learn about social enterprise

Australian social enterprise facts

  • There are an estimated 20,000 social enterprises in Australia.  (FASES, 2010)
  • This number has grown by 37% over the past 5 years.  (FASES, 2010)
  • 73% had been operational for at least five years; 62% are at least 10 years old.  (FASES, 2010).
  • Australian social enterprises operate in local and international markets.  (FASES, 2010)
  • 39% of all income in the NFP sector is generated through trading activity, equating to $22 billion annually.
  • We estimate that social enterprise activity constitutes 2-3% of GDP.



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

The second phase of this research, Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector 2015, supported by Social Traders and led by Professor Barraket (now at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University) has completed the first stage of this on-going national research by interviewing 75 participants across 13 focus groups in 6 states. A summary of key findings has been released along with the FASES 2015 Interim report. The full report is due for release in November 2015.

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.



For feedback and further questions please contact Mark Daniels.