What is a Social Enterprise

Social Enterprises have a mission to address social, environmental or cultural challenges by reinvesting profits above operational expenses back into their missions, and using a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) to measure their success.  Social Enterprises take many forms, including non-profits, co-operatives and sole proprietorships to name a few.


This presentation defines and explains 5 different forms of social entrepreneurship (project, non-profit organization, co-operative, social enterprise and social purpose business) and gives examples that exemplify each type.


Typically initiated by an NPO, the social enterprise leverages business operations and strategies to generate private market revenues to support the primary services of the organization. A social enterprise can take the following form:

  • Training for those with challenges in the job market
  • Job creation for vulnerable populations
  • An NPO that houses a social enterprise to subsidize its services
  • A business partnership between an NPO and a private company to support the objectives of the NPO
  • Companies conducted and managed by Aboriginal communities

Armstrong, A., Mook, L., and Quarter, J. (2009). Understanding the social economy: A Canadian perspective. University of Toronto Press Incorporated: Toronto, ON. (pp. 107-109)

A social enterprise is a company that seeks to make a profit but also to have a positive social or environmental impact. Social enterprises are said to aim for a ‘triple bottom line’: the individual, the planet, and profit.



Who is a Social Entrepreneur?

  • Are you curious about social innovation and social impact?
  • Do you want to make a difference in the world?
  • Are you looking for a more effective way to bring about change in your community?
  • Do you believe it’s possible of doing business and doing good at the same time?

If yes, then you are a Social Entrepreneur.

The social entrepreneur is an agent of change – that is, he or she is inclined to develop innovative solutions to urgent social, economic or environmental problems. He is merging his entrepreneurial skills with his commitment to change and social impact. The social entrepreneur has known or has come into contact with social injustice and is urged to correct this injustice.

The social entrepreneur aims change through alternative ways. He will choose to put his energy into a community project ; or work with others to establish a non-profit organization (NPO) . The social entrepreneur can also decide to work towards the development of a cooperative , a social enterprise , or finally, a social enterprise .

Whatever their choice, the social entrepreneur draws on innovation and collaboration, as well as their diverse capabilities and experiences, to contribute to the desired change.


Why social entrepreneurship?

  • It contributes new approaches to community needs.
  • It offers creative opportunities to address social / environmental issues, both locally and regionally;
  • It provides opportunities for young people to create self-employment and self-employment;
  • Gives NPOs alternatives for revenue generation;
  • Increases entrepreneurs’ interest in return and social and environmental impact – and provides an opportunity to join a movement;
  • Provides empowerment and employment opportunities for people facing barriers in the labor market.

How can Social Enterprises help Northern Ontario?

  • New approaches are needed to respond to community needs;
  • Opportunity to creatively address social/environmental/cultural issues in your community or on a larger scale;
  • Provides non-profit organizations an alternative way to generate funds;
  • Increasing interest of entrepreneurs in social/environmental/cultural returns and impact – become part of a movement;
  • Employ people in your community who typically face barriers to employment & empower;
  • Social Enterprises can be formed by people with little capital;
  • Profits are not removed from the community, rather they are reinvested in the overall mission of the organization;
  • Social Enterprises measure their success differently – although they must ‘balance their books’, they also measure the social return on investment, for example:
    • Number of people they employed/trained;
    • Quality of the employment;
    • Promotion of long-term sustainability and stewardship of the environment;
    • benefits extended to the local economy/local people/environment.



To find out more about the types of social entrepreneurship, check out the various categories on the ‘Types of Social Entrepreneurship‘ page.