Social Enterprises – everyone’s talking about them. Rarely a day goes by when you don’t see a new socially-motivated idea emerge on the high street, pop up on your Facebook wall or used as part of a political statement by many a leader. The number of social enterprises here in the UK and beyond has expanded dramatically over the last few years and the trend looks to set to continue for the immediate future too. Generation Y, the millennials (women, especially), look like a group increasingly focused on a career that holds a strong set of ethical values at its core, and often social enterprises can go some way towards meeting these aspirations.

We often get asked what’s it like to work for one of these setups. Given the fact there are now over 70,000 social enterprises, together contributing over £24 billion to the global economy, and employing over 1 million people (State of Social Enterprise Survey 2015), this is not an answer you can respond to very easily! The nature of the work will differ depending on the industry in which the socent (there’s another buzzword for your collection) operates – there will likely be very little similarity, for example between working for chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant training programme, 15, and a two-person ethical fashion brand operating out of someone’s garage. There’s a sustainable business idea to be found in pretty much every industry, too – a quick glance at the Guardian’s sustainable business homepage throws up projects on everything from tuna fishing to water-saving washing machines – you name the sector, there’s a sustainable business attempting to transform it, often with great success.

Characteristics of socents

There are, however, a few recurring characteristics that come up when you ask people about what it’s like working for such an enterprise – we’ve pulled together some main themes:

  • Ch-ch–ch-change – It’s often possible and indeed expected in a social enterprise to note how your work creates tangible and positive change, something which naturally creates a greater sense of job satisfaction. Many of your work objectives and goals will be directed towards social and/or environmental change and because many social enterprises also operate on a local basis, the direct impact that your work can have on people’s lives is all the more visible. In addition, social enterprise setups are generally smaller in size so your exposure to what is happening is increased as well as the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills. It may be that one day you are working on a PR campaign while the next you are putting together a fundraising strategy for the coming year.
  • Getting to the heart of it – Social Enterprises offer employees opportunity to work alongside colleagues who share similar passions. Working within an organisation where you are surrounded by not just equally minded, but equally passionate people is a great work motivator and this energy is what drives employees to excel in what they do.
  • Cooperating together – There’s a rising number of social enterprises that are employee-owned businesses (also called mutuals or cooperatives). Such setups enable workers to have a greater input into their organisation and as a result employees demonstrate increased loyalty and dedication to their jobs, also resulting in lower absenteeism rates. However whilst this egalitarian approach is very much suited to a member-owner business model, the democratic decision process can take longer as more people are involved in any given process.
  • Girl Power – At least 25% of all businesses are run by women and more females sit on the board of social enterprises than they do in FTSE 100 companies. The People’s business report suggests that 91% of social enterprises currently boast at least one female director on their team. The governance culture, alternative work opportunities, and a greater work-life balance are all aspects of work that women may tend to favour over others, as well as the fact that there appear to be relatively fewer barriers to reaching the more senior roles.
  • Corporate connections – Many social enterprises still work closely with larger, more hierarchical organisations even though they operate in a very different way. Numerous students join a social enterprise because they have little interest in climbing the corporate ladder but what they find is that their paths nevertheless converge on various levels – this might be through sales and sponsorship opportunities, marketing collaborations, or perhaps offering attractive CSR incentives.

It’s certainly an exciting time to join a social enterprise, and the idea of changing the world and striving for better equality through doing business is always going to be an attractive one. With every career decision, however, it’s important to ‘do your homework’ and assess if you’ll fit in, do well, grow professionally and most importantly, contribute effectively to a better tomorrow.