But as interest rises, sector faces concerns over financing, profitability
To set up a social enterprise is becoming a popular career choice on the mainland, although lack of funding and enterprise management skills remain major challenges for people who want to devote themselves to this fledging sector.
"Social enterprise is something new for China, but we are seeing more young people show enthusiasm to give it a try and become social entrepreneurs," said Xu Yongguang, vice-president of Narada Foundation, which is based in Beijing and has provided 1 million yuan ($158,385) a year to support social projects since 2008.
Social enterprises are organizations that use business approaches to meet social and environmental needs and make a positive difference in their communities, according to a definition by the British Council's Beijing office.
"Social enterprises employ sustainable commercial techniques and may generate profits, but unlike traditional businesses, their primary objective is to benefit society rather than enrich owners or shareholders," according to a statement from the council team in charge of its Skills for Social Entrepreneurs program.
According to a report by the Foundation for Youth Social Entrepreneurship, an organization dedicated to providing support to social entrepreneurs in Asia, social entrepreneurs are mostly aged 31 to 40, are highly educated and have international exposure.
As there is no specific legislation for social enterprises on the mainland, social enterprises face challenges but are given the freedom to choose their legal status, the report said.
Of the 52 social enterprises that took part in the study, 34 were registered with authorities as companies, 10 as NGOs, while the rest were not registered at all.
The report also discovered that most social enterprises make little profit, with roughly 70 percent generating less than 500,000 yuan in annual revenue.
However, without a consensus on the definition, there is no reliable data about the number, size and scale of social enterprises on the mainland.
Xu said, based on his observation, successful social enterprises remain "rare" in China and most are heavily tested by market conditions.
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