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Author's profile photo Ryan van Leent

A fish out of water – my expedition into Social Enterprise – episode one

What an exciting day! We received our client assignments this morning, with our group split into four teams of three. I will be working with a non-profit trust whose building was demolished in the 2011 Christchurch Earthquakes. Demonstrating true resilience and adaptability, they shifted their service delivery model to outreach and e-delivery, and now they’re ready to re-open at a new location – bigger and better than ever! Our task will be to assist with developing a high-level strategy for the organisation, including defining their new identity and recommending how they might best engage with Government and the private sector. For me, this is a really interesting project with a fantastic organisation, so I can’t wait to get started!

Also during our pre-work meeting today we received a presentation from the social development organisation that is helping to coordinate our activities in Christchurch. The presentation focussed on the definition of a Social Enterprise, and where Social Enterprises fit in the spectrum between Charity and Business (spoiler alert: right in the middle!). The formal definition offered was purpose-driven organisations that trade to deliver a social or environmental impact, but I actually preferred the informal definition given by our presenter as organisations that deliver the impact of a charity using the model of a business. I feel that this definition nicely encapsulates the characteristics of a Social Enterprise: having a social or environmental purpose; being a self-sustaining enterprise; and having an impact model and a business model.

The distinction between an impact model and a business model was also of great interest to me. Within this context, the business model component is simple: enable the organisation to be self-sustaining and turn a profit if possible. But the impact model is more nuanced and might be defined by: offering employment opportunities; delivering a product or service for social impact; and/or generating income for a good cause. Naturally the questions arise: should charities that turn a profit be considered Social Enterprises, and can businesses that deliver a social impact be considered Social Enterprises? And at a finer level of granularity: how much of the revenue generated from the business model should be invested in the impact model for an organisation to be considered a Social Enterprise? These questions were raised and acknowledged by our presenter as being important, although perhaps unhelpful within a sector that is struggling for resources and investment. Personally, I feel that these are decisions for each Social Enterprise to make for themselves, guided by their own mission statement. The organisation’s customers will decide whether their impact and business models are worth supporting, and that will determine the ultimate success or failure of the enterprise.

Having put these thoughts down on paper, I feel even more charged up about my assignment. I’m sure that the exercise of defining the organisation’s new identity and how it engages externally will be both challenging and rewarding – not to mention vitally important to the enterprise’s impact and business model. Bring it on!

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