What is a social enterprise?
As the Hong Kong Entrepreneurship Competition this year had gladly announced its official commencement, the HKEC Organising Team would like to welcome you all with our very first article on the meaning and defining features of a social enterprise. We hope this article would give you an insightful overview on the subject at the beginning of your journey with HKEC.
Social entrepreneurship may still have been an avant-garde concept thirty years ago, after decades of augmenting publicity and rapid expansion in the sector, it becomes a well-known model not just to aspiring entrepreneurs, but also to common people in the society who may have benefited from the services provided by a social enterprise. Nonetheless, what actually defines a social enterprise behind its apparently self-explanatory name? How is it different from NGOs and state-sponsored charitable organisations? As a keen participant of HKEC, knowing what characterise a social enterprise is an essential starting point for drawing up an innovative and practical business proposal.
A social enterprise is a business with the aim of tackling a social problem incorporated in their mission and business model. As a business, profit-generating is critical to the self-sustaining nature of the enterprise, however, what differentiates it from a typical business enterprise is the way its profit is reinvested. The profit generated from the business activity, be it products or services provided, should be chiefly devoted to the pursuance of its social mission, in some cases, it will be the business itself whose activities are already dedicating to the cause. In essence, the idea is that when the social enterprise profits, the society in turn profits.
What also distinguishes a social enterprise from any state or private-sponsored charities is the way that it is autonomous, independent from the state’s or large shareholders’ influence. Of course, a certain degree of funding is necessary for a budding enterprise and usually such support comes from the government or the private sector, these resources and expertise prove to be highly valuable at the commencement stage of a business. However, as the social enterprise develops and matures after several years, it should target at becoming a self-sustaining body aspiring to bring about sustainable social changes through their own profit generated, independent from one-way charitable funding. This is one of the reasons why business profitability and sustainability remain as significant criteria in this competition.
There is no confinement as to what a social enterprise can offer to generate profit. It could be something as ordinary as a café but with a focus of bringing refugees into the workforce such as the Long Street Café at Melbourne. It could make use of seemingly worthless product as Matchbox Africa did with abandoned shipping containers, which are then repurposed into childcare spaces, small bakeries or after-school study space for students. As you may have noticed, these entrepreneurial ideas are closely tied to the needs and characteristics of the local communities. A successful business proposal often blooms in observant and sensitive minds, since a lot of our participants will be back in Hong Kong for the vacation, we encourage all of you to take the chance to identify the myriad social issues in our city and to actively approach the affected members of the society, the actions you take now may be the decisive kindle you need for sparking your unique business ideas.
HKEC Organising Team 15’-16’