A social enterprise is a business with primarily social objectives. Profit is mostly reinvested in the business or in the community, rather than maximising profit for shareholders and owners.  Social enterprises also compete in the marketplace and need to be well run to make money and achieve their social aims. They can vary from small community owned village shops, to large organisations delivering public services. Social enterprises take many forms, including co-operatives and social firms.


The International Co-operative Alliance sets out seven co-operative principles and guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice. These are:


  • Voluntary and open membership;
  • Democratic member control;
  • Member economic participation;
  • Autonomy and independence;
  • Education, training and information;
  • Co-operation among co-operatives;
  • Concern for community.


Further information and guidance on social enterprises is available at: