A social enterprise is an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximise improvements in human and environmental well-being - this may include maximising social impact rather than profits for external shareholders.

What is a social enterprise?

Social Enterprise Alliance:

"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 agendas.

Three characteristics distinguish a social enterprise from other types of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies:

  • It directly addresses an intractable social need and serves the common good, either through its products and services or through the number of disadvantaged people it employs.
  • Its commercial activity is a strong revenue driver, whether a significant earned income stream within a nonprofit’s mixed revenue portfolio, or a for profit enterprise.
  • The common good is its primary purpose, literally “baked into” the organization’s DNA, and trumping all others."


Social Enterprise UK:

"Social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community. And so when they profit, society profits."



"A social enterprise is a business created to further a social purpose in a financially sustainable way."


Social Traders:

Define social enterprises as organisations that:

Are driven by a public or community cause, be it social, environmental, cultural or economic
Derive most of their income from trade, not donations
Use the majority of their profits to work towards their social mission.

"Social enterprises use the power of the market place to solve the most pressing societal problems. They are businesses that exist primarily to benefit the public and the community, rather than their shareholders and owners. Social enterprises are commercially viable businesses with a purpose of generating social impact."

Key Social Enterprise Organisations

Office of Social Impact Investment

The Office of Social Impact Investment (OSII) has been established as an initiative of the NSW Government to facilitate growth in the social impact investment market.

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Social Traders

Social Traders’ mission is to nurture, develop and grow the social enterprise sector in Australia.

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Social Ventures Australia

Social Ventures Australia (SVA) offers funding, investment, and advice to support partners across sectors to increase their social impact.

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Social Enterprise Finance Australia

Social Enterprise Finance Australia (SEFA) aims to lead the development of social impact lending in Australia using innovative solutions to build a stronger and more dynamic social enterprise sector. 

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Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Said Business School. Its mission is to accelerate the impact of entrepreneurial activity that aims to transform unjust or unsatisfactory systems and practices. 

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