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Social enterprise is widely perceived to be a way in which organisations with social and / or environmental objectives can trade in goods and / or services in order to generate revenue which is used in pursuit of those objectives rather than being distributed as profit to owners or shareholders (although in reality a precise definition of social enterprise has been heavily contested by academics for several years).

In recent decades many countries have witnessed a proliferation in economic activities which are purposefully orientated towards delivering social benefit to the poor or tackling environmental concerns. Subsequently, social enterprise has increasingly caught the attention of policy makers who seek new ways of guaranteeing basic services and socially inclusive training and development which can lead to pro-poor economic growth. Following this up-surge in policy interest social enterprise has also grown in importance as a matter for academic researchers in the social sciences who are trying to understand the contemporary dynamics of development and social change.

One of the main reasons that social enterprise interests policy makers is because it is seen to offer a more sustainable vehicle for the ongoing activities of Non-Governmental Organisations because it allows them to identify their intellectual and physical assets which can be put to use in generating revenues. There are social enterprise initiatives which are supported by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation and social enterprise has also been the subject of investigation in recent studies from the United Nations Development Programme. Furthermore, the past two decades has also seen the emergence of some large foundations such as Skoll, Schwab and Ashoka which aim to support social entrepreneurship specifically because this is seen as a more sustainable and creative model for tackling poverty and climate change than development interventions which require continual giving and which tend to generate dependency amongst beneficiaries.

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