Social Enterprise 101

Words by: Alison Killen

If you’ve heard of Milaana, chances are you’ve heard of social enterprise. We’re all about it! But, what exactly is it? Well, there’s a lot of discussion surrounding the definition of social enterprise, but one thing is clear: social enterprises have more than just profit in mind. They use business principles to address social issues, which means they generate profit to contribute to a range of causes like environmental sustainability, community development, healthcare, social justice and education.

So here’s the lowdown:

The economy can be divided into three sectors: public (government), private (business) and social (non for-profit). Lines have been blurring between these sectors for years, and a fourth sector has begun to emerge; social enterprise.

A healthy mix between philanthropy and business, social enterprises overcome challenges faced by traditional charities by using business principles to solve social problems. So what makes a social enterprise? Well, they operate with a ‘triple bottom line’ in mind; they run not only for financial benefits, but for social and environmental ones too. They market a product to generate revenue, use some of it to sustain their business and some to help a social or environmental cause. In this sense, social enterprises operate in the space between charity and business – they generate profit for a purpose. In doing so, social enterprises fill the need for ethical and responsible business, and overcome the limitations of charity by combining social values with economic ones. Nic Frances, former CEO of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, argues that charity in itself does not drive change, but in fact supports the status quo. Our economic system divorces values from the market; businesses are meant to operate for profit, and charities to handle social concerns.


Social enterprises aim to overcome this disconnect by using the market to create lasting social and environmental change. An example of social enterprise is Thankyou, a company founded by Dan Flynn when he was just 19. They started out as Thankyou Water, selling bottled water and using the profits to fund projects for people in developing nations to access clean water. The purchase of one bottle provides enough clean drinking water for one person for one month in the developing world. Since its inception, Thankyou has expanded, selling hand soap, cereals and snack bars in Woolworths and Coles.

As social enterprises become more popular, we will move toward a ‘social economy’ or the ‘purpose-driven economy’ – a market where more and more products generate profit not just for shareholders, but for people in need.

So, we’ll be able to change the world just by buying stuff. Cool, right? Social Enterprise is making leaps and bounds in Australia; according to research undertaken by Opportunity International Australia, it’s one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy.

In Melbourne, a bar called Shebeen sells beer and wine from developing countries, and wherever your drink is from, that’s where the profits will go. Its founder, Simon Griffiths, also co-founded Who Gives a Crap, a toilet paper company that donates 50% of its profits to WaterAid, helping people get access to clean toilets and sanitation in the developing world. He terms this new way to do business ‘consumer-driven philanthropy’.

In Brisbane, the IMPACT Youth Social Enterprise Conference brings together 120 young people over an amazing three days to educate them about social enterprise and empower them to start their own. Mu’ooz, a restaurant in West End founded in 2003 by the Eritrean Australian Women and Family Support Network, serves delicious Eritrean food and supports African refugees by providing them with work experience, training and employment opportunities. The Queensland Social Enterprise Council also makes its home in Brisbane and supports many new projects get up and running, providing them with resources and access to a wider network within the sector.

The Big Issue magazine is sold by homeless and marginalised people throughout Australian cities, and since 1996, $19 million dollars has gone into the pockets of the disadvantaged, helping them make ends meet. And these are just a few examples; we have a lot to look forward to! Young people are the driving force behind social enterprise, especially as the sector continues to develop rapidly. Elliot Costello recognises the importance of youth in social enterprise, claiming that his own enterprise, YGAP (Y Generation against Poverty) “is driven by younger people who want to engage with charity very differently”.

Milaana’s aim is to encourage young people to use their skills in social enterprises and the community sector. By doing so, we hope to empower young people and unleash the next generation of social leaders. With so many exciting initiatives operating around the country, and universities now offering courses on the subject, the future of social enterprise is looking good!


To find out more about the Milaana tribe, you can head to our website or like us on Facebook. If you like what you see, then please join our open Facebook group ‘Milaana QLD Tribe’ or “Milaana NSW Tribe” to find out how you can become involved!

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