What is social enterprise?
Many would argue that now more than ever, the world needs a nudge in the right direction, whether that be socially or environmentally. The unfortunate situation is that it often seems as though decisions that are profitable for shareholders of a business are damaging to society as a whole. Social enterprises have the role of turning this narrative on it’s head, by trying to ensure that their primary interests are the people and the planet before shareholder gain.
There are some characteristics that all social enterprises have in common that help us in categorizing businesses as such. First and foremost, the business must be driven by primary social/environmental objectives, which are cemented in their governing documents. Further, a social enterprise must cap it’s shareholder dividends at 49% of total profits, at least half of its profits must be invested in achieving their social or environmental goal. Another key aspect of a social enterprise is that it must be independent of state or government control. They must also ensure that they are transparent in the way their funds are being used and how they are aiming to achieve their humanitarian goal. To ensure that in the entire lifecycle of the company the business stays honest to it’s objectives, they also must ensure that in the case of dissolution of the business, the assets are used in a way that benefits society and not for private gain, this is often called an ‘Asset Lock’.
However, a social enterprise is still a business, and hence, in addition to the above characteristics, the business must ensure that at least 50% of its income is through trading rather than grants or other sources of funding. Trading can include sales, service contracts or other similar activities. A company which encompasses all the above characteristics is widely referred to as a social enterprise, a growing sector around the world and one that contributes 60 billion pounds to the UK economy each year, not including the humanitarian value that they add as well.
Before the onset of the coronavirus crisis, the UK’s top start-up social enterprises were growing at 355% over the past year, an absolutely mind boggling rate. One example of the most successful UK social enterprise, as ranked by the NatWest SE100 Index, is ACH. They provide refugee integration services and according to their website. Furthermore they have resettled upto 2500 since 2008 by providing them with secure housing, culturally sensitive support and vocational training. Another example of a social enterprise is ‘Aspire Community Works’, they work with local community partners to create greener homes, hold events that give practical training to individuals looking to break into the job market, and provide consulting services to organizations that want to support community enterprise. The above companies are just examples of the wide array of social enterprises that have been so successful in the UK in the recent past, they are pioneers in a growing revolution.
Working with a social enterprise is a highly rewarding experience, especially for this generation, who are increasingly looking to make a lasting impact in their work, rather than winning accolades or pay. Further, working in a social enterprise means that you will be able to take on multiple roles rather than be boxed into one specific type of job. Social enterprises also have plenty of diversity in their workforce, more so than traditional job places making it a very happy and inclusive place to work. This will ensure that you are always exposed to new and interesting people and experiences. Since several social enterprises are also start-ups, you will find that plenty of them have a very intensive innovation culture as well. Problem solving with limited sources is key to success in any start-up, and being part of the process really helps one use and enhance their creative side.
All in all, the signs and statistics all point towards high job satisfaction in the social enterprise sector, making it really worth looking at as a prospective role for graduates out of university. Many social enterprises will accept applications from university students from any academic background as long as one aligns with their mission and vision for the world. The website, www.socialenterprise.org.uk, has plenty of information about various social enterprises in the UK, one could find the companies that they can really connect with in order to then reach out and communicate with them about any positions in the organization.