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Mixing business and social: what is a social enterprise and how can we recognise one?

Working papers

Written by Andrew Rogerson, Gideon Rabinowitz

​This Working Paper seeks to clarify what a social enterprise is in a developing-country context. It is written from a broad public interest perspective rather than one of an investor in such enterprises.

The paper reviews some of the alternative descriptions in the literature to offer a relatively narrow definition, combining the primacy of the enterprise’s social intent with robust financial viability thresholds. It then proposes a rough-and-ready questionnaire tool and scoring scale that tries to locate candidate enterprises on these twin axes of social impact and financial sustainability. The tool is applied to a first small batch of relatively well-known cases, and then draws on some preliminary lessons as to its potential wider applicability.

The paper concludes that this modest effort illustrates both the difficulties and the value of clarifying concepts and definitions, and suggests it be extended to broader portfolios of candidate enterprises to refine the methodology. 

This paper was written by Andrew Rogerson, Senior Research Associate at ODI; Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative; and Gideon Rabinowitz, Research Officer at ODI.

Andrew Rogerson, Michael Green and Gideon Rabinowitz