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Starting a social enterprise is a noble goal and a popular option in today's business environment.

But what exactly is a social enterprise and how do you go about setting one up?

Social enterprise is a concept that fits somewhere between pure commercial business and community project. No formal legal definition exists yet; currently social enterprise sits in a weird legal space between commercial and non-commercial organisations.

The Ākina Foundation defines social enterprise as meeting three key objectives:

  • That the social, cultural and/or environmental mission provides a public or community benefit and that is the primary purpose of the organisation;
  • That the majority of income is from trading a good or a service;
  • That the majority of either expenditure or profit is spent in the fulfilment of the purpose of the organisation.

There are many definitions of social enterprise and they all involve business-like structures that are primarily established to make an improvement in the community or in the world.

Why Start a Social Enterprise?

We now see a greater number of people wanting to set up their business with a foundational goal of helping their community, improving the environment or making the world a better place.

As more and more consumers become aware of the social or environmental impact of their purchases, they are becoming more willing to spend a little more on products or services that make the world better and to put pressure on business practices that are unsustainable. It’s because of this that we will soon see the end of chicken battery farming, of plastic straws and of single-use plastic bags. If consumers are more aware of your social objectives, they are more willing to buy your product or service.

Social enterprise, when done well, can make a real difference to the community while still succeeding on its own merits as a business.

How to Start a Social Enterprise

Setting up a social enterprise is a noble goal, but how do you achieve it?

As a business you still need to make money in order to operate and as a business owner you want to have a comfortable lifestyle.

For some people it’s better to set up a not-for-profit organisation. Although it means sharing or passing over control of your vision it gives more scope for fundraising to get started or to supplement income generation. It also helps ensure that the goals of your enterprise do not belong to just one person and will keep going even if you move on.

Either way is valid. For entrepreneurs who want more than profit, it is totally possible to be profitable while making an impact. For not-for-profits that want long term sustainability, it is totally possible to generate income without ‘selling out’ your vision.

Below we’ve gathered a number of quality resources to inform and direct you in your social enterprise journey. If you’re thinking of setting up a North Canterbury social enterprise you can contact Enterprise North Canterbury’s Business Support Manager Miles Dalton to discuss your idea and source contacts, training opportunities and support.

Social enterprise


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