Types of Social Enterprise — WISE

A people-centred approach

Photo by Raoul Ortega on Unsplash

One of the oldest forms of social enterprise is called WISE — a work integration social enterprise. This is a social enterprise whose main priority is to provide employment to a specific group of people, often hard-to-employ or vulnerable.

Existing WISEs cover a wide spectrum of sectors, from clothes-making to factory-line work, and from landscaping companies to massage parlours. Just like social enterprise, you will find examples of WISE across the world, and perhaps in your own back yard.

WISEs used to be predominantly run adjacent to a non-profit organisation. This way they could provide tailor made work positions so their service users could find employment. It also meant that care could also be delivered at the same time, increasing the chances of successful employment and sustainability for both the company and individual.

Every WISE is different with its reasons for establishing itself for the sole person of employing a certain group of people.

Here are some examples as to why WISEs might be set up.

To provide a safe and stable route back to work

Imagine you’ve been out of work for over two years. You haven’t had a steady income, nor have you done a nine-to-five for a long time. Your skills might be a rusty, and maybe you’ve sort of forgotten how to socialise or behave in the workplace.

This description could be someone returning from maternity leave, someone off sick for a long period, someone leaving jail, or someone recovering from an addiction, to name a few examples. Such a wide range of individuals yet all with a similar common need — a safe place to work where they know the people and the pressure is off a little.

Many WISEs have been set up just for this — a stepping stone to get back into the working world. Perhaps through a contract job to give the person the confidence to find a job after. Or maybe that individual will always work in this safe and stable place. In some cases, certain WISEs crossover with support workers from their or another non-profit to provide a holistic service so that those starting work again are fully supported.

To offer flexible job positions

Not everyone has the ability to work full time, nor regular hours. This could be down to health, time availability, other responsibilities as well as many other factors.

With this in mind, some WISEs were set up that understood the needs of their workers, and could offer the flexible job position that meant those individuals could work to the best of their abilities or to a timetable that suited them.

It may sound like a nightmare to some business owners — a workforce of flexible work positions. However with a bit of ingenuity and innovation, and when your first priority isn’t profit, these WISEs were able to flourish to provide immense social impact. Don’t forget though — WISEs are generally still for profit organisations.

Fortunately, we have seen a shift within the private sector to be more flexible when it comes to working hours and contracts, meaning employment is a lot more accessible than it used to be. Therefore the need for this sort of WISE has decreased over the years.

To meet a need in the labour market

With sectors fluctuating, governments changing their employment priorities and different occupations moving in and out of fashion, there are often skilled people who find themselves out of demand.

Shipping communities, mining communities or where the garment industry was once rife, have all changed. These industries have, for the most part, vanished or moved abroad. Where they used to employ half a village or town, we find large groups of unemployed people.

Certain WISEs have set up to reemploy them in the same industry. You see this quite often happen with tailors, craftspeople and farmers. WISEs saw the opportunity to harness the local human capital and turn it into a sustainable business.

On top of this, we can think about all the skills needed in the aforementioned industries. Instead of creating the same sector, some WISEs take this certain group of people and reskill them. By using their basic knowledge from their previous profession yet applying it in a different way, they can create new sectors and new jobs for them.


If you work with individuals needing help to return to work , or if you’re thinking about starting a social enterprise to meet one of the needs above, then perhaps you should look at existing WISEs to see what models work for them. Reach out, do a bit of research, and make a good plan so your social enterprise will thrive. Need help doing this? Get in touch!