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These days we more often hear of organizations or businesses that classify themselves as a so called Social Enterprise. At a fist glance it seems contradictory, where enterprises normally are understood to make a profit from the products or services they offer, while the adjective social refers to something that is communal, collective or public. So what exactly is a Social Enterprise? A Social Enterprise may be defined as an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being. This may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for shareholders.

Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit, and may take the form of a co-operative, a social business, a benefit corporation, a community interest company or a charity organization. They can also take more conventional structures. What differentiates social enterprises is that their social mission is as core to their success as any potential profit. Many commercial enterprises would consider themselves to have social objectives, but commitment to these objectives is motivated by the perception that such commitment will ultimately make the enterprise more financially valuable. These are organisations that might be more properly said to be operating corporate responsibility programs. Social enterprises differ in that their commitment to impact is central to the mission of the business. Some may not aim to offer any benefit to their investors, except where they believe that doing so will ultimately further their capacity to realize their social and environmental goals, although there is a huge amount of variation in forms and activities. The term Social Enterprise has a mixed and contested heritage due to its philanthropic roots in the United States, and cooperative roots in the United Kingdom, European Union and Asia.

In the US, the term is associated with ‘doing charity by doing trade’, rather than ‘doing charity while doing trade’. In other countries, there is a much stronger emphasis on community organising and democratic control of capital and mutual principles, rather than philanthropy. In recent years, there has been a rise in the concept of social purpose businesses which pursue social responsibility directly, or raise funds for charitable projects.

In our own context I’d like to refer to a Social Enterprise as an enterprise that directly addresses social needs through their products and services or through the numbers of disadvantaged people they employ. This distinguishes them from “socially responsible businesses”, which create positive social change indirectly through the practice of corporate social responsibility. There are some well-established Social Enterprises in Ethiopia, that offer products and services alongside employment and training of disadvantages young boys and girls and they have made a real impact in society over the years. It is less common for individual entrepreneurs to set up a business as a Social Enterprise. Last week I happened to have lunch in a new restaurant in Sarbet and met with the owner who explained how he and his wife had set up their new business, Temsalet Kitchen. Their vision is to provide an opportunity for young drop-out girls and single mothers.

They train and mentor their employees in order to unfold their full potential. The restaurant therefore offers currently 18 motivated women out of challenging life circumstances the chance to turn oppressions into opportunities. By working for Temsalet Kitchen the hired women do not only receive a decent salary but experience acceptance, hope and confidence. The intention of Temsalet, meaning exemplary, is that the trained employees will pass on their gained knowledge and experience to other vulnerable girls and women and by doing so starting a movement of empowerment. Furthermore Temsalet hosts regularly events on social issues that especially concern women.

An example of a true Social Enterprise is my conclusion, offering quality food, as well as facilities for work meetings and private events, while making an important social impact. .

(Temsalet Kitchen around Sarbet, ground floor of KOICA building, 0911331559)