What is social enterprise?

Social enterprises are businesses with a ‘social mission’ – they engage in commercial activities as a means of achieving social, economic, and environmental aims, and reinvest the profit they create to this end.

It’s worth remembering that social enterprise is not a particular thing, but rather a way of doing business that puts social aims first and not personal profit. But this does not mean that social enterprises don’t make a profit. They do and should. What distinguishes them from conventional private businesses is what they do with their profits – reinvesting them in the achievement of their social aims.

The Eden Project from the air

The Eden Project from the air

Increasingly, social enterprise is entering the mainstream and far more people than was previously the case are now aware of some of the biggest social enterprise ‘brands’ — such as The Eden Project, Divine chocolate and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant and foundation.

But social enterprises don’t have to be big, national ‘brands’ with celebrity endorsement (although this probably helps!). Many are small and local, operating primarily in the neighbourhoods and communities that they serve, providing goods and services that improve the quality of life, strengthen local economies and create employment opportunities for some of those who are most disadvantaged in the labour market.

In fact, if you look here you’ll see dozens and dozens of smaller, local social enterprises that are based in or serve markets in and around Birmingham.


Want to know more about social enterprise?

Here are some of the best briefing materials we have found:

Social Enterprise UK publications

→ Frequently Asked Questions about social enterprise

→ Social enterprise explained – for beginners, wonderers and people with ideas, big and small

→ What makes a social enterprise a social enterprise?

→ Start your social enterprise

Solihull SUSTAIN

Solihull SUSTAIN provides social enterprise and voluntary sector support in Solihull and has a brilliant archive of resources and materials to download.

Finding social enterprises

There is no single comprehensive register of social enterprises but there are a number of directories where you can search for social enterprises:

 Shop for Change – a directory of social enterprise goods and services.

 Buy SE – a directory of social enterprise goods and services.

 Social Enterprise West Midlands, the regional membership body for social enterprises and supporters of the sector. SEWM also maintains a searchable database of its c.400 members.

 The Social Enterprise Mark is a national ‘kitemark’ scheme for social enterprises. inspired by the Fairtrade movement. There’s also a directory of Mark-holders.

 Social Enterprise UK is the national membership body for social enterprises and also maintains a directory of members.

→ Think Venue – for great venues with a social mission in Birmingham and beyond.

The BVSC directory of voluntary and community organisations, charities and social enterprises.