Here’s a quick blog post I wrote on LinkedIn:
Why are definitions of social enterprise important? Why am I still interested in this debate ten years on from running my first social enterprise? These are the questions I asked myself this week as I pondered the importance of keeping a tight definition in the wake of social enterprise being highly represented in the Australian of the Year awards across categories, and raising the profile nationally.
As a practitioner of more than a decade’s experience in social and private business; and as someone who has helped shape the sector, and frame the debate in Queensland alongside many wonderful colleagues, I care deeply.
For me the importance of a tighter definition and a deeper conceptualisation lies in legitimacy; for customers of social enterprise, for practitioners, and for future social entrepreneurs. There may always be grey areas, and in truth social entrepreneurs operate across the continuum of social enterprise and social innovation, across a spectrum of social entrepreneurship.
The necessity of a continued debate is a ‘time thing’ due not only to the recent Australian of the Year Awards, but also because the sector is still immature and without a widely acknowledged narrative. The main problem I see is when organisations relying on charity to operate and with no apparent business model (that includes trade) are called social enterprise. They may be social, and they may be innovative, and they may create wonderful feel good outcomes for people in need; and they may even be driven by social entrepreneurs, but they are not social enterprises.
This article by Social Good Stuff ably demonstrates that in order to be a Social Enterprise, you need to trade, and not rely wholly on grants and donations to survive. If you’ve got no trade, you’re all social and no enterprise.