22 Awesome Social Enterprise Business Ideas

There are several ways you can go-about searching for social enterprise business ideas. Creating a social business has many similarities to building a traditional business, but inspiration is usually drawn from a different place.

Social enterprise ideas, unlike conventional business ideas, typically result from a desire to solve a social need; similar to how many non-profit and charity organizations find their beginning.

Traditional business ideas can also come from identifying a social need. But, the difference between a social enterprise idea and a traditional business idea is the motivation of the entrepreneur. The primary motivation for a traditional entrepreneur is more-often-than-not a desire to make money; a social entrepreneur is driven more by a passion to solve a social problem, and only chooses to use business as a mechanism to solve these problems.

Because of the different motivations that drive the two types of entrepreneurs, we must consider that their businesses will function a bit differently. We often hear the business world talk about focusing on the bottom line business practices that lead to increased monetary profitability. In comparison, social businesses focus on double – or triple – bottom line business practices that lead to social, environmental AND economic profitability.

So how do social enterprises create double and triple bottom line profit?

Here’s some of the most common frameworks we see successful social enterprises using:

  1. Cross-Compensation – One group of customers pays for the service. Profits from this group are used to subsidize the service for another, underserved group.
  2. Fee for Service – Beneficiaries pay directly for the good or services provided by the social enterprise.
  3. Employment and skills training – The core purpose is to provide living wages, skills development, and job training to the beneficiaries: the employees.
  4. Market Intermediary – The social enterprise acts as an intermediary, or distributor, to an expanded market.  The beneficiaries are the suppliers of the product and/or service that is being distributed to an international market.
  5. Market Connector – The social enterprise facilitates trade relationships between beneficiaries and new markets.
  6. Independent Support – The social enterprise delivers a product or service to an external market that is separate from the beneficiary and social impact generated. Funds are used to support social programs to the beneficiary.
  7. Cooperative – A for profit or nonprofit business that is owned by its members who also use its services, providing virtually any type of goods or services.

mymbanner2

Now let’s look at our list of 22 Awesome Social Enterprise Ideas!

Social Supermarket

Social-Supermarket (Business Model: Fee for Service. Example: Community Shop) – Create a food market that sells food to low income communities at a discounted price. Discounted food is donated (or purchased very cheaply) from food suppliers and other supermarkets, who cannot sell the food themselves for a variety of reasons such as approaching expiry dates, dented cans, and product mislabeling.

 

Used Textbooks for Social Change Used-Textbooks-for-Social-Change(Business Model: Cross-compensation and Independent Support. Example: Textbooks for Change) – Partner with student groups/clubs to collect used textbooks at the end of each semester. Students donate their used textbooks. Some of the textbooks are re-sold to students at the college/university of their collection source; some of the textbooks are donated to students in need at underserved universities in the developing world. The profits are split between the student groups/clubs, program administration costs, and any remaining funds are used to support social programs in developing communities.

 

Online Socially Conscious Marketplace Online-Socially-Conscious-Marketplace(Business Model: Market Connector. Examples: ArtZoco and eBatuta) – Help underserved artisans sell their products to the world by building a platform that makes it easy for them. Artisans can either manage their online store directly, or the platform can act merely as a listing service that connects the artisans face-to-face with buyers. Revenue is created by either charging listing fees directly to the artisan, via a commission on goods sold, or built-in as a premium fee to the buyer. Profit generated can be used to fund social services that directly affect the artisan communities.

 

Sustainable Water Sustainable-Water(Business Model: Fee for Service. Example: Water Health International) – Build small water purification stations in communities in developing countries using off-the-shelf products. Initial funds to build it can come from traditional charitable methods, or through debt/equity financing; the communities can be partial owners (or full owners, if using cooperative business model). Ongoing costs to maintain and staff the water station come from sale of purified water to its beneficiaries, but at near break-even levels, costing almost nothing for the beneficiaries.

 

Micro Lending Micro-lending(Business Model: Market Connector. Example: Kiva) – Create a platform for individuals and organizations to lend money directly to entrepreneurs who would otherwise not get funding, such as those in the developing world. Charge a small fee to cover the operational costs.

 

Social Crowdfunding Social-Crowdfunding(Business Model: Market Connector. Example: Start Some Good) – Build a platform for social entrepreneurs to find groups of funders. Similar to the Micro Lending platform, but lenders take a promise of something in the future in return for ‘donating’ a bit of money to the Social Entrepreneur’s project now. Charge a small fee to cover the operational costs of the platform.

 

Baking/Cooking for a Social Cause Baking-Cooking-for-a-Social-Cause(Business Model: Employment and Skills Training. Example: Edgar and Joe’s) – Open a bakery/restaurant or another food-providing establishment that focuses on building employment skills for underemployed groups, such as at-risk youth or former drug addicts. The profit from sales of food and beverage go to wages, training, and social betterment programs for the staff-beneficiaries.

 

Efficient Wood Stoves for Developing World Efficient-Wood-Stoves-for-Developing-World(Business Model: Cross-Compensation. Example: Bio Lite) – Millions of women in developing countries suffer from cardiopulmonary diseases as a direct result of breathing in wood smoke on a daily basis. Build a more efficient stove to solve this problem. Sell the stoves at or above market rate to those who can afford it, and use the money from the sale of the stoves to partly subsidize the cost for those who cannot afford it.

 

Innovative Information Product Innovative-Information-Product(Business model: Cross-Compensation. Example: Information Blanket) – Create a baby blanket with information about how to take care of a baby, such as when to immunize, how big a baby should be at a specific age, and how often to feed the baby. The regions where baby education is scarce are the same regions where income tends to be low. Therefore, these blankets could be given freely to new mothers in low income areas, while they could be sold to new mothers in wealthier areas. Proceeds from sales would fund blankets and education for new mothers in poor areas.

 

Micro Power Generation Micro-Power-Generation(Business Model: Fee for Service. Examples: Husk Power and Totus Power) – Provide micro-electric solutions for remote applications in the developing world. Two ways you could do this are to create a stand-alone power system from used, rechargeable batteries to power classrooms. Or, you could create a mini power power plant that uses bio-mass produced by the humans, plants, and animals of an off-grid village. These types of systems are very cheap to build and implement, and can be paid for on a fee-for-usage basis. This idea might also lend itself well as a cooperative.

 

Socially Conscious Consumer Electronics Socially-Conscious-Consumer-Electronics(Business Model: Fee for Service and Market Intermediary. Examples: Fair Phone.) Build a new kind of consumer electronic device; one that is built with conflict-free materials, provides fair wages to the workers who build it, offers a fair and transparent price for the end consumer, and does not engage in unfair consumer practices (such as locking smartphones, or creating proprietary software/hardware interfaces).

mymbanner6

 

Education Books on a Social Topic Education-Books-on-a-Social-Topic(Business Model: Fee for Service and independent support. Example: Chef’s Collaborative Network) Create a book or other educational publication, whose benefit is easily understood and salable. Learning about the topic of the social education book should benefit the reader, such as a recipe book that focuses on recipes that promote sustainable food culture. The proceeds from the book are used to support education initiatives along the same topic and to group who will have the most impact and benefit. In the case of sustainable food preparation practices, the target education group would be chefs.

 

Ultra-Modern Technology to Attract Economic Development Ultra-Modern-Technology-Social-Business(Business Model: Fee for Service. Cooperative. Example: O-Net) A small community normally doesn’t have much to offer a business, unless you make it a place that has the best business service in one area. For instance, you could create an internet service that is owned by the community and provides internet access at ten-times the bandwidth for the same price as those in another community would have to pay. The cost could be subsidised by the community, but it would attract high-tech businesses to locate in the community, fueling the local economy and benefiting everyone in it.

 

Beauty Products to Support a Social Mission Beauty-Products-to-Support-a-Social-Mission(Business Model: Independent Support. Example: Bottle 4 Bottle.) Partner with major beauty brands to sell their products as an online retailer. Convince them to provide their products to you at a favourable wholesale rate, and divert the profits to purchasing milk and baby bottles for distribution in the developing world.

 

A Virtual Factory of Computer Workers Virtual-Factory-of-Computer-Workers-Social-Enterprise(Business Model: Employment and Skills Training. Example: Cloud Factory.) Build an online community of computer workers, hired from underemployed communities. Train each of them to do one computer-related thing well (ie. writing functions in a particular programming language, translating code for a specific and common API, etc.) Combine dozens of them to complete a product, such as a website, for a client that would normally only require 1 or 2 people. Because each person is highly micro-specialized, the larger team forms as a virtual ‘assembly line’ to finish the project faster, cheaper, and with a higher quality standard than the traditional method of locally hiring or outsourcing a broad-range knowledge worker. Virtual assembly line workers enjoy employment with higher wages than they would normally receive doing menial work.

 

A marketplace for social good Marketplace-for-social-good(Business Model: Market Intermediary. Example: Do Good Buy Us and Ten Thousand Villages.) Sell socially and ethically conscious products in a virtual or real environment. By purchasing these products from the producers, the social good flows-down the logistics chain to the beneficiaries, and consumers are able to find a bunch of the products they want in a convenient shopping format.

 

Exercise equipment for social outreach Exercise-equipment-for-social-outreach(Business Model: Fee for Service and Cross-Compensation. Example: Rubber Banditz.) Sell a piece of exercise equipment that is simple to use and affordable. Promote the equipment as an alternative to full gym access to those who can’t afford it. Use profits and product to subsidize outreach programs that promote healthy living, thus promoting healthy living to two underserved groups: direct customers and outreach participants.

 

Educational travel company Educational-travel-social-company(Business Model: Fee for Service. Examples: Think Impact and Evoluzion.) Start a company that brings together travellers with experiences that provide an intercultural learning experience and a positive social impact on a local community. Profits are recycled back into the communities they affect.

 

Food for Philanthropy Food-for-Philanthropy(Business Model: Independent support. Examples: Newman’s Own and Late.) Create a food company that provides an already needed/wanted product and use the profits to support philanthropic work. The company is easily scalable and can focus on just one product line/charity, or can be easily scaled to provide multiple food products and support a variety of charities.

 

Social products and employment for the underserved Social-products-and-employment-for-the-underserved(Business Model: Employment and Skills Training, Fee for Service. Example: Livelyhoods.) Source one or several social good products (clean cook stoves, affordable power solutions for the developing world), and hire an underemployed group to sell these products to their community on a commision basis. It’s both a distribution/marketing method, and a way to employ underemployed populations.

 

Water for everyone! Water-for-everyone(Business model: Cross-compensation. Example: Soma Water.) Create a home water filtration solution that you sell to the first world, and use the proceeds of these sales to provide the same (or similar) solution to the developing world. As a bonus, use environmentally friendly materials and processes in the creation of the product.

 

Micro-Giving for easy philanthropy Micro-Giving-for-easy-philanthropy(Business Model: Cross-compensation or independent support. Example: B1G1.) Partner with businesses and have them donate micro amounts of products/money to a social cause for every transaction they enter. For example, set up a relationship with a baker. And for every loaf of bread they sell, have them donate a handful of flour (or monetary equivalent) to a food-aid organization in the developing world.

mymbanner6

 

Do you have other great ideas that aren’t on this list?

Please leave a comment and let us know, because we love to hear about new social enterprise ideas!

 

25 Comments

  • Jessicaferng

    Reply Reply March 16, 2015

    great idea!and what i learn the most key point is to care people’s need,fucus on their deep side,and make a social work plan to bulid social value!

  • George

    Reply Reply March 25, 2015

    This is an awesome wrap-up of some of key social enterprise concepts. Nice work. In particular, we here at The Shop for Change (www.theshopforchange.com) agree that you are on the right track with Number 3 – Online Socially Conscious Marketplace! Your description is a great summary of our business. 🙂

    Have we done what you were thinking? What do you think?

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply March 25, 2015

      Hey George, thanks for sharing your work! Certainly fits into #3 – Online Socially Conscious Marketplace!

      So great to see these frameworks in action around the globe and it looks like you have some fantastic artisan partnerships and products in place. Any advice or words of wisdom to others heading down a similar path?

      We are in the middle of working on “Another 22 Awesome Social Enterprise Ideas” so if you (or anyone else) sees a common model, framework, or awesome social enterprise idea that we missed, please let us know!

      Keep up the great work George 🙂

  • Moanamisi Gadiile

    Reply Reply July 23, 2015

    Awesome ideas indeed and thanking you for the light!Currently working on social enterprise and i am now confident that some of the ideas i have will bear fruits.
    Keep the fire burning for change!

  • kasujja Muhamed

    Reply Reply July 28, 2015

    I really enjoy article every idea fits in my Communities both rural and urban slum communties. I kindly request if there is any opportunity to work with you guys l welcome you in Uganda one day. Kasujja muhamed founder lnternational schools partnership orgn. Kampala, uganda

  • Khaing Su yin

    Reply Reply August 9, 2015

    I like all

  • NSHIMIYIMANA Joseph

    Reply Reply October 19, 2016

    allright for sharing many social enterprise. Let us shape our world through innovative ideas.

  • Lillian

    Reply Reply November 2, 2016

    Just came across your site and really enjoyed your ideas. Thanks for sharing. Those of us who want to contribute to making sustainable socioeconomic changes in our communities will find this extremely useful. Great write-up

  • Eliel

    Reply Reply November 24, 2016

    This article helped me a lot. I have been reading a lot from Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate, and I have been looking for ways to put these ideas into practice. You really did a great job of doing exactly that. I hope that my work at Better Better Better becomes as influential as your work is now.

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply November 25, 2016

      I’m so glad you found it helpful Eliel! And thank you for the kind works. I have no doubt as you stick with it your work will grow and impact more and more people who need to hear from you!

  • GOMERCINDO LAGMAN

    Reply Reply December 3, 2016

    I come from a poor community in the Philippines, a developing country. I want to produce an herbal ointment to cure wounds. I already have the formula. I discovered this while I was working as a researcher in a nutraceutical company some years ago. I also once worked as a medical representative in one pharmaceutical company and this is where I have found out that many people, especially children in the countryside who have wounds and other skin disorders are not cured because they simply cannot afford the cost of topical medications.The product that I wanted to produce is as effective but a lot safer than synthetic preparations. And it is much cheaper ( Php 60.00 per 20 gms vs. Php 270.00 per 10 gms). If I can get help in producing this herbal wound healing ointment, it will help a lot of my poor countrymen who suffer from this diseases. I plan to do it through social marketing.

  • TENDONG DENIS NGWEH

    Reply Reply December 8, 2016

    Very Grateful for the article, it was really inspiring and educative. I am currently creating and organisation aim at empowering the youths sustainably. But we are facing a lot of challenges to get to possible funders. I will wish to learned more on empowered fund raising or get linked to possible funders.

  • Waleed Khan

    Reply Reply December 22, 2016

    Great list. Especially the community-shop idea.

  • jerome

    Reply Reply February 2, 2017

    😀

  • Innocent Ntakiyiruta

    Reply Reply March 23, 2017

    This is an awesome article!
    Thank you very much.
    Keep up

  • Samuel Maruta

    Reply Reply April 13, 2017

    Interesting and usable ideas. Thank you!

  • Cynthia

    Reply Reply June 14, 2017

    Thanks for this useful information you shared, I am in South Africa and run a profit driven company but have identified a need for a social enterprise and was looking for information. Thank you very much, please make contact so I could give you feedback how it unfolded.

    Thanks.

  • Business Ideas

    Reply Reply August 20, 2017

    Nice Article. Very comprehensive as well as informative. Thanks for the sharing!

  • Sven of Project Grow (Chch)

    Reply Reply October 4, 2017

    What a fantastic resource, this has certainly spurred my research for a local social enterprise project in Christchurch, New Zealand. Suggestions for you next list could perhaps include:
    Transport – the building & maintenance of cargo bikes or micro-electric vehicles, or perhaps micro businesses around such a vehicle (ice-cream or hot-dog cart? short distance taxi? local tourist transport with driver/tour-guide? package delivery company?)
    Social Housing – The design & delivery of low cost social housing – perhaps portable-emergency shelters for the homeless or for disaster areas, transportable micro-homes, or micro-home villages that people can rent to own.
    Food Resilience – (This is an area of specialty for me, please contact me if you wish for further information) Micro-green production, basic hort. training, micro-business production, cooperatives, budgeting & cooking resources and training etc etc etc
    Disaster Preparedness kits/First Aid Kits – these could be kits that are built as part of a business that allows people to either purchase up front or on a time-payment.
    Community workshop – allows training in practical skills (leather working, stone or bone carving, wood working, weaving or sewing, etc). Then runs programs designed to help a small group to develop a product range and supports them constructing, packaging & marketing – possibly through an attached shop or e-commerce site.
    Hope these help – kind regards Sven

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply October 25, 2017

      Thanks Sven for sharing more great examples!

  • Devin

    Reply Reply October 11, 2017

    Very informative article. Thanks for all of the great ideas!

  • Md Habibur Rahman Khan

    Reply Reply November 8, 2017

    Awesome ideas indeed!Currently working on social enterprise and i am now confident that some of the ideas i have will bear fruits.
    Keep the fire burning for change!

  • Md Habibur Rahman Khan

    Reply Reply November 8, 2017

    I strongly believe, community workshops will bring q good fruits. Special in the third world where womens are one kind confined…

  • Isis Siefke

    Reply Reply November 19, 2017

    Hi there, awesome post. I just like the artwork things. Thank you for writing this & giving us inspiration.

Leave A Response To GOMERCINDO LAGMAN Cancel reply

* Denotes Required Field