Simply put, a social enterprise is a business with 2 bottom lines: financial and social. The financial one is easy – the business needs to make a profit in order to survive. The second one – the social purpose – is the underlying purpose for the business: maximizing human and/or environmental well-being.
Take for example, Green Trade. It is a business that is expected to stand on its own financial feet. There is an expectation that one day, it will actually turn a profit and redirect some funds back to the John Howard Society, the nonprofit that owns it. But day-to-day, Green Trade is about develop its employees skills and attitudes and feelings about work. It’s employees are people who have challenges with getting, or keeping, a job because of barriers like a criminal record, lack of job skills, poor attitude, poor coping and problem solving skills.
Social enterprises develop personal skills and break down those barriers by engaging the workers/clients in real work situations – mowing lawns, shovelling snow, painting empty apartments, doing general handyman work. The General Manager acts as a job coach with each of the employees, teaching them the skills they need to do the work – how to paint a room, how to mow a lawn, how to fix a toilet, and so on. At the same time, every day presents “teachable moments” to help workers/clients build better problem solving and coping skills.
So while the social enterprise is technically a business, with a financial bottom line to consider, it must also stay equally focused on turning out quality work for its customers while developing the employment potential of its employees.
In the end, the whole community benefits!