5 innovative social enterprises

Good for the planet can mean good for business too

Marcus Webb – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Marcus Webb | Independent Money Mentor

Editor of Delayed Gratification and independent journalist


Social enterprises today span all areas of human activity, from fashion and food to media and retail. These organisations aim to positively impact lives and communities, showing that business can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Here are five really innovative social enterprises.

1. Grocycle

For years, coffee shops have been dumping coffee grounds after they’ve been used, a massively wasteful process. And then a series of entrepreneurs around the world, including Grocycle, realised that you can use coffee grounds as a bed for growing the most delicious oyster mushrooms. The Devon-based company started off small, collecting five tons of coffee grounds from cafes in Plymouth in 2011, carrying them off in sacks on their backs. They’ve grown and grown, and now alongside growing mushrooms, they sell mushroom kits so you can do so yourself, and they produce compost and biofuel. They’ve stopped countless tons of grounds from ending up in the trash, and plough every penny they make back into improving their service.


2. New Hope Ecotech

Approximately 250,000 people in Brazil survive by working as waste-pickers – collecting and selling discarded plastic, glass and metal. They live precariously, earning little respect from the communities they serve. Enter Luciana Oliveira and her award-winning platform to connect these waste collectors with the needs of industry: her social enterprise New Hope Ecotech is generating a more stable income for the waste pickers, giving them an online portal which lets them work on behalf of big businesses, helping them to hit their environmental targets and streamlining their payments. A better deal for workers and a better deal for the environment? It’s a double whammy of social enterprise goodness!


3. Atlas of the Future

Atlas of the Future is a straight-talking, fluff-free online platform which maps innovative, future-focused, socially impactful people and projects around the world. Through raising the profiles of those working to create a better world, Atlas of the Future directs attention and funding towards people tackling tomorrow’s challenges – and encourages everyone to participate in shaping the future we want. Their mission is to ‘democratise the future’ by making sure developments in every area of human activity are understandable and entertaining.


4. The Food Assembly

By buying local and supporting your favourite food makers and farms you can help strengthen your community. The Food Assembly creates food-buying hubs known as ‘assemblies’ that allow consumers to order locally-sourced products online and then collect them from a pop-up market where you can meet the producers too. The enterprise was launched as La Ruche qui dit Oui! in Toulouse in 2011, and there are now more than 1,500 assemblies across Europe. The online platform means organisers anywhere in Europe can start a local food community and create an online marketplace for local producers.


5. Ursa

In 2013, Pennsylvanian designer Elizabeth Gleeson took a trip to Argentina that changed her life – and helped her to change the lives of others. On returning to the US, Gleeson launched Ursa, a knitwear brand which employs knitting co-operatives in some of the most notorious slums in Buenos Aires. The colourful clothing created by these women from a luxury merino wool from Patagonia is now in great demand in the States, which allows Ursa to offer excellent pay and flexible work hours to women.

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