Frequently asked questions

What is a social enterprise? Who has one? Is it charity? Can business really make the world a better place? On this page, we aim to answer frequently asked questions. If you cannot find an answer to your question, do not hesitate to contact us and ask for more information! 

General questions

A social enterprise is an enterprise where the primary business objective is to provide societal benefits. Social enterprises are private and third-sector operators and use the majority of their profits to pursue goals associated with their general objective.  

Social enterprises are experts in societal problems and problem-solvers, committed to developing the surrounding society and their customers’ wellbeing over a long term. 

Social enterprises are not limited to a certain company form: in addition to limited liability companies, they can be, for example, cooperatives, or foundations or associations engaged in business activity.  

A societal objective can be any objective that promotes wellbeing, solves societal problems or improves the state of the environment, for example. 

A social enterprise defines its societal objective itself. The objective is typically related to increasing people’s wellbeing, reducing inequality, providing employment to people with disabilities and promoting their inclusion in society, maintaining the vitality of countryside and tackling ecological issues. 

The key point is that the primary objective of the enterprise is other than seeking financial profit and this has been recorded in the articles of association. When realising their societal mission, these enterprises want to build, through their business operations, a better Finland and good life for everyone. 

They can operate in any sector. Most typically, Finnish social enterprises operate in health and social services, education and training, wellbeing services and circular economy. Social enterprises have been established for purposes such as to provide employment for people with partial work ability and to develop local communities. 

The goal of a social enterprise is to operate in an economically viable manner so that they could produce, through their business operations, more positive impacts in society, such as providing more people with as good service as possible. A social enterprise always uses the majority of its profits to realise and expand (scale up) its societal objective. 

No, they are not. A social enterprise is distinguished from other companies by its primary goal: business is done and profit is made, first and foremost, for a societal objective. This principle has also been recorded in the articles of association, the deed of foundation or the statutes of cooperative or association. 

No, they are not. Social enterprise operations is one operating model and other kinds of business operations are needed, too. Nowadays, stakeholders, customers, investors and staff increasingly appreciate responsibility and enterprises that seek, though their business operations, solutions to societal problems. 

Not necessarily. If a foundation or an association is engaged in business operations, it can be called a social enterprise. 

Social enterprises are not limited to a certain sector or company form. 

According to our data and statistics site (in Finnish), there are approximately 2,500 social enterprises in Finland, with a combined turnover of nearly EUR 6.2 billion. The majority of them operates in health and social services, employment, environment and recycling. The number of jobs in social enterprises is over 61 000. 

In an increasingly complex world, different ways to solve problems are needed. Social enterprises renew and complement the welfare state’s service structures and operate in a manner that is sustainable from the point of view of both people and economy. They produce services efficiently and develop new innovations in cooperation with other parties, such as municipalities and cities. Social enterprises also solve employment-related problems. They provide employment for people with disabilities and are thus important links in facilitating entry into the labour market. Social enterprises also produce social innovations. 

Social enterprise operations are a business model, the primary purpose of which is to promote a societal or ecological objective. This objective has been recorded in the articles of association. Corporate social responsibility can be realised by any company in its operations but the primary goal of the company is to make as much profit as possible. Even in a traditional company, business can certainly be based on solving a societal challenge, in health and social services, housing or circular economy solutions, for example. However, in a social enterprise, this challenge is set as the primary objective and the enterprise uses most of its surplus or profits to promote this objective. 

Not all social enterprises are work integration social enterprises and vice versa. Social enterprise is a broader concept than work integration social enterprise. The societal objective of a work integration social enterprise is to find employment opportunities for disadvantaged people, while a social enterprise may also seek to provide other types of societal benefits. For example, the act on work integration social enterprises does not include a requirement for restricting profit distribution, as is the case for social enterprises. 

The Finnish Social Enterprise Mark is a registered collective mark awarded by the Association for Finnish Work. It communicates that the operations of the enterprise focus on providing societal benefits and that the enterprise uses more than half of its profits to promote this objective.  

The Finnish Social Enterprise Mark was established to make it easier to recognise social enterprises. It seeks to increase public awareness and appreciation of social enterprises. The Mark was launched in 2011.  At the moment, it is held by more than 260 enterprises. 

The Mark is intended for Finnish enterprises that want to transparently communicate that it solves societal or ecological problems and builds sustainable wellbeing. 

A committee of independent experts processes the applications, on the basis of which the Association for Finnish Work awards the Mark. As a rule, the Mark is awarded for three years at a time. 

Questions on advice and guidance

Our advice and guidance services are available to you. Our experts will consult you and exchange ideas with you. We process contact requests on a daily basis and respond within three working days.

Contact us to arrange a meeting (duration: one hour). 

In addition to commenting on your business idea, we will help you prepare a social enterprise business plan, determine the social benefits of your company, build impact models and address financial issues. We are here to support you when you are describing your business idea to local advisory organisations, such as employment or entrepreneurship services. 

Contact us to arrange a meeting (duration: one hour).

Questions on setting up and starting a business

The articles of association of a limited liability company and the statutes of a co-operative society define the purpose and scope of business activities. When defining the purpose and scope of your business, you can mention that the company is a social enterprise. In any case, the most important thing is to describe the social purpose of the company and how the company works towards its social goals in practice. Another key feature of a social enterprise is that it must use most of its profits or surplus to further its social purpose. This should be included in the articles of association and statutes under the section on the distribution of profits or surplus. 

When choosing the company form, special attention should be paid to the ownership base and financing of the company. These matters include the number of founders and future owners, turnover and different roles in the company. In terms of capital structure and financing requirements, it is necessary to further investigate whether the form of the company can impact, for example, the company’s eligibility for certain collateral arrangements for loans. 

Social enterprises do not have their own funding mechanisms; instead, the funding of a social enterprise works in the same way as for other companies. In addition to self-financing, the launch of an enterprise can be funded by means of a bank loan, separate crowdfunding, or gathering a larger group of enterprise owners. An entrepreneur in a social enterprise may also receive start-up assistance.

See our list of available funding solutions here.

Questions related to the employment of people with disabilities

A person with partial work ability is defined as a person who does not have full capacity for work but who is willing to work to the best of their ability. Partial work ability can be caused by illness, injury or a life crisis, for example. Long-term unemployment can also lead to partial work ability. Partial work ability can be temporary or permanent – everyone’s ability to work varies throughout their lives. 

Alongside the term “partial work ability”, the term “specific work ability” (in Finnish: täsmätyökykyisyys) has gained popularity. In this term, the perspective is on the work itself: the ability to work always depends on the job and its demands. Once a job is defined according to a person’s skills and capacity to work, the person with a partial work ability is considered to have full capacity to perform that job. This term also makes it clear that a person with partial work ability does not always work part time or to only partial capacity but can work full time and to full capacity. 

A work integration social enterprise (WISE) differs from other social enterprises in that its objective is to employ and/or to promote the employment of people with disabilities. The aim is long-term employment, which requires the integration of elements that promote employment, such as skills or other work capacity development. Work integration supports social inclusion and integration into society. Work integration is not industry-dependent – the company can operate in any industry. 

There are at least three ways to approach the employment of people with partial work ability in business: 

  1. The company hires people with partial work ability to run its own business. 
  2. The company can help people with partial work ability find employment, i.e. support them to increase their skills and improve their employability. The company provides employment services, and the aim is for the person with disabilities to move on to the next job. 
  3. The combination of the above is what is known as a work integration social enterprise. For example, this is how many Recycling Centres work: people with partial disabilities work in the company’s business, but at the same time they are trained towards a new job. 

Consider which of these approaches is closest to your idea. When planning your business idea and funding, find out about any employment-related subsidies available to your business. Note, for example, that an association or foundation can receive 100% wage subsidy up to a certain wage ceiling, while a company can receive 30–50%. 

There are many good examples of companies employing people with disabilities and long-term unemployed people. People who have been looking for a job for a long time often have a strong motivation and desire to work. Financial support is available to help you pay the salary of a person with partial work ability and adapt the job to the person’s needs. For example, with the support of a work trial and a job coach or work ability coordinator, the risk of recruitment is lower. 

When hiring a person with disabilities, you should find out whether your municipality offers employment subsidies.Often, people with partial work-ability have other sources of income or receive financial benefits, which means they have a possibility and often want to work flexibly, for example part-time. Some companies also often have a need for seasonal labour. In such cases, it is also worth considering the potential of people with disabilities. 

By hiring a person with partial work ability, a company can bear its social responsibility and make the workplace more diverse. At its best, diversity contributes to the decision-making capacity of the whole work community and supports all employees. Diversity in the workplace is an asset and a competitive advantage. 

There is a range of subsidies and support available to both the jobseeker and the employer for recruiting a person with disabilities. Their aim is to lower the threshold for hiring and support successful, cost-effective recruitment from the perspective of the employee, the employer and the work community. Financial support includes: wage subsidies, subsidy for arranging working conditions and municipal employment subsidies. Work trials and apprenticeships are also great tools for companies. 

Important information: 

Subsidies are usually discretionary and are considered income for the employer. 

TE Services provide guidance on subsidy-related matters. Contact your local TE Office’s business services or work ability coordinator. 

The types of support and related guidelines are subject to change, so it is always recommended to check the latest support options before hiring an employee. 

The company can get support for employing a person with partial work ability from the TE Services’s job coaches and work ability coordinators. 

A job coach/work ability coordinator supports the employer and the employee in matters related to the employment relationship. They will look for solutions if any work tasks or working conditions need to be adjusted. Examples of support: 

  • Support for recruitment and induction training  
  • Advice on applying for subsidies 
  • Support for individual solutions and adjustment of work tasks  
  • Support to the work community when a new employee joins the team. 

Help can also be found through local projects organised by organisations and educational institutions, for example. 

You can find jobseekers with partial work ability by contacting your local TE Services and through municipal employment services. Partially disabled employees can also be found through projects run by local organisations and educational institutions. 

As an employer, you can also inform the TE Services and/or authorised pension companies that your company has jobs available for people with disabilities. 

Projects often look for companies to partner with, and companies can also announce their interest in cooperation through job advertisements, on their website or on social media. 

A person with partial work ability may be entitled to an apprenticeship with a wage subsidy or, in some situations, authorised pension companies will pay a wage for the period of retraining. 

A person can also take courses to get a licence through the TE Services as free job training if they have a job or work trial placement. However, training is not paid for during the employment relationship.

It is important to prepare the line manager and the work community to welcome the new employee. Whatever the reason for partial work ability, a newcomer may feel unsure of their own abilities in the beginning. Some people may also have limited experience of working life. The receptiveness of the work community is therefore essential. It is a good idea to go through the new employee’s duties and responsibilities from the point of view of organising work and to avoid confusion. However, it is important to note that a person with disabilities has the right to determine the extent to which they wish to disclose to the work community the factors limiting their ability to work (protection of privacy). 

Induction training is an important part of getting the employee up to speed and familiarising them with the job. Sometimes, managers may fear that induction training would take up too much of their resources and time, and this prevents the recruitment of a person with disabilities. However, the responsibility for induction training can be shared and borne, for example, not only by the manager but also by other members of the work community. It is important to bear in mind that, in addition to induction training, managerial staff need to be flexible and able to identify the need for external help, for example, services provided by occupational healthcare to support employees’ ability to work. 

It is important that working groups or other workplace practices identify the needs for work ability support. A good practice here is to ask the person with partial work ability for advice on, for example, what kind of meeting practices would work best for them. 

The principles of supporting work ability and well-being at work are also essential for the continued employment of people with partial or fine line work ability. With the amendment of the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings, workplaces must have a continuous development plan, which should take into account issues related to people with partial or specific work ability. 

Social innovations

Social innovations are new solutions to social problems. Innovation involves the identification of new partnerships between existing operations and organisations and use of these networks to produce services or products directly for the target group. Reaching out to the target group is important to ensure that the innovations piloted can respond to the challenges encountered in everyday working life and take root in a sustainable way. Social innovation requires the involvement of the target group in the development process. An open, agile and adaptive environment is the lifeblood of social innovation. 

Innovation tackles the challenges of inequality, exclusion, loneliness, substance abuse and mental health. Social innovation is increasingly needed not only in the social welfare and healthcare sectors, but also in areas such as security, food systems, the circular economy and the comprehensive urban development. 

Successful innovations include One-Stop Guidance Centres (Ohjaamo), the TYKO work ability coordinator model, the software developer training and recruitment company Integrify, the customer-oriented work activity model for rehabilitative work activities Digipaja, the Shared Table model, and the Cleaning Day event. Broader social innovations include everyday issues such as social security, healthcare and education. At best, social innovations at the human level have systemic effects. 

Social innovations can be developed by companies, organisations or communities of all sizes. Social innovations benefit both the actors developing them and society as a whole. Innovations can be utilised locally or scaled up to a wider area. 

Social innovation is a key part of the work of social enterprises. The Centre of Expertise for Social Enterprises brings together actors across sectors to increase the scale, impact and visibility of social innovation in social enterprises. 

Social innovations provide solutions to current societal problems. Continuous improvement is the key to responding to emerging challenges as quickly and effectively as possible. Innovation is about listening to the needs of different target groups and developing people-centred solutions. 

Social enterprises strengthen the social dimension of the economy. It is estimated that a significant share of economic growth comes from innovation, i.e. the creation and use of new knowledge. It has also been shown that, for example, health benefits are as important to human well-being as economic growth. 

The successful adoption and development of technological innovation also requires social innovation. Social enterprises in particular have the potential to link social and technological innovation. 

There is a broad and growing demand for social innovation. We need innovation and innovation policy to solve societal problems that affect the lives of people, businesses and communities. The needs and opportunities relate to issues such as pandemics, global warming, education systems, public services and transport. Food and energy systems and our living environments require innovation to evolve sustainably. Global poverty also affects us, Finns. Research and innovation are a necessary part of the solution. 

In leading social innovation, particular attention should be paid to social impact, networks and crossing industrial and sectoral boundaries. 

Clarifying your innovation idea and objectives will help you find suitable funding solutions. Before applying for funding, you should discuss both your idea and the details of the funding with the funding body. 

If your idea is based on starting a business or a social innovation within an existing business, a suitable source of funding could be a bank, Finnvera, a Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, or Business Finland. In order to be eligible for support for social innovation from bodies that promote the development of commercial business, a community must demonstrate the commercial potential of its social innovation. Simply solving a social problem is not enough in this context. 

If an organisation or other non-profit operator is looking for funding, it is possible to apply for funding from the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA), the public sector or the EU. 

Sectoral boundaries determine the available funding options. Even if the aim is to promote social objectives, cooperation between the third sector and businesses is not always possible with the help of subsidies granted to public utility operators. 

Many sources of funding, such as public subsidies and project funding, do not allow funding to be allocated to the stages of the innovation process after the actual development work. These stages include, for example, turning the developed business model or service model into a commercial or otherwise more widely exploitable product, or exploring the rights and protection possibilities of the resulting concept. Scaling up and embedding the approaches developed is one of the biggest challenges in developing social innovations. When using public project funding, the ownership of the commercialised product or service can also pose a challenge.