What is a social enterprise?

Social enterprise – A business with two goals: achieve social, or environmental outcomes, and maximize revenue
(Our more detailed pick*)

Social entrepreneur – Someone who creates innovative solutions to today’s most pressing social issues

Video from Common Good Solutions (Nova Scotia)

Why is social entrepreneurship important for Niagara?

Niagara can offer an excellent quality of place to its residents.  This comprises active lifestyles, an advantageous geographic position, natural splendours, and healthful local dining and beverages.

Yet Niagara has experienced major upheavals in industry and employment.  As in many other regions, manufacturing has given some ground to health and education, and old business models need to be updated.  Small businesses are generally the rule and not the exception for the workforce.

At the same time, consumers are more mindful of the impact of their choices.  We all realize now we can help each other and our communities, by supporting independently owned businesses that call Niagara home.

What are some examples of social enterprises?

Niagara actually has too many to count easily, already!   Take a look at the slideshow on the “List of Social Enterprises” page , the Social Enterprise Map or take a head on over to the videos page.

How do I become a social entrepreneur?

First of all, do you have a solution to a specific and costly problem, or a challenge, or an issue? Is it a specific product or service that creates value, and for which people will pay money? That’s entrepreneurship.

Second of all, take it to the social impact level:

  • Does that solution help families, communities, ecologies or cultures thrive more?  
  • Does the process of creating the product or service less negatively impact families, communities, ecologies or cultures than the alternatives?

How is social entrepreneurship expected to grow in the future?

A new generation of social entrepreneurs has stepped up to meet that demand and operate on a Triple Bottom Line. Profit is no longer the sole criteria for success – it’s also about taking care of people and our planet. Niagara’s private, public and non-profit sectors are joining forces to tackle our most pressing social & economic issues and create impactful change in our communities and around the world. We believe we can learn from one another’s experiences, and use that knowledge to create a diverse social entrepreneurial community that truly reflects and serves its members.

Where can I find out more about Niagara’s social enterprises and their leaders?

Take a look at our “Social Enterprise Niagara Map” and “Social Enterprise Niagara Videos” page for lots of social enterprise examples. You can reach out to our “Planning Committee” if you are looking for more information on Social Enterprise examples. Our leaders in Niagara are those running all of these social enterprises…

How can I get involved and contribute to Niagara’s social entrepreneurial community?

Social enterprise is growing across Niagara and Ontario, and we need your involvement. We want to help build the sector by connecting social entrepreneurs to the resources they need to run successful enterprises, raising awareness about issues surrounding social enterprise and facilitating an ongoing dialogue about how we can move forward. Head on over to our “Get Involved” page for more information!

What are the Social Enterprise definitions in Canada?


Social enterprises use business strategies to achieve a social or environmental impact. While generating revenues from the sale of goods and services, social enterprises also expressly intend to create positive outcomes, and they measure their results. As their business grows, the social impact grows.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development

A social enterprise seeks to achieve social, cultural or environmental aims through the sale of goods and services. The social enterprise can be for-profit or not-for-profit but the majority of net profits must be directed to a social objective with limited distribution to shareholders and owners.

Nova Scotia

A social enterprise is a business operated for the purpose of addressing social, cultural, environmental or economic challenges. The majority of profits or surpluses are reinvested to support that purpose.


Social enterprises are non-profit organizations that use a business model to realize social, cultural and environmental outcomes, such as fostering a more sustainable environment, providing important community services like child care, generating revenue for non-profits or creating jobs and training opportunities for people with barriers to employment. Some social enterprises are programs or for-profit subsidiaries of parent organizations, while others encompass the whole operation of a non-profit.
https://www.gov.mb.ca/housing/pubs/mb_social_enterprise_strategy_2015.pdf  p.5


Québec (More Social Economy / Collective Enterprise)

“Social economy” means all the economic activities with a social purpose carried out by enterprises whose activities consist, in particular, in the sale or exchange of goods or services, and which are operated in accordance with the following principles:

(1)   the purpose of the enterprise is to meet the needs of its members or the community;
(2)   the enterprise is not under the decision-making authority of one or more public bodies within the meaning of the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information (chapter A-2.1);
(3)   the rules applicable to the enterprise provide for democratic governance by its members;
(4)   the enterprise aspires to economic viability;
(5)   the rules applicable to the enterprise prohibit the distribution of surplus earnings generated by its activities or provide that surplus earnings be distributed among its members in proportion to the transactions each of the members has carried out with the enterprise; and
(6)   the rules applicable to a legal person operating the enterprise provide that in the event of its dissolution, the enterprise’s remaining assets must devolve to another legal person sharing similar objectives.

For the purposes of the first paragraph, a social purpose is a purpose that is not centred on monetary profit, but on service to members or to the community and is characterized, in particular, by an enterprise’s contribution to the well-being of its members or the community and to the creation of sustainable high-quality jobs.

A social economy enterprise is an enterprise whose activities consist, in particular, in the sale or exchange of goods or services, and which is operated, in accordance with the principles set out in the first paragraph, by a cooperative, a mutual society or an association endowed with legal personality.
http://www2.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/dynamicSearch/telecharge.php?type=5&file=2013C22A.PDF Chapter 1, Article 3

British Columbia

Social enterprises are businesses (not-for-profit and for-profit) driven by a social or environmental purpose. As with any business, a social enterprise delivers goods and/or services to customers in the marketplace. However, social enterprises differ from most traditional businesses in that their profits are not just used to ensure their financial viability, but are re-invested in the business and/or the community to achieve, sustain and further the organization’s social or environmental purpose.
http://www.centreforsocialenterprise.com/what-is-social-enterprise/ (<- Some background on it)

Social Enterprise Council of Canada

Social enterprises are community-based businesses that sell goods or services in the market place to achieve a social, cultural and/or environmental purpose, and they reinvest their profits to maximize their social mission.

Bonus (Scotland)

Social enterprises are businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.

Bonus (France)

In France they have a definition for everything, they have one on social economy ( same in Québec, they have a law) and they have a movement of social entrepreneur which have a definition of social enterprise.