looked at the external and integrated models, we move to the third model of social enterprise — the embedded model.

Impact and profit sources are the same

This model rarely exists unless the organisation was born as a social enterprise, as advanced planning and strategical thinking is required.

Put simply — it’s when the product or service you are offering, directly solves one of the social or environmental needs you set out to solve. Each unit or hour that you sell, has a direct positive impact which goes towards achieving your mission and vision.

It goes a lot further than the integrated model with this direct approach, as everything done is intentionally. A product design phase may have taken place to adapt or improve an existing product or service on the market to make it social enterprise appropriate.


Example 1 — Sanergy

One of my favourite social enterprises to talk about, Sanergy not only provided a simple solution to a growing problem, they went further and ensured there was a circular economy within what they do.

First off, they build what are effectively toilets in a portable style for slums and communities without toilets. These are franchised out to local entrepreneurs that can then make money in maintaining and offering them. Straight away, the toilet provides an income for an individual, whilst providing everyone else a safer, cleaner place to do their business.

Next up, the waste is collected from all of the Sanergy toilets. This means there isn’t illegal dumping or the need to build complex infrastructure that requires a large amount of time and funds, and can lead to the upheaval of communities. Once again, this provides further jobs.

Finally, with that waste, they treat it and turn it into further products such as fertilizer that local farmers can then use instead of potentially harmful chemicals.

It goes without saying, the amount of impact Sanergy must have on the community is mind-blowing, all through leasing of toilets!

Example 2 — Grameen Bank

Grameen Bank was founded by perhaps the most well-known social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus. They started off by offering microloans to people needing money to start or expand their business.

A fairly common service in developing countries right? Grameen Bank went many steps further to ensure it had an embedded business model.

The loans mainly target female entrepreneurs across Bangladesh, a country where in some parts women are shunned when it comes to owning or running a businesses.

Furthermore, it is a co-operative, and anyone borrowing money from GB is a member, meaning trust and participation is needed in order to successfully apply for a loan.

Finally, the interest charged on the loan is reinvested in other individuals applying for a loan. It is in this way that the simple offering of a loan, has turned into a sustainable social business where strategical decisions are influenced by those borrowing. The funds available to others across Bangladesh has grown exponentially, since there isn’t a group of stakeholders who are paying themselves bonuses.

Just like with Sanergy, the value comes directly from the ‘product’ itself — promoting equality, encouraging entrepreneurship, independence, financial literacy and economic growth.


This is social enterprise at its purest, where a problem was identified and a solution directly developed to solve the problem. Through the problem solving process, stakeholders, sustainability and impact were taken into consideration to produce a cycle that keeps giving.

Perhaps you have a social or environmental problem that you think you could solve? We would love to help you make it viable and sustainable. 

Why we should always strive for an embedded model for our social enterprise

A look at which models exist and which are deemed ‘best’

The flexibility of social enterprise is something that makes it a lot more appealing than having to go the traditional non-profit route. However with a number of models out there, it can sometimes be hard to define which is and which isn’t a social enterprise.

You may have even heard in the news that Apple was moving towards being a social enterprise. Whilst many were quick to dismiss this based on the way Apple has worked, does work, and the cash reserves it holds, others had heard the term social enterprise for the first time and suddenly thought Apple was one such model. This is not the case.

At the other end of the scale, there is the myth that the organisation has to focus on employing people from a vulnerable group in order to be classed as a social enterprise. This is, in fact, a type of social enterprise known as WISE (work integrated social enterprise).


For those new to this sector, here are the the three most commonly talked about models in social enterprise, which each have a name that relates to the social/environmental cause.

Embedded model

Where the product or service directly provides the solution to the cause and is fully linked to the social or environmental goal(s).

For example, providing latrine solutions in a sustainable and entrepreneurial way when the organisational goal is to improve health and wellbeing whilst reducing attacks.

Integrated model

Where the product or service provides some crossover with the social or environmental goal(s). In some countries they are forced to use two legal entities — one for doing good and the other for making money.

For example, running a coffee shop which donates its profits back to the non-profit whilst also offering work for some of their users or clients.

External model

Where the product or service has very little to no connection with the social or environmental goal, and may even donate outside of the organisation.

For example, producing and selling wooden boxes whilst funding computer lessons for primary school students.


So now when you look at the models, you could potentially see how people thought Apple could even dare to think about becoming a social enterprise. Then we can think about a number of private corporations and how they, more and more, are donating to certain causes or sponsoring specific events.

Taking a step back from that, and looking at the integrated model. This is sometimes where social enterprises have found themselves struggling to make ends meet. Perhaps their product or service didn’t have the demand they had hoped. Perhaps what is a great cause just isn’t a sustainable business. These social enterprises pivot in three ways. They can  give up and collapse, innovate and stick to their guns, or find something that sells, even if it isn’t linked to their cause. It’s this last one that can commonly lead to an integrated model and can dilute the nature of the social enterprise.

Then we have the embedded model. Where the substance of everything you do is linked to your cause, it’s sustainable and you have impact pouring out of each department. Your suppliers are all social enterprises, your paper recycled in-house and you have a staff volunteering program with the local community. Social enterprise flows in the veins of everyone involved, directors, workers and buyers, and decisions are made with everyone’s best interest in mind.

It’s not hard to see why we should be striving for such a model. It’s not easy to get there, and definitely takes more effort and skill in navigating the business world we live in. Your original idea will have to be tweaked and improved, and if things aren’t going well then you will be faced with the three options mentioned earlier.

But just like any successful business, when you have that idea, and convince everyone it is the right product or service for them, this time with the added value of being an embedded social enterprise, you will be closer to dominating the market for years to come.

Originally posted on:

https://medium.com/@michaelfreersplit/why-we-should-always-strive-for-an-embedded-model-for-our-social-enterprise-6e66c854e9fd