"A social enterprise is a business with primary social objectives whose surpluses are re-invested, for that purpose, in the business or in the community rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders or owners."DETI
Social enterprises operate as a business as a vehicle for achieving wider social goals. They differ from other businesses or enterprises in that they have the following characteristics:
The social enterprise sector is incredibly diverse, encompassing co-operatives, development trusts, community enterprises, housing associations, football supporter's trusts, social firms and leisure trusts, among others.
As a result social enterprises use a wide variety of legal forms: some incorporate as companies while others take the form of industrial and provident societies. From July 2005, social enterprises have also been able to register as Community Interest Companies and a new form, Charitable Incorporated Organisations, will soon be available.
A range of case studies showcasing Northern Ireland's Social Enterprises are available from Social Enterprise NI:
A community interest company (CIC) is a limited liability company created with the specific aim of providing benefit to a community. It is a relatively new legal structure, designed to meet the needs of social enterprises and ‘not-for-profit' projects, which combine the pursuit of a social purpose with commercial activities.
A community interest company shares many of the features of a limited company, in that it is incorporated and the financial liability of its Directors is limited to a nominal amount.
An overview document explaining the legal features of Community Interest Companies, produced by the CIC Regulator.