What is a Social Enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business operated by a charity or non-profit organization that sells goods and/or services in the market place, for the dual purpose of generating income and achieving a social, cultural and/or environmental mission.

Social enterprise is a new term for a well-established concept: thrift stores have been selling inexpensive household items and generating revenue for charities for over 100 years, YMCAs have operated hostels and fitness centres for decades; alternative businesses have employed people who live with a mental illness since the 1980s.

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Today, social enterprises exist in every part of Canada; in urban, rural and remote regions; in Aboriginal and Francophone communities; working in every industrial sector; supporting a wide array of social, environmental and cultural goals.

Social enterprises come in many shapes and sizes - from small ventures of under $10,000 to multi-million dollar undertakings. The total number of social enterprises in Canada is unknown, but a reasonable estimate is 25,000 across the country. They collectively generate multi-million dollar revenues and sales, employ thousands of people, and pay millions annually in wages.

The Toronto Enterprise Fund supports social enterprises that create employment opportunities for people who are socially marginalized (see Who We Fund). Examples of other types of social enterprises include:

TREC Renewable Energy Coop in Toronto, ON 

The Calgary Stampede 

Nelson Civic Theatre in B.C.

Transport de Clare in Digby County, N.S.

Aki Energy in Manitoba

For listings of social enterprises, visit:

Directory of Canadian Social Enterprises 

Social Enterprise Directory 

For more information on what a social enterprise is, visit: