The textbooks call a Social Enterprise:
“a profit-making venture set-up to tackle a social need”
Many commercial businesses might consider themselves to have a social objective, but a Social Enterprise is unique because their social purpose is central to what they are. Rather than maximising shareholder value, their aim is to generate profit to further their social purpose. Some commentators describe this as “not-for-profit” as their profits are not distributed to financial investors, this is misleading as it implies they are unbusiness-like. It is better said that profits of the business is used to support its social aim or that the business itself accomplishes the social aim through its operation.
However, there are some misleading interpretations of the term “Social Enterprise” particularly new businesses or well-meaning charities who try to ride a wave of popular support for Social Enterprises in the community. Nevertheless, despite the owners best motives and goals to establish a business based on meeting social outcomes they can’t truly be called a Social Enterprise if their major income is derived from other sources and not trading. Further, if there are no binding or legal structures in place to ensure profits go to continue to support its social purpose long-term. Consequently is best to discriminate between what is a socially responsible business, a charity and Social Enterprise.