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Ask the Expert: What Is a Social Enterprise?

As Director of a multi-award-winning UK social enterprise I get asked this question at least few times a week and have been meaning to write this blog for a long time!

With it being Global Entrepreneurship Week #GEW and as we have been selected to champion Oxford and social enterprise in the 2015 Small Biz 100 campaign, it's a great opportunity for me to explain this non-traditional business model.

Is a social enterprise just a business that's particularly social?

No it's not! Help Me I'm a Medic is very social, but it takes a lot more than that to make us a social enterprise.

Social Enterprise UK, an accreditation body for UK social enterprises defines social enterprise as:

"...businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people's life chances, or the environment. They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community. And so when they profit, society profits."

Help Me I'm a Medic was set up to:

  • widen access to medicine as a career for those from all social backgrounds,
  • support medical students to successfully graduate, and
  • provide teaching, leadership and management opportunities for doctors.

So without realising it I fell into the social enterprise business model! We've found that by formalising our model since inception, we've been able to stay committed to our added value and share it with our community.

Are social enterprises charities?

In a word, no!

Like charities, social enterprises have social good at the heart of what we do, but we differ in our sustainable solutions to societal problems.

Many charities are grant or donation reliant, when I began Help Me I'm a Medic I saw that the biggest weakness we'd have is that when funding dried up, all of the good progress made would be lost.

Practically speaking this means that we use business skills to competitively trade against traditional for-profit companies by providing quality services that our customers value. In this way, we are working towards sustainable positive social change.

Are social enterprises a new way of doing business?

You'd be surprised! The term social enterprise arose from recognition that there were organisations using their business power to bring about social and environmental change without a badge to describe or honour their commendable and ethical work. Since the 1990s it's become more commonly used but it's still a term that confounds many.

How do I know a social enterprise is really acting for social/environmental/ethical good?

It's easy for people to tell you any number of things that they think you want to hear to clinch a sale but hopefully social enterprises don't act like that. For Help Me I'm a Medic it's vital that our stakeholders know our values and our commitment to social good, so we wrote it in our company constitution and it's one of the values that we share with the public with most strength.

In the same way that you'd see corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports from large businesses, we share our impact, feedback, the good that we've done and the good that we're hoping to do in the future regularly review with our stakeholders, team and community.

Lastly, we work with organisations like UnLtd, Social Enterprise UK and external consultants who help identify REAL social enterprises (not the ones that just talk at you all day) and have our accounts externally reviewed to add an additional level of trust that we are who we say we are and we're doing what we say we're doing, to honour our values and recognise real social enterprises from the fakes!

I hope this offers a good overview of Social Enterprise and why we chose it for Help Me I'm a Medic. If you want to know more about what we do visit our website:

Want to ask us a question? Get in touch on Twitter or Insta: @helpmeimamedic, or by email

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