So What is a Social Enterprise?
Social enterprise is more than just a business. When you buy a product or service from a social enterprise, you are also supporting a social purpose. It may be a unique employment opportunity for the folks who produce the product or a benefit for the sponsoring organization that receives profits from the sale.
It’s important to remember that social enterprises are not about giving a handout; they’re about fair exchange. In fact, the purchaser benefits from social enterprise as well as the seller.
The Social Enterprise Alliance defines it in the following way:
“Social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agenda.”
Business with a Twist
A social enterprise differs from a typical business in some important ways:
- It directly addresses social values and issues. It uses a business model to address a social issue, such as creating jobs for at-risk youth or people living with mental health issues or immigrants struggling to enter the Canadian labour market.
- Any profits go towards meeting the social purpose of the business. While social enterprises require a sound financial foundation, profits are used to ensure that the business meets its social purpose.
Another defining feature of social enterprises is that in some cases they may receive charitable donations or government program support, but they also earn money from the sale of goods and services.
At its core, social enterprise is about people helping people. It is primarily a means to an end, and not focused on making money for its own sake.That means that social enterprises are mostly defined by what they achieve in the community, rather than by what they produce directly and the profit they make for individuals or private corporations.
Here are some examples of social enterprises that focus on women:
Common Thread Co-op (Vancouver)
Common Thread gives newcomers and women living with mental health challenges the opportunity to learn how to sew and to use their skills to make beautiful and durable conference bags and other products made from upcycled street banners.
My Sister’s Closet (Vancouver)
My Sister’s Closet is an eco-fashion and thrift boutique that gives everyone access to affordable clothing while raising funds to support the Battered Women’s Support Society. It also provides local women artisans with access to a retail space. In the community, it helps to raise awareness about violence against women and girls.
Eco-Equitable provides newcomer women with a chance to earn a living and develop their skills. Purses, duffels and tote bags are created using recycled fabric, and contract sewing talent is made available to local designers and businesses. They also have great training programs and workshops, some of which help unite the entire fashion and sewing community.
PARO Presents (Thunder Bay)
PARO Presents is a gift store that serves as a retail business management training facility for women. The store sells clothing, artwork, gifts and crafts made by women in other PARO programs.
While these social enterprises focus on women, there are others that focus on the arts, food, the environment, and other causes. You can find other examples of social enterprises in the Social Enterprise Canada directory.
Women-Focused Social Enterprise
If you’d like more initiatives to check out, you can find some organizations we like here.
Additional Resources and Links:
- Canadian Social Enterprise Guide (produced by Social Enterprise Canada)