About Social Enterprise Alliance

SEA's Role

Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) is the champion for social enterprise in the United States. Our aim is for social enterprise to reach its full potential as a force for positive social change, in service to the common good. To achieve this purpose, we provide social enterprises with the tools and resources they need to succeed, and work on building an optimal environment in which they can thrive.

We carry out our work through four strategies:

  • We spread knowledge and build capacity — Through a variety of offerings including our newsletter, a monthly webinar series, npEnterprise (our official listserv), subscriptions, our mp3 Learning Series and our new Knowledge Center, we are the go-to source for the intellectual capital which fuels social enterprise.
  • We build social enterprise communities and networks — We have rapidly built out a network of local social enterprise communities with 13 SEA chapters in 11 states. Together with our national convening power, we help social enterprisers find, learn from and support each other.
  • We tell the stories and aggregate the impact of social enterprise — We vigorously promote the amazing narratives of our members, accumulate the evidence of field impact, and are the voice of the sector in numerous collaborations and partnerships.
  • We advocate and promote supportive public policy — We seek to create a public environment in which social enterprise can maximize its leverage. Our State and Local Policy Toolkit helps our chapters and local members build this ecosystem locally, while at a national level we work on issues including social innovation initiatives, social impact bonds, government procurement, SBA lending and technical support for social enterprise and federal workforce programs and policies.

Our signature event, the Social Enterprise Summit, is a key offering that cuts across all four strategy areas. For the last dozen years, this three-day national event has been the gathering of social enterprise, with a typical attendance of 500 to 700 participants and dozens of expert speakers. In 2014, we'll meet again in Nashville April 14 - 16.

SEA brings several assets to bear in carrying out its work. These include a 15-year history of field leadership, a national network of over 900 members, and a local footprint through our chapters. Among our members we count the top practitioners of social enterprise, the leading thinkers, investors, public policy leaders and a wide range of service providers.

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SEA Member Value

Our goal is to make membership in Social Enterprise Alliance both indispensable and accessible to anyone who self-identifies with the field. SEA members receive value in four ways:

Direct Value — We provide tools, knowledge, visibility and networks that help social enterprises do their work better. For example, our online Knowledge Center features over 2,000 searchable research papers, business plans, tools and templates. Our national Summits typically offer 30 skill-building workshops.  Our newsletter and social networks spread news and information to over 22,000 subscribers, fans and followers. Our staff provides “high touch” service to members searching for resources and information.

Collective Value — A rising tide raises all ships. We raise the tide through our public policy, awareness building, data aggregation and storytelling work. For example, we work on a national as well as a state and local policy agenda. We are a key partner in the Great Social Enterprise Census which seeks to measure the size of the social enterprise sector in the United States. We were a key player in turning back salesforce.com’s efforts to privatize the term “social enterprise” by trademarking it.

Connective Value — SEA members expand their communities and networks both locally and nationally. Our annual Summit in 2014 focuses specifically on connecting our members to one another and will include valuable intentional networking activities. Throughout the year members have access to our online social media communities and virtual webinars, and we often connect members directly to other members with similar interests. Chapters also offer an ongoing network-building opportunity for our members.

Local value — We catalyze local communities of practice through our chapter network.  Each chapter produces at least four, and usually closer to a dozen, local community and educational events annually, and takes an active role in local policy public policy efforts.

Both individuals and organizations may join us, with a sliding scale of member benefits and annual dues designed to appeal to members of all types and sizes.

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SEA Chapters

Our rapidly expanding chapter network now numbers 16 chapters in 14 states. These local clusters of SEA members provide local networking and collaboration opportunities, act as the focal point for local policy and field-building awareness work, and serve as a key distribution channel for our intellectual content.

Social Enterprise Alliance Chapters are organic and grassroots, with local Boards who guide local efforts within guidelines established by the national SEA office. SEA national staff develops products and services for chapter use and coordinates efforts across chapters.

 A provisional chapter can be established in any distinct geographic market with at least ten SEA members, and a full chapter charter may be awarded once there are 15 members. SEA has a detailed process for launching successful chapters. For more information, please contact the Chapter Services Leader at chapters@se-alliance.org.

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History of SEA

Note: SEA’s organizational history dates to 1997, but the social enterprise industry dates back much further. Click here to download a pdf of Evolution of The Social Enterprise Industry, which describes key events in the field through 2008, after which, according to the author, Institute for Social Entrepreneurs, the explosion of the field became too massive to codify.



From its initial stirrings in the middle of the 20th century, the social enterprise industry had been fragmented and few of its practitioners knew each other. That began to change when six veterans in the field (Jerr Boschee, Jed Emerson, Gary Mulhair, John Riggan, Billy Shore and Richard Steckel) met in Seattle August 13, 1997, to design the first national gathering for social entrepreneurs. The event took place 15 months later (November 12-15, 1998) in Colorado Springs, attended by 182 people, including representatives from 92 nonprofits and 47 management assistance providers.

The second gathering took place in Miami April 27-30, 2000, at which time Charles King became the founding Chair of a fledgling 501(c)3 called The National Gathering for Social Entrepreneurs.

The terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda postponed the third gathering, originally scheduled for September 12-15, 2001. It eventually took place November 28 – December 1 in Seattle. The fourth gathering follow a year later, December 4-6, 2002, in Minneapolis, after which The National Gathering absorbed the remnants of Social Entrepreneurs Allied for Change (SEA-Change) and named Beth Bubis its first President and CEO. Other senior staff members included Jim McClurg and Jim Pitofsky.

During the next six years, the national event changed its name twice but eventually became known as the Social Enterprise Summit in 2008. During that same year, SEA joined with sister organizations around the globe to create the first Social Enterprise World Forum in Scotland and in 2010 hosted the 3rd World Forum in San Francisco, attended by more than 730 people from 31 countries.

The dates and locations of the fifth through 14th national events include the following:

  • 2004: 5th Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance (San Francisco, March 3-5)
  • 2005: 6th Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance (Milwaukee, April 17-20)
  • 2006: 7th Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance (Atlanta, March 7-10)
  • 2007: 8th Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance (Long Beach, California, April 17-19)
  • 2008: 9th Social Enterprise Summit (Boston, March 9-11)
  • 2009: 10th Social Enterprise Summit (New Orleans, April 15-17)
  • 2010: 11th Social Enterprise Summit/3rd Social Enterprise World Forum (San Francisco, April 28-30)
  • 2011: 12th Social Enterprise Summit (Chicago, October 31-November 2)
  • 2013: 13th Social Enterprise Summit (Minneapolis, May 19 - 22)
  • 2014: 14th Social Enterprise Summit (Nashville, April 13 - 16)
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