Defining Social Enterprise: Explaining and Embracing, Diversity presented by Dr Craig Furneaux, ACPNS

Join CFE’s E-Future Enterprise Online Forum
11am, 6th November 2020

Dr Craig Furneaux, Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies presents
Defining Social Enterprise: Explaining and Embracing, Diversity

Social enterprises are a type of organisation that is very hard to define. Most definitions of ‘social enterprise’ have at their core the trading of goods and / or services for the achievement of a social purpose, although various definitions include: “a range of organisational types that vary in their activities, size, legal structure, geographic scope, funding, motivations, degree of profit orientation, relationship with communities, ownership and culture” (Peattie and Morley 2008: 7). In their attempt to define social enterprise, Dart et al. (2010: 186) note that “criteria to distinguish social enterprise from other organizations were seemingly arbitrary, unstable, or unworkable”.

Everyone seems to think that social enterprises are a good thing, and everyone seems to know one when they see one. The core problem though is that attempts to achieve an all-encompassing definition of social enterprises have essentially failed, despite significant efforts by academia and industry. Moreover, the field of social enterprise practice and research is deeply troubled that this agreement cannot be reached, based on the assumption that conceptual clarity is essential to move the field forward, both practically and academically.

Two main contributions to the field are advanced in the paper. Firstly, three theoretical explanations are advanced to explain why multiple definitions of social enterprise have emerged, why multiple definitions are important, and why this situation is likely to continue for some time. Building on this, the case is made to embrace conceptual plurality and diverse definitions of social enterprise. By maintaining a broad view, rather than a narrow view, of what social enterprises are (Austin et al. 2006) these contributions have implications for the future research agenda of the field, as well as for social innovation practice. In summary, this paper argues that we let go of our definitional angst, and instead embrace the global diversity of social enterprise form and function, as a better way forward for the field.


Austin, J., Stevenson, H., & Wei–Skillern, J. (2006). Social and Commercial Entrepreneurship: Same, Different, or Both? Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 30(1), 1–22.

Dart, R., Clow, E. and Armstrong, A. (2010). “Meaningful difficulties in the mapping of social enterprises”, Social Enterprise Journal, 6(3), 186-193.

Peattie, K., & Morley, A. S. (2008). Social enterprises: diversity and dynamics, contexts and contributions. Report published by the Social Enterprise Coalition and the Economic and Social Research Council, Cardiff University

About Dr Craig Furneaux
Dr Craig Furneaux is a Senior Lecturer at the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, and is the Subject Area Coordinator for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, Queensland University of Technology in Australia. Craig has over 30 years’ experience leading innovation in, and researching with, nonprofit organisations. Craig research focus on the resources (including various types of capital); the routines and capabilities; and results (social impact) of for nonprofits and social enterprises. He is also interested in faith based charities in civil society. His eprints are available here:,_Craig.html. He currently serves as Area Editor, for Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, which is the top journal in the nonprofit sector.


The E-Future Enterprise Forum Series is hosted by Centre for Future Enterprise, showcasing the research within CFE. Held online every other Friday, 11am-11:45am, all QUT community members are welcome.

Register below and you will be emailed the link.



Location: Online
Start Date: 06/11/2020 [add to calendar]
Start Time: 11am
End Date: 06/11/2020
End Time: 11.45am
Organiser: Centre for Future Enterprise