Defining Social Enterprise

A social enterprise is a business created to further a social purpose in a financially sustainable way.

The Problem
Modern economic models bring prosperity to emerging market countries, but lead to growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth.

Today, millions of people :

•Are deprived of economic opportunities.
•Lack fair employment and wages.
•Lack access to basic services.

Efforts to solve these problems often follow a short-term approach:

•They lack the potential and resources for high impact and sustainability.
•They fail to install local capacities to support communities at risk of social and economic exclusion over the long term.

The Solution
Social enterprises are business created to further a social purpose in a financially sustainable way. Social Enterprises:

•Provide income generation opportunities that meet the basic needs of people who live in poverty.

•Are sustainable. Earned income from sales is reinvested in their mission. They do not depend on philanthropy and can sustain themselves over the long-term.

•Are scalable. Their models can be expanded or replicated to other communities to generate more impact.


Social Enterprise Movement
NESsT is a part of a growing, global social enterprise movement. More and more entrepreneurs and investors are realizing that social and financial returns are not mutually exclusive.

Social enterprises apply business principles and practices to achieve social good. They reinvest their financial returns into the community to further their social purpose, to create employment and/or other economic and social benefits for marginalized communities.

NESsT Positions on the Sector


Social Enterprise Terminology
Social enterprises are known by many names: “social businesses,” “social-purpose businesses,” “mission-driven businesses,” “social ventures,” etc. Whatever the name, social enterprises operate with a “double bottom-line” of generating financial return while simultaneously advancing a social mission.

The term “social entrepreneur” is currently used to mean very different things. Some use the term social entrepreneur to refer to a “social innovator” (i.e., an individual that is addressing a critical social problem in a particularly effective or innovative way). NESsT uses the term social enterprise to refer to a business that is created to address or solve a critical social problem in a financially sustainable (and potentially profitable) way.

NESsT Glossary of Terms and Frequently Asked Questions


Non-Profit and For-Profit
Social enterprises can be both non-profit and for-profit in form. Some social enterprises are created, operated and/or owned by non-profit, charitable organizations as a means of generating income and/or to otherwise further their social mission. Other social enterprises are incorporated as a for-profit entity but the business strategy is designed to achieve a social objective.

NESsT is agnostic on the legal form of a social enterprise as long as its primary purpose is socially-driven.