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What’s the need the social enterprise exists to address?

In Topic 1, the concept of social enterprise as a way of doing business was explored on the basis of how they are defined and identified. This highlighted that a critical criterion for any social enterprise is that they have a clearly defined and articulated social purpose: a need in the community, society, or environment that they are seeking to address through how they trade.

In the absence of a legal definition for social enterprise, ascertaining how ‘social’ a would-be enterprise’s primary purpose is can therefore be problematic as it is based on the subjective view of its founder(s), rather than against an objective test. And this aspect of the founder’s view is a key issue, as many social enterprises are founded by people as a response to their own personal lived experiences, rather than having researched wider trends in society and such like. The ‘need’ may therefore be very limited, and whilst this is not to devalue the potential of the social enterprise to positively impact on it, its potential scope will therefore also be constrained if the need it is addressing does not exist outside of the founders’ immediate community (this point will be explored further in a later sprint in this topic).

School for social entrepreneurs

This YouTube playlist introduces a range of founders of social enterprise, playing particular interest in what their motivations were for establishing their respective ventures.


One approach that can be used to ‘test’ how relevant a proposed social enterprise’ purpose is, is to compare against the 13 recognised charitable purposes in law. These legally define what constitutes a ‘social good’, and even if the social enterprise is not intending to pursue a charitable form (see Topic 5), they offer a robust framework to extrapolate from. These purposes are detailed in full on the charity commissions website, but broadly fall under the following headings:

  • Relieving poverty
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Health
  • Saving lives
  • Citizenship and community development
  • The arts
  • Amateur sport
  • Human rights
  • Religious or racial harmony
  • Protection of the environment
  • Animal welfare
  • Supporting the armed forces or emergency services

In addition, it may also be useful to look at the broad themes of activity that social enterprises deliver against, as identified in the mapping of the sector by Social Enterprise UK:

Social Enterprises by type of activity, Social Enterprise UK, 2019