Finding Australia's Social Enterprise Sector (FASES)


Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector (FASES)

The forms social enterprises can take and the industries they operate in are so many and various that it has always been a challenge to define, find and count social enterprises. In 2009 Social Traders partnered with the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at Queensland University of Technology to define social enterprise and, for the first time in Australia, to identify and map the social enterprise sector: its scope, its variety of forms, its reasons for trading, its financial dimensions, and the individuals and communities social enterprises aim to benefit.

This FASES project (Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector) produced its final report in June 2010. The project was led by Associate Professor Jo Barraket, Australia’s leading social enterprise academic.

A research-based definition of social enterprise

Definitions of social enterprises and estimates of their numbers in countries overseas have tended to be determined somewhat arbitrarily – for example, using available information based on legal structures. One of the key features of this Australian research is its intention to define social enterprise in a way that was informed by and made sense to those working in or with social enterprises.

The research design therefore included workshops to explore and test what social enterprise managers, researchers, and relevant policy makers meant by the term ‘social enterprise’. This was the resulting definition:

Social enterprises are organisations that:

a. Are led by an economic, social, cultural, or environmental mission consistent with a public or community benefit;

b. Trade to fulfil their mission1;

c. Derive a substantial portion of their income from trade2; and

d. Reinvest the majority of their profit/surplus in the fulfilment of their mission.

1. Where trade is defined as the organised exchange of goods and services, including:

monetary, non-monetary and alternative currency transactions, where these are sustained activities of an enterprise; contractual sales to governments, where there has been an open tender process ; and

trade within member-based organisations, where membership is open and voluntary or where membership serves a traditionally marginalised social group.

2. Operationalised as 50% or more for ventures that are more than five years from start-up, 25% or more for ventures that are three to five years from start-up, and demonstrable intention to trade for ventures that are less than two years from start-up.


Research methodology

The research method involved, in order:

  1. The creation of a research project website to advertise the research project.
  2. The circulation of a discussion paper about social enterprise.
  3. Consultation on definitions through workshops in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. (N=38)
  4. Development of a sample frame identified through an extensive process of web searching, email and web communications, seminars, and print advertising. ( N=4000)
  5. Online survey completion. (N=365).


Social Enterprise Finder website

Social Traders and the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT have encountered many social enterprises keen to register their collective presence online, to support networking and the opportunity to trade and find buyers for their goods and services.

The sample frame of 4000 organisations identified to be invited to complete the survey, and those who completed the survey giving permission to be contacted further, provide a valuable database of contacts to be contacted to register for the Social Enterprise Finder. Social Traders is currently inviting social enterprises to list themselves on The Finder. When fully operational, it is expected to be a valuable resource for the sector and for those wanting to locate social enterprises in their region. If you are a social enterprise, please visit

Uses of the research

The delivery of the FASES research project is timely. Though social enterprises have long existed in Australia in various forms, and have in particular been a vehicle for nonprofits to generate income and public benefit value, in the past 10 years the Victorian State Government, some local governments, and more recently the Federal government have become particularly interested in social enterprise. Philanthropists and companies taking a strategic interest in social enterprise have also increased demand for information and data about the shape and nature of the sector.

The FASES project was intended to advance the social enterprise sector by:

  • improving public and government awareness of the sector’s diverse forms, activities and contributions;
  • identifying the social enterprise population for the purposes of further research of use to the sector; and
  • facilitating opportunities for connection between individual social enterprises, potential beneficiaries and markets, and sources of developmental assistance.


Here are the documents…

A summary report of the FASES research, June 2010

The final FASES report on Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector. This includes:

Appendix 1. A discussion paper: Defining and operationalising the idea of social enterprise, (April 2009)

Appendix 2. A report on workshop discussions and meetings in 2009 with key informants working with or in social enterprises (July 2009)

Appendix 3. The FASES survey instrument (October 2009)


Further research

Social Traders and ACPNS hold a list of organisations, which is available for further non-commercial research into social enterprises and their activities. This may be made available to researchers subject to certain conditions. Please note that ACPNS is not resourced to respond to individual requests for data analysis.


Your feedback and further questions

If you have any questions about this research or would like to contact us, we are:

David Brookes
Social Traders


Jo Barraket
Associate Professor
Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies
Queensland University of Technology

FASES short report

FASES full report


Attached Documents