10 Social Enterprise Examples and the 7 Principles That Guide Them

Social enterprises are businesses that are cause-driven — created to overcome a global or local issue or challenge. The possibility of causes can be infinite, but one aspect common to all social enterprises is that they do not work exclusively for a profit maximization purpose. In this article you will learn about the principles behind social businesses and be inspired by 10 real world social enterprise examples.

A social enterprise is a type of business model that aims to solve social challenges while simultaneously providing goods or services. Social businesses also add to competition and bring a brand new dimension to the business world: promoting and engaging with a new socially-aware business and consumer community. In a world where sustainability is gaining more importance and where people’s values are evolving, these social enterprise examples and principles enable a new option for consumers and business owners alike.

Before we get into our 10 social enterprise examples, here are some guiding principles of social business:

7 Principles of Social Business:

  • Cause-driven: A social enterprise is a businesses without a profit maximization purpose where the objective and purpose is to overcome or alleviate a global or local issue such as poverty, education, health, technology access or the environment.
  • Financial and economic sustainability: As any other business, financial numbers and cash flow must be in line with what is expected and sustainable in the long-term.
  • Investor returns: Investors will receive a return on their investment amount only — no dividend. Investors must only receive back what they put in.
  • The profit generated stays in the company: Once the investments are paid back, profit will stay with the company for expansion and improvement.
  • Gender sensitive and environmentally conscious: Tackling gender discrimination and inclusion is vital as well as integrating environmental impact actions.
  • Workforce will receive market wage and better working conditions: More emphasis on well-being at the workplace is given, fostering long-term relationships with employees and striving for their happiness.
  • Joy in their work: Businesses that work for a purpose of helping a cause do it with joy.

10 Social Enterprise Examples

In the words of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus, social business is: “The new kind of capitalism that serves humanity’s most pressing needs”. As promised, here are ten social enterprise examples:

 1. TOMS Shoes: One for One

TOMS Shoes was moved by the fact that many children in developing countries lack shoes or if they have them they are not their size nor comply with basic standards towards health and safety. Providing adequate shoes for children is very important and so TOMS: Shoes for Shoes started off. With every pair of shoes you buy from them they will donate an adequate pair to a child in need. These shoes will enable them to play and go to school safely: improving Health, providing access to Education and building Confidence. TOMS has given over 50 million pairs of new shoes to children in need.

2. STATE BAGS: Give. Back. Pack.

STATE BAGS was created to address the needs of American children that are living with challenging or critical circumstances. For every STATE bag purchased, STATE will hand-deliver a backpack, that contains all the essential tools for success to an American child in need while promoting and enabling education and community inclusiveness. Backpacks are handed out by their team of PACKMEN and PACKWOMEN who have lived in at-risk-neighborhoods themselves and have successfully overcome their circumstances to make a living. This has served as an example of success while promoting awareness inside these communities and using their experience to help others.

3. BARON FIG: Buy a Book, Plant a Tree

Baron Fig produces high quality notebooks that address the needs and expectations of everyday creative professionals and hobbyists. Aware of the impact paper production has on trees, they are committed to planting a tree for every notebook sold. Promoting environmental consciousness, responsibility and overcoming their impact. Up until now they have already planted 52,866 Trees in more than 30 countries.

4. Helpfreely: Buy While Contributing

At Helpfreely, they enable you to buy whatever product you want while contributing to a cause/organization of your choice. Their aim is to support non-profits, raise social awareness and empower people to embrace social goodness. They do this through an integrated online network that allows people to raise funds while shopping online at no extra cost. You buy the product you wanted for its regular price with a percentage going towards the cause of your choice.

5. FIGS: Medical Uniforms for Those In Need

Many medical professionals in resource-poor areas do not have access to basic medical supplies and uniforms such as scrubs. Clean scrubs reduce hospital-acquired infection rates by 66%. Moved by this issue and aware of the impact they could have, FIGS started to provide for every set of scrubs sold, a set to a healthcare provider in need. Up until now their impact is over 75,000 sets of scrubs in 26 countries around the world.

6. One World Football Project: Transformative Power of Play

Moved by the playing conditions and materials children in developing areas have the team at One World Football Project decided to come up with a durable football, that would work anywhere in the world: tough enough for the roughest landscapes and durable enough to last for years of play. For every ball you buy, they will donate a second ball to organizations that are working with youth in disadvantaged communities worldwide.  This will enable the transformative power of play to millions of children who need it most.  Their impact is now of over 45 million lives changed.

7. Warby Parker: Glasses for the Needy

The aim of Warby Parker is to address the challenge of 703 million people that currently live without access to eyewear. A good pair of glasses will increase productivity by 35% and increase income by 20%. For every pair of glasses you buy they will donate the same amount of money to source the glasses to a non-profit. These non-profits then provide training to men and women in developing countries to give basic eye exams and sell glasses to their communities at affordable prices. As a result, there was a significant increase in eye awareness and improved access to eye-care throughout the developing world. Warby Parker has now distributed over a million pairs of glasses to people in need.

8. Trinity Oaks: Trees for the Future

Trees for the Future focuses on tropical locations around the globe where trees can have the most beneficial impact on the environment and where deforestation is alarming. To overcome this issue, they will plant a tree for every bottle of Trinity Oaks wine that you purchase. This has a great impact in the environment while simultaneously engaging with the community to promote environmental protection measures. Since 1989, Trees for the Future has helped 1 million people in thousands of communities in over 20 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America plant more than 80 million trees.

9. Mitscoots: Get – Give – Employ

In Austin, the main challenge facing homeless people is obtaining food and water with access to clean socks and clothes following shortly thereafter. At Mitscoots they enable homeless people to have clean socks and a job. For every item you purchase from their store they give an equal quality item to someone in need and employ the transitioning homeless to get each and every style packaged. This enables homeless to integrate into the community and have a chance to get off of the streets.

10. Blanket America: Buy 1, Give 1

Blanket America was moved by the issue of domestic poverty. For every blanket bought through Blanket America, an additional blanket was given to a person in need, thereby creating social awareness and providing families in need with domestic products. Since their inception, Blanket America has donated hundreds of thousands of blankets around the country.

Elisa Gomez
Elisa Gomez has a master’s degree in International Corporate Social Responsibility (EOI-Madrid) with more than 4 years of experience as sustainability expert for international corporations and startups. She came to Conscious Connection with the mission of inspiring business leaders to adopt CSR and sustainability practices into all aspects of their organizations.
  • Thanks for a great article, Elisa. An inspiration… they show that social and environmental responsibility can be a successful financial strategy.