A social business is a non-loss, market-based organization with a social objective, in which social entrepreneurial activities take place and social value is created. Social businesses are a heterogeneous and highly context-dependent group of organizations. Scholars have differentiated social businesses by their various social motivations, organizational forms, or governance, but they have rarely differentiated the social impacts created by these businesses. Many scholars believe it is “a great, if not impossible, challenge” to compare and categorize the different, unrelated, heterogeneous social impacts created by social businesses.
Unlike other types of hybrid organizations, social businesses adopt market-based strategies and use the generated profit to address social objectives for their owners/stakeholders. Thus, social businesses also face fierce market pressure and competition, similar to most private-sector organizations. The vast majority of social businesses are small- or medium-sized and must learn to cope with limited resources, like most SMEs do.
In 2015, all 193 UN members agreed to the 2030 Agenda, which consists of a set of common strategies to achieve 17 goals and 169 targets by the year 2030. As the sustainable development of society requires the efforts of all social actors, private-sector organizations also share the responsibility for sustainable development. Consequently, private-sector organizations, especially MNEs, have embraced the UN SDGs as guidance for their contributions to sustainable development. Simultaneously, the UN SDGs can also be seen as a powerful tool to map and measure the contributions of private-sector organizations to the SDGs.
This study aims to align the social impacts created by social businesses under the established framework of the UN SDGs and categorize these social impacts. Two surveys were carried out with the owners or stakeholders of 215 social businesses in the Nordic-Baltic countries (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, and Sweden). In the first survey, the owners or stakeholders identified one or two of the most significant SDG goals to which their social businesses have contributed. In the second survey, the author consolidated the 169 UN SDG targets by merging and summarizing them when possible, and excluding those that are not relevant to the activities of social businesses (such as targets related to government actions). The author then obtained a list of 59 SDG targets that are relevant to social businesses. In the second survey, the owners or stakeholders identified the most relevant SDG targets (up to five) that their social businesses are pursuing. The sequential analyses also explore the impacts of home country institutions on social businesses’ contributions to SDG goals and targets.