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A list of social enterprises: why does it not exist?


Despite the buzz, energy, and enthusiasm surrounding social entrepreneurship, we are missing something fundamental: a list of social enterprises. Several leading organizations have begun to compile such lists but we will need a shared effort if we are to build something comprehensive.

Why would a list of social enterprises be good?

Investors, researchers and entrepreneurs alike could greatly benefit from access to a centralized database of social enterprises. Social enterprises take various legal forms such as for-profits, non-profits, L3Cs and benefit corporations. There is therefore a need for an aggregated source to provide an infrastructure to the various sources of data. Given the exponential growth in the social enterprise sector, both in the US and abroad, why is there a not a centralized information “house” for social enterprises? If one did exist, what would it need to provide? Furthermore, there are many people who are starting social enterprises because they do not know that there are already organizations that exist doing similar work. This leads to a lot of confusion within the social enterprise sector. This is particularly challenging for funders of social enterprises.

GuideStar is considering this issue

GuideStar has hired me through Phoenix Global Impact as a Special Projects Fellow to research the whole question of navigating the social enterprise space. Over the course of the past few months, I have been talking with various people in the social impact sector to discuss their thoughts on the idea of a consolidated list of social enterprises. Each person that I talk to is always surprised that such a list does not already exist.

We are exploring others to partner with

There are a number of organizations that have also been exploring this issue. The schematic of the existing organizations below demonstrates the critical areas for collaboration.

There is also a lot of data that is emerging from the investees of impact investing funds. In addition to the resources listed below, it would be helpful to have a database of the investments of the top impact investing firms.

Given the landscape of available resources it seems that a platform, which provides consolidated data on these social entrepreneurs would be extremely valuable.

jenna BP graphic

GuideStar is exploring potential collaboration with the organizations above to share, align and interface their best practices and their data. Each organization has developed a core community of social enterprises.

It seems that the first step is to compile links to all the databases in one place. Down the road, there may be the possibility for deeper integration between the different platforms culminating in one database tool.

Furthermore, a consideration of this multi-dimensional information involves an evaluation of a sustainable business model for the aggregation of this data. There are a number of potential uses that this data could provide including helping impact investors evaluate different investment opportunities.

Contact us

We are just at the beginning of the investigation and would love feedback from others. Please get in touch to share your thoughts and reflections:

Jenna NicholasJenna Nicholas is a Special Projects Fellow at GuideStar. Jenna is the co-founder and CEO of a social enterprise, Phoenix Global Impact. Phoenix Global is a consulting firm that specializes in helping leaders in the fields of impact investing, social entrepreneurship and strategic philanthropy. Through advisory services, strategy consulting and research-driven business development support, Phoenix Global works to magnify its clients’ impact and promote a more sustainable and just society. Jenna is also an Associate to Wayne Silby, Chairman of Calvert Special Equities in Washington, DC. Jenna is an advisor to Nexus Global Youth Summit, Impact Hub and High Water Women.

Topics: Impact