Social enterprises often work in places, and markets, where resources are scarce. Indeed, the path from pitching a great idea to establishing a sustainable business with social impact is extremely challenging and full of uncertainties.

In responding to these uncertainties, a common feature of established social enterprises is an ability to identify and obtain the different resources they need to grow.

There are several resource types that social enterprises typically seek:

Tangible Resources

Examples

Financial Capital

Loans, grants, equity, earned income

Physical Capital

Infrastructure such as office buildings, training materials, equipment.

Natural Capital

Primary resources for value-adding/processing

Intangible Resources

Examples

Human Capital

Human resources including, paid staff, members and volunteers

Intellectual Capital

Product or service knowledge and innovation

Social Capital

Networks, trust and relationships

So, how do social enterprises respond to capture the resources they need? They tend two use two approaches: bootstrapping and bricolage. Bootstrapping involves social enterprise businesses reducing the need to seek further inflow of financial resources, by reducing costs or accessing financial resources through internal or informal means.

Bricolage refers to ‘making do with what is at hand’, and explains the creative ways that businesses can bridge resourcing gaps, for example improvisation by combining existing resources in new ways.

From our research, we found that social enterprises engage in both activities when resourcing their businesses. Typical activities included:

  • Proactively seeking new, aligned business opportunities to increase financial capital.
  • Developing networks, especially where complementary strategic alignments appeared.
  • Accessing free resources where possible, especially free or low-cost spaces to work.
  • Leveraging personal networks to bootstrap finance, especially in start-up.
  • Thinking creatively about how services might be applied to new market opportunities.

There is also the important role of the wider ‘ecosystem’. Successful social enterprises rely on help, advice and financial support from many different stakeholders, from personal networks and sector intermediaries to government departments, impact investors and philanthropy. Each group plays a role in providing the right support and resources that social enterprises need to start-up and develop their businesses.

In the following three sections, we provide some clear recommendations for social enterprises, intermediaries and financiers, and policy-makers. Use the links to navigate between each section.