Social enterprise – the stuff dreams are made of

Relevant to
If you’re motivated by your values, have an idea, and want to make the world a better place, social enterprise could be for you.
  • Social enterprises are businesses or projects people set up to focus on tackling social problems, improve communities, or create opportunities to improve people’s lives. There are various definitions of social enterprise, but a key feature is that they have a social or environmental objective – they’re driven by values.
  • You may recognise these examples of social enterprises – The Big Issue, One Water, the Eden Project, Divine Chocolate, and Jamie Oliver’s ‘Fifteen’ restaurant.
  • They make a profit and make a difference. Yes, they need to succeed and make money, but a key feature of many social enterprises is that half or more of the profit they make is reinvested into sustaining or growing the business. They often receive income from grants and donations, but also generate income from trading or delivering their service.
  • Social enterprise is growing in the UK – according to government statistics, in 2014:
    • There were an estimated 741,000 UK social enterprises – an increase of around 58,000 since 2012. The majority were small or micro businesses, employing 2.27 million people (an estimated 300,000 increase since 2012).
    • Women and those from minority ethnic groups are more likely to lead social enterprises.
    • Higher education is actively involved – as well as offering courses to develop the knowledge and skills to become a ‘social entrepreneur’, hundreds of universities and colleges support social entrepreneurs. These social enterprise case studies give you a taste of how some of the UK’s universities and colleges are supporting students and staff in an inspiring range of social ventures. Find entrepreneurship courses on UCAS’ search tool.

Where to find out more

Social Enterprise UK – a national membership body for social enterprise, with lots of useful information and FAQs on its website.

UnLtd is the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs and a leading provider of support and access to funding social entrepreneurs in the UK. It also works with universities and offers a range of resources where you can find out more.

Year Here offers a course for graduates in social innovation. There’s lots of information on their website and in their 2017 prospectus.

Social Enterprise Market Trends 2015 – you can find more of the most recent government statistics in this Cabinet Office report.

Association of College and University Entrepreneurs – find out how university and college students are setting up and growing their own social enterprises.