According to Social Traders, an organisation in Australia that certifies these types of entities – social enterprises are:
“Businesses that trade to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide people access to employment and training, or help the environment.”
I think the OR in that definition is pretty important because I feel like the general population is confused.
When I started my company The Refoundry, I made it purpose driven specifically to help mother nature. However, when I tell people that it’s a social enterprise, many believe that means I should be also be creating jobs for disadvantaged workers, donating all profits to other causes and attending every environmental forum in town.
It’s like someone telling an organic farmer that they must give away their profits to farming charities in other countries.
The farmer’s mission is to farm organically, just like my company’s mission is to make products out of recycled plastic. That’s it. Anything else is bonus.
This one decision alone already disadvantages my business because it costs significantly more to manufacture products in Australia than in places like China – especially with recycled plastic rather than virgin materials. However, it means that the local plastics here have a place to go after their first useful life rather than into the tip or waterways. And this is exactly why I started the business.
Today, even I had to remind myself of my company’s mission as I spoke to a company that does outsourced work from the Philippines. While my manufacturing will be done in Australia as part of the social mission to use Australian recycled plastics, it doesn’t necessarily mean that my customer service team needs to reside here too.
After all, if the consumer won’t buy my products because they are way too expensive, then my business will fail,. Then, there goes all the good I could have done for the environment too.