How can you tell if a business is a social purpose business?

This post continues Fairware’s series of expert pieces presented by guest bloggers. These people are industry colleagues whose experience and opinions we respect, and we think you’ll be interested in what they have to say. This post is pulled from the collection of blog postings at and

How can you tell if a business is a social purpose business?

I look for social mission or positive impact that is embedded in a company’s business model. But first, I know not everyone is versed in the concept of social enterprise, social venture, impact business or any of the other terms used to describe social purpose businesses. In an earlier post on my blog, I wrote about’s attempt to trademark “social enterprise” and collected an overview of definitions to describe this emerging business model and structure.

  • Social Enterprise UK describes “social enterprise” as businesses that are changing the world for the better.  They are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment.

  • Social Enterprise Canada says they are businesses which exist to address social or environmental need.

  • Vancouver-based Enterprising Non-Profits defines them as businesses operated by non-profits with the dual purpose of generating income by selling a product or service in the marketplace and creating a social, environmental or cultural value.

  • MaRS says “social enterprises” apply business solutions to social problems.

  • There is even a Wikipedia entry.  It notes a “social enterprise” is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits for external shareholders.

I describe social purpose businesses as businesses that enable access to Essential Resources (in particular Basic, Efficient, Choice, Employment and Supply Chain forms of access). But there is more to it than just this definition.  Back to the original question, “How can you tell if a business is a social purpose business?” One of the evaluation tools I developed is the Business Impact Canvas, based on the Business Model Canvas. In this short video, I evaluated Fairware’s business model with an “impact lens”.

If you can’t view the video above, click this link.

To learn more about how to invest in social purpose businesses, contact me or sign up to my monthly newsletter or get on the list to receive news about my upcoming book on Integrated Investing and how to make impactful investment decisions.

Bonnie Foley-Wong is the founder of Pique Ventures, an investment company for people committed to investing in a more integrated way.  Throughout her career she has worked with diverse communities of investors and entrepreneurs, empowering people to make better decisions integrating analysis, emotion, intuition, and body. She is a Chartered Accountant, CFA Charterholder, qualified as an alpine ski instructor and is currently a board director of LOCO BC, Vancouver’s network of local and sustainable businesses.