What is a Social Enterprise?

How does an organization whose primary purpose is to provide services that meet essential social needs address today’s financial realities that include limited resources and reduced funding?  What steps can an agency take to diversify its funding streams and break its dependence on government and other “soft” revenue sources?

 Some organizations are choosing to apply market-based strategies and form businesses that generate profit to help further and financially support their social goals. Others are operating enterprises that provide employment and other opportunities to individuals with disadvantaged backgrounds and vulnerable circumstances.  Both of these are models of a social enterprise.

Waban is an organization in southern Maine that has been providing services to children and adults with developmental disabilities for over 40 years. Faced with funding reductions from government sources that threatened the sustainability of its programs and recognizing that there were dozens of people with disabilities who wanted to work but in a good economy would have great difficulty finding a job and in this economy would never get a job, Waban decided to do something about it.

 To that end, Waban has formed Secure Records Management Systems, a confidential information destruction company that provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities and channels all of its proceeds to support Waban’s mission of providing essential services and programs for children and adults with developmental or other disabilities.

 By forming this social enterprise, Waban has chosen not to be a victim and helplessly watch the eroding of its services; Waban has chosen to take its destiny into its own hands.  Paraphrasing the words of the esteemed business and management thinker Peter Drucker, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.

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