What is a sustainable social enterprise? I’m one? Are you?

by Megan Bayliss | November 17, 2011 7:34 am

[1]I've had a fourth year Social Work student working with me: Jess Grinter[2]. As part of her intern-ship, Jess has to learn AND articulate her social work learning (you all know that part of the definition of being a professional is the ability to articulate what you do, right?).

Jess is interested in diversional therapy, social enterprise and sustainability. Hello! Come right into Megan Bayliss is The Junk Wave because I love all of those things too: and that is what I try to do.

Jess' penchant for learning got me thinking deeply about what I do, why I do it and whether I could articulate the theories and frameworks behind what I do. I have always rejected pure capitalism and patriarchy. I like women's ways of doing things: talking, caring and giving and doing business like that feeds my soul, my politics and my empathy for the planet as a living organism - an extension of the state of mankind. But....what business models suit my thinking and my commitment to more than a financial God?

Hallelujah. Luckily I could articulate my views behind

  1. Philanthropy  (the wish to promote the welfare of others)
  2. Social Enterprise, and
  3. Sustainability

While out to lunch, Jess and I ran into another Social Worker and we discussed definitions of social enterprise and sustainability: Difficult concepts they are to define when put on the spot even though I quickly claim I am a sustainable social enterprise!

All this thinking and talking made me eager to further self educate and commit to memory a definition of social enterprise and sustainability. LOVE a challenge.

The definition of Social Enterprise is:

Social enterprises are businesses that trade for a specific social, environmental or cultural purpose. (Social Enterprises Sydney[3])

A social enterprise is an organization that applies business strategies to achieving philanthropic goals. Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit (Wikipedia[4]).

Social Enterprises can be for profit (I am...just not making any yet!) but the profit gets redistributed either in the philanthropic work of the social enterprise or to other social needs.

My entire professional career has been dedicated to protecting children. My love of the environment now wins my work pleasure and my focus is on protecting the environment so that my grandchildren will have something sustainable, beautiful and wonderful to exist within.  Therefore, my profits are redistributed between child and environmental protection.

Sustainability is a concept that does not have a single definition. However, three things  common to sustainability are the triple bottom lines of collective goodness:

  1. Good for the environment
  2. Good for people
  3. Good for finances.

My accountant husband says that finances are the bottom line and cash is king.  Bah humbug....I reject that old school narrow thinking and think of my profit, my social capital, being measured against what I do for the environment, what I do for people and what I have in my bank .

I like the following definition of sustainability from Cairns Regional Council[5]:

Sustainability means meeting the region’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It's about:

Are you a sustainable social enterprise? I would love to chat with you and increase our social networks. While my business model is home based, my business commitment is global.

  1. [Image]: http://thejunkwave.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/world-social-work-day.jpg
  2. Jess Grinter: http://jessgrinter.thejunkwave.com/
  3. Social Enterprises Sydney: http://www.socialenterprises.com.au/system/files/pictures/Business%20Planning%20Guide%20for%20Social%20Enterprise_FINAL.pdf
  4. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_enterprise
  5. Cairns Regional Council: http://www.cairns.qld.gov.au/environment/sustainability-and-climate-change
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