Generating Social Enterprise ideas


Most people have two goals when starting a business: making profit and achieving professional fulfillment. Some people, however, have more ambitious goals: they want to offer solutions to various social problems, to create positive social impact and change the world for the better – therefore they set up special kind of businesses: social enterprises.

Like all businesses, social enterprises aim to make a profit, but profit-maximization is not their primary goal. Moreover, they reinvest or donate most of their profit to create positive social change and they often create employment for disadvantaged individuals and groups. Unlike charities, most of the revenue for social enterprises is obtained primarily by selling goods and services to consumers in the open market. 

Social enterprises take various forms; from coffee shops to leisure centres, from green production to training and healthcare. Genuine social innovators have found various ways to tackle social problems, to improve people’s standard of living, to provide training and employment opportunities for marginalized groups, support communities and sustain the environment.

Promoters of social entrepreneurship agree that social enterprises are the best business forms to answer today’s urgent economic and social problems worldwide: economic crisis, business not being rewarding enough for many people working in it, growing environmental problems, unequal distribution of income, etc.

So, if “the future is social”, it is worth taking a closer look at it!



The goal of this WebQuest is to help you generate a locally relevant social enterprise idea within a group, using the method of brainstorming.

As both doing business and doing brainstorming is only possible in teams, you will have to closely cooperate with your colleagues, communicate openly, give feedback respectfully and support each other’s ideas.

You will use the internet to search for information, find best practice examples or even check out existing social enterprises in your community.

First, we will introduce you to the two key concepts of this web quest: “social enterprise” and “brainstorming”, then we will guide you through a process that will end in brilliant new ideas on how to do good while doing business.


Step 1 - Research stage – what is (not) a social enterprise?
There is plenty of literature, illustrations and videos on the internet (check videos available at the links from Video section) on what social enterprises are and how they are different and more efficient than other types of businesses or charities.

Working in groups is more fun usually! Choose your mates! Form four groups. Following a 15 minutes’ individual online research, each  group should accomplish the following jobs, then present the results of their group work to the whole class:

Group A. Define what a “social enterprise” is, bringing two examples from two different continents.

Group B. Think about any possible corporate or legal forms that a social enterprise can take (at least 2-3). Refer to your local business culture and legal environment!

Group C. Make a list of min. 5 characteristics that make social enterprises different from traditional businesses.

Group D. Make a list of min. 5 differences between social entrepreneurship and charity or philanthropy. 
The trainer should facilitate the share of tasks within the groups.

Step 2 - Learn about brainstorming efficiently
Now that you have a fundamental understanding of what a social enterprise is and how it can help meet people’s needs, it is your turn to come up with some innovative social enterprise ideas.

Working in groups of 4 generate an idea for a locally relevant product or service that has a clear social goal and that could have sustainability potential.

We suggest you use the brainstorming method, as outlined in the links below:
Brainstorming: We Are Doing It Wrong
Generating value by conducting brainstorming
8-Step Brainstorming Process

You can watch a few videos or read a few concise articles on how to do proper brainstorming and what are the basic rules to follow. After a short individual research phase, discuss in your group your understanding of the following rules of brainstorming:
· Go for quality!
· Withhold criticism!
· Welcome wild ideas!
· Combine and improve ideas!

Step 3 - Identify needs in your community
At the core of any successful business lies a well-defined problem; successful businesses solve real problems for people. A social enterprise also has to define the clear social problem or need that it will address.

Listening to local people’s needs is the key element of social entrepreneurship. Ernesto Sirolli, a social enterprise facilitator, has given a compelling and entertaining TED talk which emphasises the importance of this aspect. Watch this speech entitled: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chXsLtHqfdM)
As social problems can be manifold (housing, food, employment, education, environment, health, etc.), you will need to brainstorm in order to collect as many locally relevant social needs as you can. You can bring up problems from your personal experience or you can consult local organisations’ websites to have a clearer image of the local needs. Moreover: speak to local residents or social businesses, involve people who have access to local economic data and consult industry experts, if possible.

Prepare a flipchart and sticky notes. Follow the basic rules for brainstorming and, together with your group, make a list of a minimum of 10 locally relevant, specific social needs.  Once you have at least 10 needs identified, group them according to sectors and rank them according to their importance.

Step 4 - Identify underutilized community assets, resources
Once you have identified local needs, you will need to think of any local or community assets, resources that are currently under-utilised. Think of any empty, unused building, natural sites or other geographic features, any specific (maybe almost forgotten) local industry expertise, think of all people around you who have some free time, some special expertise and who might be willing to volunteer.

Prepare a flipchart and sticky notes. Working in your groups collect a list of available assets. Do not stop until you have a list of at least 30 items in each group. Then group them according to the following:
· Geographical assets: physical features, transport links, infrastructure. Natural structures, landscapes.
· Social assets: people, community, networks, diversity, knowledge, enthusiasm, goodwill, commitments, vision, etc.
· Economic assets: cooperating organisations (local/regional/national/global), goods and services, industry, funding bodies, local businesses, government agencies, etc.
· Financial assets: funding, services in kind, earning potential.

Step 5 - Analyse the identified needs and the existing assets and think of products or services for a social enterprise
Each group should present and display both of their flipcharts (NEEDS and ASSESTS). Following the presentation, go back to your small group again, use the brainstorming idea generation method again to come up with a list of products and services that could answer one or more of the needs mentioned by any of the groups mentioned; and that could make use of the assets, which you or your colleagues have identified.

Use a flipchart and sticky notes again and follow the rules of brainstorming strictly: do not refuse any unusual ideas, focus instead on extending or adding to your colleague’s ideas.

Once you have a list of potential products and services, sort them:  Group similar or related product and service ideas, evaluate the ideas with mutual respect and prioritize them.

Step 6 - Turning real – think of further aspects that an entrepreneur should consider before starting a real business based on your idea.
Now you have jointly worked out a couple of product and service ideas for a future social enterprise. Congratulations! But having a great business idea is just a starting point. This quest cannot lead you through the whole process of starting a social enterprise, but it is important to be aware of the aspects that can make your business idea succeed or fail.  Use the internet to write a set of min. 5 questions that a starting social entrepreneur should answer before setting up a business.

Discuss your questions in the group!

Step 7 – Debriefing
 “A business that makes nothing but money, is a poor business.”

What do you think of this statement? Do you agree or not? Take a few notes then participate in a group discussion around this statement.
At the end of the discussions, you should be able to answer these questions:

1. What are the specific features of social enterprises compared to other business organisations, charities and philanthropies?
2. What are the most important rules for an efficient brainstorming?
3.  What are the basic steps for generation a social enterprise idea?
Evaluation and Learning Outcomes
On the completion of this webquest, the learner will be able to:

Knowledge Skills Attitudes
· Fundamental knowledge of the concept of
social enterprise
· Fundamental knowledge of an idea
generation process (brainstorming)
· Gather and assess relevant information,
using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
· Select, order and compare information
to identify community assets
· Build on other people’s ideas
· Research, collect, organise and present
information answering predefined questions
· Define locally identified social needs
· Demonstrate ability of original
thinking to find solutions to social problems
· Demonstrate ability to work as a team
· Execute predefined tasks autonomously
· Judge respectfully other's opinions

resized/uploaded---tiny---images---leirasokba/800/800/sec-conlcusions-social-impact.jpgStarting a social enterprise is a real option for anyone who would like to create a positive social impact and develop a business at the same time. Some current economical and social tendencies open up new opportunities for social enterprises all around the globe:

· New generations are looking for more rewarding jobs where they can have the sense of changing things for better.
· Social enterprises have been widely promoted by business media, TED Talks and social media.
· Businesses are becoming more aware of their social and environmental responsibility beyond philanthropy and volunteering.
· Charities recognize that they can become more financially sustainable if using business tools and trading.
·  More and more customers are aware that they can make a change by the way they use their savings and spending power.

Think of how your social business, service or product idea can benefit from each of the above listed tendencies!