Is Social Enterprise the New Face of Business?

Over the last few years we’ve seen the theme of Social Entrepreneurship grow exponentially.

From the 23 to 26 January, two awesome female social entrepreneurs from Cape Town returned from the World Economic Forum. They joined many other social entrepreneurs from around the world, ready to open the eyes of traditional business to new ways of using business principles to tackle major issues in our world, such as poverty, marginalization and climate change.

Social entrepreneurs are transformers and innovators. They question the way things have always been done and propose alternatives that revolve around making the world a better place. They take a problem–solving approach to the many social and environmental challenges we face in the world, creating high impact sustainable solutions.

It’s increasingly being recognized that a focus on the single bottom line (i.e. only profit) is no longer enough. Many entrepreneurs and business leaders are recognizing their responsibility to also consider how their business impacts on the communities they operate within, and the health of the environment.

For social entrepreneurs, this is second nature. For them social enterprise, the vehicle they typically use, is the business model of the future, filling in the gaps where traditional business has failed.

But what makes a social enterprise different? Put simply, social enterprises have a central social or environmental aim at the core; they trade (sell goods and services) in order to generate income; and perhaps most crucially, they use their profits to further their social purpose. Intentionality sets social enterprise aside from CSI or corporate social responsibility. The core purpose of the business is social/environmental value, embedded deeply into the business model, rather than being “on the side”

WEF attendee Tracey Chambers of the Clothing Bank and her co-founder Tracey Gilmore, are great examples. The primary mission of The Clothing Bank is to financially and socially empower unemployed mothers in order for them to eradicate poverty in their lives. Their business model revolves around using the excess stock of retailers to teach women how to run small businesses. Goods received from retailers are consolidated, repaired if required, priced and sold at affordable rates to women who sell these clothes in their communities, while simultaneously taking part in a 2-year development programme. The Clothing Bank has scaled to 5 regions in South Africa within 3 years, helping 800 women per year to break the poverty cycle.

Social enterprise promises opportunities within Africa to respond to the multidimensional poverty challenge and meet the Sustainable Development Goals. With its unique focus on both social and economic aims, social enterprise is a viable alternative to both the charity and private sector approaches.

There are many ways for entrepreneurs to incorporate socially enterprising thinking into what they already do. While some entrepreneurs have a clear social or environmental purpose, there are others who want to make an impact in some way or form. Social/environmental impact and profitability are no longer seen as mutually exclusive and I personally look forward to a future where every entrepreneur is a social entrepreneur driven from a conscious desire to make our world a better place.


This article was originally published on Lionesses of Africa on 1st March 2018.