What is a Social Enterprise: A Comprehensive Guide


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What is a Social Enterprise?

Over the last few weeks I have been out and about and one question I have been asked is, what is a social enterprise?



A business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose.

Traditional for profit businesses distribute their profit among shareholders, in social enterprises any surplus goes towards one or more social aims (such as combating poverty, obesity, isolation etc) which the business has.

According to SEUK There are around 100,000 social enterprises in the UK who employ over 2 million people and contribute £60bn to UK GDP, this is a 5% share.

With reduction in budgets for local services, social enterprise have taken on some of what authorities cannot and there are many who think this sector will only grow with an increasing need for the most vulnerable people. Thankfully there are caring, innovative people who can come up with a different way to help not only their communities but also the economy as well.


Types of Social Enterprise

There are a number of different types of social enterprise:


Community Enterprises: enterprises which serve a particular geographical community or community of interest and have representatives from the community on their board of directors.

Social Firms: which aim to integrate people who might otherwise find it difficult in the mainstream job market, such as people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.

Co-operatives: organisation owned, controlled, and run for the benefit of their members.

Credit Unions: community based financial institutions providing savings and loan facilities for their members.

Community Development Finance Institutions: providers of loans and other types of investment primarily for social enterprises and other small businesses.

Development Trusts: community enterprises which aim to develop a community, usually through the ownership and management of property.

Public sector spin-outs: independent social enterprises set up to deliver services that were previously provided by public sector organisations. Also known as ‘externalised’ services.

Trading arms of charities: set up to undertake trading activity in order to raise money for their charity parent company e.g. charity shops, catalogues, training and consultancy.

Fair Trade organisations: committed to ensuring that producers are paid a fair price for what they produce.

Other types of social enterprise: businesses with social objectives as central as their economic objectives.


Some great social enterprises


The Big Issue

The Big Issue Magazine launched in 1991 giving rough sleepers a way to legitimately earn income. They reinvest their profits not just to combat this but poverty as a whole and now even invest in other not for profits which totals about 300 which has positively impacted a further 1 million people.



DigiBete is a Leeds based video platform to share videos and educational resources about Type 1 Diabetes. The content is designed to help support children, young people and families self manage their own diabetes by extending the reach of clinical teams online. They aim to increase Education, Awareness and Training for Type 1.



In 2001 Cat and Kate decided to rescue landfill sites in and around Leeds from the tons of unused paint that people throw away after they have painted their homes, shops, offices, dog kennels or warehouses. Our main aims were to raise awareness for recycling and reuse whilst providing training, volunteering and employment opportunities for ourselves and others. In 2017 they won social enterprise of the year for Yorkshire and Humber.


Here at Agency For Good we help organisations spend much less time and money while driving more impact through better, more ethical use of digital.

We are an ethical digital marketing agency.

We have a mission to help 50 not for profits this year create more impact. We do this by offering our experience and time for free to hone your digital marketing efforts backed up by low cost, high quality digital marketing services. Get in touch for your free digital marketing strategy session.

Agency For Good are an ethical marketing agency.

We provide completely free marketing consultancy, coaching and training to 3rd sector organisations to help you focus and improve your income and in turn your social impact.

In 2019 we delivered 419 hours to 111 charities and social enterprise and we want to increase this to 500 hours this year so please get in touch.

We also provide high quality but subsidised web design, graphic design, video, social media, SEO, PR and copywriting services.

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