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What is a Social Enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business with a social or environmental purpose. They compete to deliver goods and services like any other business but also apply innovative and practical solutions to the issues affecting society. Rather than being driven by the need to maximise profits for shareholders and owners, their primary objective is to maximise impact on their chosen issue and surplus profits are generated purely vested rally towards that purpose.

Examples of social enterprises:

The Big Issue Company publishes a weekly entertainment and current affairs magazine, which Big Issue sellers (or vendors) buy for £1 and sell for £2, thereby earning £1 per copy. Profits generated by the company through the sale of the magazine or the sale of advertising are passed on to their charity, The Big Issue Foundation. The Foundation is also reliant upon donations from the public to fund its crucial work with vendors. The organisation currently supports over 2900 homeless and vulnerably housed people across the country.

Fifteen Restaurant is one of the activities within the Jamie Oliver Foundation and offers apprenticeships to disadvantaged young people - many of them homeless, unemployed, or overcoming drug or alcohol problems. In the kitchens of the Fifteen Restaurants the apprentices learn their trade, and their profits help fund the programme. Gradually, their levels of responsibility increase with the skill that they acquire through this direct participation in a fully operative business, so that they can eventually create for themselves great careers in the restaurant industry.

Divine Chocolate is a Fairtrade company that is co-owned by the cocoa farmers cooperative Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana, who not only receive a fair price for their cocoa but also a large share in the company's profit. In the early 1990s, Kuapa Kokoo was set up by a group of cocoa growers in Ghana, West Africa to trade its own cocoa, and thus manage the selling process more efficiently than government cocoa agents. In 1998 the Co-operative fair trade organisation Twin Trading, The Body Shop, Christian Aid and Comic Relief came together to launch Divine Chocolate. Against the odds it has grown to an £11m business with over 25 products available in supermarkets, Oxfam and independent stores and delicatessens all over the UK and internationally.