HomeDo you know what a social enterprise is?

Do you know what a social enterprise is?

The team from On Purpose explain all by introducing these inspiring social enterprises

Social enterprise is difficult to define. Loosely, it refers to organisations that use business models to create significant and sustainable social, environmental and economic change.

Some social enterprises are instantly recognisable brands – Divine Chocolate, Co-Op Supermarkets, The Big Issue, the Eden Project.

Social Enterprise UK defines them as “businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community.”

On Purpose runs a year-long programme that helps talented and highly motivated professionals transition into careers in social enterprise. (And if you are enthused by the idea of working for dynamic organisations like the ones below, applications for the On Purpose Associate Programme are open until 6 October.) By doing this, we’re hoping to help create and train the next generation of leaders for the area.

Here, we’ve put together a list of 10 social enterprises you might not have heard of who’re making a really big difference to life in the UK and elsewhere.

We Are What We Do

We Are What We Do creates mainstream products which are useful or desirable in their own right, but which also facilitate positive behaviours. They have 9 years’ experience shifting everyday consumer behaviour in order to tackle major social and environmental issues. They don’t market their products as socially positive, they’re useful for their own sake and attractive to large audiences.


FareShare takes surplus food, which producers and retailers will often have to pay to dispose of otherwise, and redistributes it to partner charities around the country. The food is then used to feed people who need it. All the food is in date, quality-checked and with the packaging intact.

Oomph! Wellness

Oomph! provides group-based, interactive exercise therapy classes for over-65s that improve mobility, social interaction and mental stimulation. The organisation exists to transform the quality of life of older people, and some of their wellness programmes include chair cheerleading and chair aerobics.

Oomph! tracks and maps health and wellbeing outcomes, enabling those working with older adults to better understand what works and why. Since their inception in 2011, they’ve delivered over 9,000 sessions, and seen a 28% reduction in falls among the groups that they work with.

Bad Boys Bakery

Bad Boys’ Bakery operates within Brixton Prison. It facilitates the rehabilitation of men and boys, helping them gain key skills and work experience on the inside, in the hope that they’ll be better placed to find work when they get out. Originally set up by Gordon Ramsey in 2012 and now fuelled by Working Links, Bad Boys’ products are supported by Caffè Nero and stocked at various other outlets across London.

Big Issue Invest

The well-known publication also has a social investing arm, which aims to prevent the problems that lead to people becoming homeless –poverty and inequality. They do this by backing a diverse mix of sustainable social enterprises, charities and other ventures, providing finance in a wide variety of forms to help scale-up social enterprises and charities.

So far, over £25million has been invested in 300 organisations, over half of which operate in the 25% most deprived areas in the UK. In total, over 1.75 million people have directly benefitted, and 3,200 jobs have been created.


One On Purpose Associate said this was their favourite social enterprise because it shows that “everyone can be independent and productive, given a chance”.

Clarity – Employment for Blind People – was established in 1854 as “The Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind”. In 1893 a purpose built factory was opened in Tottenham Court Road, supported by Queen Victoria, as well as Charles Dickens, who published an article called “At Work in the Dark” to help raise money for the endeavour.

Clarity has gone from strength to strength, making products from Fuschia and Tea Tree Toiletries to Dog Shampoo and Car Cleaning Sets.


GravityLight aims to provide affordable, sustainable and reliable light, thereby enabling people to break free of the economic, health and environmental hazards of kerosene lamps.

The actual device does what it says on the tin – GravityLights generate light from gravity. It takes 3 seconds to lift the sand bags that powers them, and as the bag lowers 25 minutes worth of light is created. At the moment, hundreds of GravityLights are being tested in 25 countries across the globe.


The London Early Years Foundation provides day care and parenting support to a diverse mix of families in 24 centres across 6 boroughs. Established in 1903, LEYF creates and delivers a unique curriculum which focuses on each child’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development.

Their social business model enables them to use sustainable income from nurseries in more affluent areas to specifically target some of the capital’s most deprived communities. They also have a mentor-based Early-Years Apprenticeship programme which provides participants with a professional qualification. They’re aiming to triple their impact over the next 2-3 years.

Student Funder

Student Funder describes itself as “founded by people who struggled to fund their education wishing to help others fund theirs”. The organisation offers fixed-interest loans and crow
dfunding for professional and postgraduate courses provided by UK institutions.


Based in Nairobi, BRCK designs and engineers a hard-wearing, portable and self-powering Wi-Fi device which enables people and things to connect to the internet, even in areas with poor infrastructure.

If the power goes out, the BRCK will work for 8 hours in full power mode, much longer if in a low power state. Resistant to harsh weather, drops and dirty voltage charging as well as being remotely manageable, is the BRCK the “back-up generator for the internet”?

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