What is the difference between a business and a social enterprise?
Social Enterprise Canada defines a social enterprise this way:
A social enterprise is an organization with primarily social objectives and an overall mission to serve the public good. In addition to providing social programs and/or support services, a social enterprise will operate one or more profit enterprises to generate earned income. Social enterprise organizations reinvest their earned income into realizing their social mission; they pursue the development of the community rather than being driven by the need to maximize profit for shareholders and owners.
During our interview with Sarah Santacroche, founder of the Gentle Business Marketing Revolution, she asked why isn’t every business a social enterprise? It’s a great question. As a business, why do we need to declare our intention to do good? Or somehow separate one business from others because it chooses to prioritize kindness over profit? Is there a risk to doing so? Is there a benefit?
What began as an interesting thought experiment has morphed into a new series in the SeeKindness Magazine where we explore what kindness in businesses looks like.
Meet Kelly Townsend. She lost her job in the medical science industry during the coronavirus pandemic and then she did what any rational, calculated, and measured scientist would do… Start making zero-waste, organic, handmade soaps! Her company, Small Kindness UK, centers kindness at every level: kind to people, kind to skin, and kind to the planet.
Although Kelly had never made soap before, she was determined, “I am a scientist by training and soap-making is chemistry, so I decided not to let my complete lack of experience put me off.”
Kelly wanted to create something that would help people concerned about climate change and environmental destruction. “Soap needs little packaging and is a simple first step for people on the way to lessening their impact on the environment,” Kelly explains. She switched to a plastic-free bathroom several years ago after thinking, “How much plastic waste is generated just from shampoo, shower gel, and tooth brushing?” Small Kindness UK’s commitment to package-free and environmentally conscious products can help people take that first step in reducing plastic.
But this is only one part of Kelly’s vision. She also wants her soaps to be kind to people. At every level of production. This is important to Kelly because of the way her previous job ended.
Kelly was made redundant (or laid off for North Americans) after working as a Medical Science Liaison with the same company for almost a decade. She had been struggling for years with chronic work-related migraines and was offered the choice to stay but in a lesser role, with less pay, or leave. She chose to leave.
“I know there is a better way to do business,” Kelly’s passion is clear. “I can show that having a business with kindness at its core, and in its mission, is beneficial.”
Kelly’s vision is one where businesses respect and have compassion for their employees and every person throughout the supply chain. For instance, one common ingredient found in soaps is shea butter. And while the shea nuts are mostly farmed and harvested by women in West Africa, there is a huge wage gap between men and women in that industry.
Kelly immediately looked into women’s co-ops where women work in all areas of shea butter production. Particularly male-dominated areas of business such as negotiating prices and retailing the final product. Supporting shea butter producers that empower women to be self-supporting and independent is important to the Small Kindness mission. Kelly has chosen to prioritize like-minded producers over profits, fair trade practices over savings, and kindness above all else. “I know it’s only a bar of soap. But behind is it so much good.”
This is the exact reason why it is important to support businesses like Small Kindness UK. Small, kind actions can make huge changes in the way we value businesses and even the way we define success. Whether it’s giving a loved one a bar of soap, reducing plastic waste, treating employees fairly and with respect, or supporting a company that does all this and more, a single act of kindness, just like a single bar of soap, can snowball into big changes.
As always, if you have seen an act of kindness in the wild or can recall an act of kindness that has stayed with you, please share it on our world map! Sharing acts of kindness can inspire others to do something similar, notice kindness in their own lives, improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety, stress and depression. Every time someone shares an act of kindness, our world becomes a little softer, gentler and kinder. Put kindness on the map.
Also, if your business has kindness at its core, drop us a line or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are doing a series on kindness in business and would love to feature you!