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What is a social enterprise?

We asked this question in formal interviews, informal conversations, and explored it extensively in literature. Although there is convergence on some of its traits, “social enterprise” can mean different things to different people.


We define a social enterprise as an organization that follows business principles to meet a social or environmental need through a product, service, process, or distribution of profit. A Pakistani social enterprise bringing fuel-efficient stoves to off-grid communities meets environmental and social aims through the sale of a product. A Hong Kong social enterprise offering taxi services for wheelchair users fills a need with a service. A Korean social enterprise employing autistic individuals to make soap meets needs through its process. A Thai restaurant that funnels its profits to a nonprofit engaged in charitable works fulfills needs through distribution of profit.

download our report for a more detailed discussion on the definition of social enterprise.

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