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Social entrepreneurship 101: What is social entrepreneurship?

What do you do if you want to change the world, but you can’t even figure out what people are talking about? First of all, don’t feel bad. The social impact sector has a lot of terms that sound like they all mean the same thing, but it is important to make sure you are using the right one.

Once you have an understanding of the language, you are really able to level-up your impact. Using content from our Social Entrepreneurship 101 program, let’s get you the vocabulary you need.

WHAT IS SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
We like this definition from the Ashoka Foundation: Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social, cultural, and environmental challenges. They are ambitious and persistent — tackling major issues and offering new ideas for systems-level change. They create value, whether through a social sector organization or a business, that sustains and spreads their solution.

WHAT IS SOCIAL INNOVATION?
Here at CSI, this is the definition that resonates with us most: Social innovation refers to the creation, development, adoption, and integration of new and renewed concepts, systems, and practices that put people and planet first.

WHAT IS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE?
One key element of all social enterprises is the fact that some percentage of revenue is directed to addressing a specific issue. The Government of Canada uses this definition: A social enterprise seeks to achieve social, cultural or environmental aims through the sale of goods and services. The social enterprise can be for-profit or not-for-profit but the majority of net profits must be directed to a social objective with limited distribution to shareholders and owners.

WHAT IS A B CORP?
A B Corp is a company that adheres to specific legal and ethical requirements, but does not direct part of its revenue towards making social change. The official definition is: Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

WHAT IS NOT A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE?
A business that practices ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ – These days, virtually every large corporation has a department that works on corporate social responsibility. But this work sits apart from the core business lines, it does do not shape those business lines. These departments can do a lot of good, but they do not make the company a social enterprise.

A ‘good’ business – There are a whole lot of “good” businesses that operate in socially responsible and sustainable ways. Generally, businesses that do not make their money through addressing a social or environmental issue are not considered social enterprises no matter how ethically they operate.

A businesses where impact is a by-product, not a strategy – There are companies who deliver a good or service that improves the life of a group or an individual, but this does not make them a social enterprise. You might buy a book at a book store that changes your life, but that doesn’t make the book store a social enterprise.


Is it your dream to create a social enterprise? We can help! Learn more about our Social Entrepreneurship 101 program. It covers all aspects of social entrepreneurship, from making sure you’ve identified the right problem, to turning your solution into a sustainable business model.

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