A social enterprise, according to Wikipedia, is "an organization that applies capitalistic strategies to achieving philanthropic goals. Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit."
Duke University's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship says social enterprises create "social impact through the thoughtful adaptation of business expertise."
But my favorite social enterprise description comes from non-profit Inveneo, itself a social enterprise. They say:
"we operate like a business with a social mission."
By this they mean their business approach allows them to scale and become financially self-sustaining instead of relying on a non-stop stream of donations.
Inveneo provides information communications technology (ICT), such as computers, telephony, and Internet access to people and organizations in rural and highly underserved communities of the developing world. They go on to say:
"Our business model, based on both earned income and grant funding, is rooted in our belief that market-based strategies and relationships help to maximize social impact, sustainability and scale by aligning the interests and commitments of all stakeholders."
Over the last few months we've interviewed dozens of social enterprises.
It's an exciting, growing sector and almost all social enterprise are small businesses. And making it even more exciting is seeing these firms ignore traditional methods and instead embrace market-based approaches to solve social problems.
We'll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks.