Defining social enterprise

Australia’s definition of social enterprise was developed in the 2010 research project Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector (FASES) and has three parts:

  • A defined primary social, cultural or environmental purpose consistent with a public or community benefit.
  • A substantial portion of income from trade.
  • Investing efforts and resources into purpose such that public/community benefit outweighs private benefit.

The definition covers all legal structures and types of impact – it’s inclusive for all social enterprises delivering public benefit over private gain.

The definition is aligned to international standards and the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) People and Planet First social enterprise criteria.

How was the definition developed and how does it stay relevant?

The FASES research was conducted by leading social enterprise academic Professor Jo Barraket. It took into account the views of 539 sector stakeholders, as well as an extensive domestic and international literature review, a series of workshops, surveys and detailed data analysis.

Social Traders has been certifying against the FASES definition since 2017. We've ensured the definition continues to remain relevant through ongoing feedback from the social enterprise sector. Feedback is collected via daily one-to-one conversations with social enterprises, sector consultations, and through the 1,600+ certifications conducted over the last seven years.

The definition and certification have been adopted widely across the sector and the funders, governments and businesses that rely on it.

World-leading certification framework

Social Traders certification is established, trusted and world-leading.

Established with a sustainable business model

Social Traders has been running certification since 2017. Our national team have deep experience in certification. Over half the costs of certification are funded through Social Traders own trade revenue, which minimises the cost to social enterprises.

Rigorous protection against social washing

To certify a social enterprise Social Traders collects and verifies over 200 data points on each social enterprise. These include governing legal documents, financial data, impact data and social costs. Social Traders holds rigorous standards. Approximately 10% of applications are rejected because they don’t meet the criteria.

Overseen by an independent expert advisory group

The Certification Advisory Group provides advice and external technical guidance on complex cases. The group also provides insights into international developments in the social enterprise sector, expertise and guidance on the evolution of the certification framework including balancing increasing accessibility for certification with increasing need for risk mitigation as the sector grows and reflecting sector innovation.

Informed by international and local research

The definition was developed with reference to international social enterprise certification frameworks, is tailored to the specifics of the social enterprise sector in Australia and is also endorsed by the global verifier Social Enterprise World Forum.

Co-designed with Minter Ellison and EY

Minter Ellison and EY support the development and evolution of the framework. This includes recommending improvements to the process and criteria, developing the example legal terms for for-profit social enterprises, and creating the risk and audit framework.

The framework is inclusive of all legal models, all stages of development and all impact types, and is constantly evolving based on ongoing feedback from social enterprises and the wider sector.

Internationally endorsed

We are part of an international community of practice with our peer certifiers around the world, ensuring certification reflects world-leading best practice. Social Traders certification is endorsed by Social Enterprise World Forum – we are one of only six double badge partners for the global verification scheme introduced in 2022.

One-to-one support for every applicant

Certification is developmental and supportive. We have a team that works with social enterprises through the application process, to help them articulate their social impact model, and the activities and costs associated with delivering their mission. We provide guidance and referrals for early-stage and transitioning businesses and charities that want to become a social enterprise to develop their business to a stage where they can be certified.

Continually reviewed using sector feedback

Social Traders actively seeks feedback on certification, through conversations with social enterprises and stakeholders, surveys, forums and consultations.

We also conduct specific reviews as required, for example: Indigenous social enterprises (2023), Fair trade social enterprises (2020), Community banks (2023).

Confidence in certification

We take a multi-layered approach to ensure ongoing confidence in the certified status of a social enterprise.

Dedicated certification team: working closely together to ensure consistency and integrity in the data captured

Escalation process: if a social enterprise is not satisfied with the outcome of its certification application, the application can be referred to our Certification Advisory Group for further consideration and advice

Recertification: certification is provided for three years for an established business, or one year for a startup business with less than two full years of trade. For enterprises on a three-year certification, we conduct an annual audit of a random sample of enterprises, based on a risk-based approach

Self-reporting of changes of status: our membership agreement requires certified social enterprises to advise of any changes to the ownership, governance, organisational objectives or solvency status during a certification period. Where this occurs, Social Traders will conduct a review of the certification.

Complaints and review policy/process: we have a Complaints and Review policy and process in place, and where questions or issues are raised in regard to a certified social enterprise we will undertake a thorough review, considering the facts and evidence from all parties involved. If supported by evidence, Social Traders will revoke certification.

Supporters and funders of certification

  • Victorian Government
  • Queensland Government
  • Federal Government
  • NSW Government
  • ACT Government
  • Local Buy
  • Business Victoria
  • VCCI
  • Frankston Social Enterprise Hub
  • Whitebox
  • ACRE
  • Collab4Good
  • Gandel Foundation
  • Ian Potter Foundation
  • Paul Ramsay Foundation
  • Helen McPherson Smith Trust
  • Ian and Shirely Norman Foundation
  • SEWF
  • Buy Social Canada
  • Social Enterprise Netherlands
  • Akina
  • SEUK
  • Supply Nation
  • WEConnect

Read our full guidance notes to learn about our certification standards.

Endorsement by State and Federal Government

"Social Traders’ certification process is evidence based, transparent and mature and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. It is already being used by the Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland Governments and is under consideration elsewhere and should be endorsed by the Commonwealth Government.” - Federal Government

“Social Traders Certification publicly verifies that your business has been properly assessed by Social Traders and endorsed as a social enterprise. It can add credibility to your enterprise and provide networking and other opportunities.” - Business Victoria

The definition of a social enterprise is an organisation certified by Social Traders.
NSW Transport
We welcome feedback

We welcome feedback

We are constantly reviewing and improving our approach to certification with daily conversations among social enterprises and various stakeholders. We welcome your feedback. Just email us to get in touch.

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past, present and emerging. We extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
© Social Traders 2024
Website design by Thirst Creative