Until the 2010 FASES Report, a joint initiative of Social Traders and the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, there was little research about social enterprise in Australia. This key report found that there are around 20,000 social enterprises operating in Australia. Most are small enterprises, and most have a local/regional focus, though some are large or internationally focused.
Survey results from the FASES Report suggested that the Australian social enterprise sector is mature, sustainable and internally diverse with regard to mission and organisational structure. Amongst the 365 survey respondents, 73 per cent had been operational for at least five years, and 62 per cent were at least ten years old.
The report also found Australian social enterprises seek to fulfil a diversity of missions and serve a wide variety of beneficiaries. As a whole, the dominant foci of our survey respondents were on creating opportunities for people to participate in their communities, and on finding new solutions to social, environmental, cultural and economic problems.
Australian social enterprises operate in every industry of our economy. FASES Report survey data suggest that they trade predominantly in local and regional markets and focus on fulfilling their missions at local and regional levels. However, some social enterprises operate in international markets and seek to respond to missions of international scope. Social enterprises are involved in all forms of economic production, including retail, wholesale, and manufacturing. Although present in all aspects of the economy, they appear to operate primarily within the service economy. The two most common industries for social enterprises are education and training, and arts/recreation. They are typically owned by a nonprofit or charitable organisation, or are member-owned.
The Social Traders group classes social enterprises into 7 categories:
- Intermediate Labour Market Companies: running a commercial business as a method of training and providing work for the unemployed
- Social Firms: running a commercial business to provide employment for people with a disability
- Cooperatives, Associations and Mutuals: member-run, member-benefiting businesses which are designed to meet a specific need of members, e.g. childcare
- Community Enterprises: businesses designed purely to benefit the local community e.g. a credit union or petrol station
- Community Development Finance Institutions: businesses created to provide access to financial products for people who find it difficult to access mainstream financial services
- Fair Trade Organisations: created to improve conditions and pay for producers of goods, usually in developing countries, through selling accredited goods to developed world consumers
- Charitable Business Ventures: an income-generation arm of a charity