‘Efforts by social enterprises to develop novel interventions receive a great deal of attention. Yet these organizations often stumble when it comes to turning innovation into impact. As a result, they fail to achieve their full potential.’[i]

Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair, through their study of social enterprises, devised a set of six pathologies—six ways that organisations limit their capacity for productive innovation. By working to prevent or treat these pathologies—never getting started, pursuing too many bad ideas, stopping too early, stopping too late, scaling too little, innovating again too soon—organisations can greatly improve the impact of their innovation efforts.i

In this article we will expose eight amazing examples of social enterprises that have managed to remain in the market for a long period of time. They actually know how to keep social innovation alive for longer than 20 years.



BRAC, founded in Bangladesh, is one of the largest social enterprises in the world. In the 1980s, it launched a search for ways to treat diarrhoea, a leading cause of mortality among children in Bangladeshi communities. The organisation settled on a simple, cheap and effective treatment option that took the form of a sugar-and-salt formula.’i

Nowadays they deal with social development, social enterprises, investments and university. They are present in many countries around the world.

Read more about the project here.



Aravind is a non-profit organisation based in India that operates a large and highly productive chain of eye hospitals. It focuses on performing cataract surgery, employing a cross-subsidy model to provide its service to poor people at little or no cost. The leaders of Aravind decided to create a lens manufacturing company called Aurolab. Today, Aurolab makes a wide range of ophthalmic products and exports them to 130 countries worldwide.i

Read more about the project here.


Waste Concern

‘Waste Concern was founded in 1995 with the motto “Waste is a Resource”. Later Waste Concern Group was formed to achieve a common vision to contribute towards waste recycling, environmental improvement, renewable energy, poverty reduction through job creation, and sustainable development. Waste Concern Group is a Social Business Enterprise (SBE) comprising both “For Profit” and “Not-for-Profit” enterprises.

‘Waste Concern aims to:

– Improve the environment by promoting waste recycling activities in the country.
– Conduct research and experiments regarding solid waste management, recycling, clinical and hazardous waste management, waste water treatment, as well as organic farming.
– Develop community–private sector–municipal partnerships towards the improvement of the urban environment.
– Create job opportunities by promoting the recycling of waste.’[ii]

You can find out more about the project here.


Gram Vikas

The founders of Gram Vikas arrived in Orissa (India) in the early 1970s as student volunteers with the Young Students’ Movement for Development (YSMD), Chennai, to serve victims of a devastating cyclone. Under the leadership of Mr Joe Madiath, the extensive activism and relief work that these volunteers conducted over the next 8 years motivated them to create and form Gram Vikas, later registered as a non-profit organisation.

Following its inception, Gram Vikas started by focusing on education and awareness, secure sources of income and improving the health and living conditions of tribal communities. Interventions and work with these communities led to the Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP).

Since 2004, Gram Vikas has strategised its approach as MANTRA (Movement and Action Network for Transformation of Rural Areas), thereby defining the strategic orientation that it has chosen to adopt, seeking to unify the parallel approaches being followed in the ITDP and the Rural Health and Environment Programme (RHEP). It is an approach to attaining holistic and integrated rural development in different states across India and in several countries in Africa.[iii]

You can find out more about the project here.



WorkVentures is Australia’s oldest not-for-profit IT social enterprise, having helped people into work for over 35 years.They operate their own businesses and offer a unique learning environment where trainees learn about the real world of work. Since their foundation in 1979 as Peninsula Community Services, WorkVentures has encountered many challenges, but their core objective has always remained the same: to empower excluded communities and individuals into financial self-sufficiency by providing training and networks that lead to employment.[iv]

You can find out more about the project here.


The Big Issue

The Big Issue magazine was launched in 1991 in response to the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of London. For over 25 years The Big Issue Group has strived to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity, in the process becoming one of the most recognised and trusted brands in the UK. They offer people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income through selling a magazine to the public. Twenty-five years on, their vendors come from a variety of backgrounds and face the myriad of problems associated with poverty and inequality.[v]

You can find out more about the project here.


Westway Trust

The Westway Trust was set up in London’s Kensington and Chelsea, in partnership with the local authority, as the custodian of 23 acres of land underneath the Westway flyover, to help promote positive use of the space.

The Westway Trust Movement is an online platform to support projects in Kensington and Chelsea that will make a demonstrable impact in their priority areas of health, economic opportunity and cultural diversity. They are also keen to encourage local groups to work collaboratively on bringing proposals together.[vi]

You can find out more about the project here.



SEWA is a trade union registered in 1972 in India. It is an organisation of poor, self-employed women workers. These are women who earn a living through their own labour or small businesses. They do not have access to regular salaried employment with welfare benefits in the same way as workers in the organised sector. SEWA’s main goals are to organise women workers for full employment, which means employment whereby workers gain access to work security, income security, food security and social security (at least health care, child care and shelter). SEWA organises women to ensure that every family obtains full employment. By self-reliance, they mean that women should be autonomous and self-reliant, individually and collectively, both economically and in terms of their decision-making ability.[vii]

You can find out more about the project here.


Learn more at Social Innovation Academy 

To tackle this issue, Limitless and We4You together with 3 other partners has recently started a project aimed at developing the first online Social Innovation Academy in Europe. The Social Innovation Academy will be the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation.

Why Social Innovation Academy? Social innovation has increasingly come to be perceived as the answer to the rising number of European societal challenges. While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is the key to a better future for Europe and the world, it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high-quality training on what social innovation actually offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice.

The Social Innovation Academy is aiming to change this situation in Europe and beyond. If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our friends or follow us on social media (LinkedInTwitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.




[i] Seelos, C. and Mair, J. (2016). When Innovation Goes Wrong (article). Retrieved from: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/when_innovation_goes_wrong?utm_source=Enews&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=SSIR_Now&utm_content=Title

[ii] Waste concern. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://wasteconcern.org/about-us/

[iii] Gram Vicas. (n. d.). Our story. Retrieved from: http://www.gramvikas.org/our-story

[iv] WorkVentures. (n. d.). Social inclusion through technology. Retrieved from: https://workventures.com.au/

[v] The big issue. (n. d.). About. Retrieved from: https://www.bigissue.com/about/

[vi] Wastway trust. (n. d.). Westway Trust Communities. Retrieved from: https://www.spacehive.com/movement/westwaytrust/

[vii] Sewa. (n. d.). Self Employed Women’s Association. Retrieved from: http://www.sewa.org/About_Us.asp

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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