What are social enterprises?
First and foremost, Social Enterprises are businesses. They trade in the market place in order to fulfil social aims, bringing people and communities together for economic development and social gain.
A Social Enterprise can be characterised by a number of factors. The organisation will be enterprise orientated in that they will be directly involved in goods production and/or the provision of services to a market. They will have explicit social aims and ethical values. They are accountable to their members and the wider community for their social, environmental and economic impact. Finally, Social Enterprises are autonomous organisations with a governance and ownership structure based on participation by stakeholder groups (users or clients, local community groups etc.) or by trustees. Profits are not distributed to individual shareholders as with many profit-making businesses, but as profit sharing to stakeholders or for the benefit of the community.
Help and guidance
Social Enterprises don't belong exclusively to either the private or public sector. They belong to what is known as the 'social economy' which includes not only social enterprises but also voluntary organisations, foundations, trade unions, religious bodies and housing associations. The 'social economy' is also sometimes referred to as the 'third sector'.
Social Enterprises can include employee-owned businesses, credit unions, co-operatives, development trusts, social firms, community businesses, and trading arms of charities.
Where can I get funding for my Social Enterprise?
Funding for Social Enterprises comes from a number of sources. The Government is very keen to support Social Enterprise and as such there is funding available from central, regional and local government, as well as a range of other sources.
Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs)
Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) have been set up to provide loans to Social Enterprises. Local authorities and Business Link may offer grants or loans, as might the local enterprise agency. Some charitable trusts will offer grants specifically to Social Enterprises, and banks will provide loans on the same basis as they lend to the private sector. Some banks will also have special products specifically to support Social Enterprise.