The voice for Social Enterprises & Social Entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland. Connecting, supporting, developing and sustaining vibrant businesses to create social change.


What is a social enterprise?

Definition of a Social Enterprise


  1. A Social Enterprise (SE) is a trading business – selling goods and services – but whose primary objective is to achieve social and/or environmental benefit. SEs are different from those charities and voluntary organisations who do not have financial independence through trading income*.


  1. The Memorandum and Articles of Association/Governing Documents of a SE will include the requirement that profits are retained for reinvestment in the business or in the beneficiary community.


  1. The Memorandum and Articles of Association will require that upon dissolution, the assets of the SE are transferred to another organisation with similar aims and objectives or applied in full for an appropriate social purpose .


  1. A legally Incorporated body can take a number of various forms including limited company, company limited by guarntee, registered charity, charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), community interest company (CIC), co-operative & community benefit societies, credit unions, sole trader or business partnership, in accordance with the guidance from  


  1. Must be distinct from the public sector and cannot be the subsidiary of a public body.


Definition of Trading Income

*Trading Income is the activity of buying and selling goods or services.

Examples of Trading Income can be defined by the following items in the table below. Trading Income is primarily identified as ‘unrestricted income’ within an organisation’s Annual Accounts submitted to Companies House / Charity Commission as per legal requirements.



Not Included

Buying and Selling of Goods




Provision of a service for which there is a charge


Other Contracted Services




A social enterprise is like any other business in that it works to deliver goods and services to make a profit. The difference is that they are driven by their social and environmental purposes and any profit made is reinvested towards achieving these purposes.

The government defines social enterprises as “businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.”

Social enterprise is an umbrella term and encompasses a broad range of social and environmental business. These include credit Unions, cooperatives, community-owned enterprises and trading arms of charities to list just a few.

Social Enterprises operate in almost every industry in the UK, from health and social care to renewable energy, from retail to recycling, from employment to sport, from housing to education.

Well known NI Social Enterprises include Bryson Charitable Group, AEL, Larne and Employers For Childcare. To find more Social Enterprises in Northern Ireland go to our Buy Social Website