[ASK TBM] What Does It Mean To Be a Social Enterprise?

Dwellbeing founder Che Secillano shares her insights and first-hand experience running a social enterprise and what it means to run this type of business.

A social enterprise recognizes that there is more to business than just the bottom line. We asked the founder of upcycling social enterprise Dwellbeing for deeper insight.

Across the world today, there are around 10 million social enterprises, according to the World Economic Forum’s State of Social Enterprise 2024. These social enterprises earn around USD2 trillion (approximately PHP112.65 trillion) in revenue each year and have created 200 million jobs. 

Given these numbers, it is easy to understand why many business owners have opted to run social enterprises. Such businesses can align profit with purpose, creating a positive impact for the community and the environment. 

While social enterprises are undoubtedly beneficial, it is first important to understand what a social enterprise is exactly. What does it mean to run such a business? We spoke to Che Secillano, the founder of Dwellbeing, to ask for her insights on running a social enterprise, based on her first-hand experience.

How do you define social entrepreneurship in your own words?

For me it simply means to marry purpose and profit, with purpose defining profit. It goes back to using the business as a force for good or a catalyst for change. 

How did you come about the idea of starting Dwellbeing, a social enterprise?

The idea came about during the pandemic when my son’s hands were getting so dry from frequent washing and spraying alcohol because he has eczema. I had a friend who formulated the all-natural hand soap and it worked on him. If it [worked] for him, then it [would] work for most of us. That’s the start of our very first product, the Lemongrass All-Natural Liquid Hand Soap. But it cannot be just a product alone.

Inspired from reading the stories of Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation and Anita Roddick’s The Body Shop, the concept of using the business as a force of good was first and foremost my priority. So the question to myself was, “How do I make my business a force for good?” 

On top of producing all-natural products that are good for well-being, we also advocate for upcycling discarded bottles, paper, cooking oil, plastic and fabric and use it as our product components, creating a product of higher quality or value than the original. 

We also use the business to empower community folks by giving them a source of livelihood, and this has also extended by employing a 100% deaf team. We are also committed in giving back a percentage of our gross sales in support of Hunger Relief efforts by providing nutritious family meals to Project Pearls, an NGO uplifting those for whom “’pagpag” [eating leftover food in garbage] is an unfortunate reality.

Dwellbeing comes full circle as a social enterprise that advocates upcycling, empowering, and giving. We produce all-natural personal and home care, functional everyday items for your home and well-being guided by environmental kindness and the upliftment of our community and marginalized folks.

What are the advantages as well as challenges that you have encountered that are specific to running a social enterprise? Do you think social entrepreneurship is for everyone? 

No. It’s not easy running a social enterprise. You have to balance purpose and profit. You need profit to sustain purpose. But between the two, it has to be purpose first, then profit is secondary.

Purpose fuels the business. Profit sustains the business.

What concrete tips and advice can you give to anyone who wants to put up a social enterprise?

Have a lot of patience and always check your intention.

A lot of times you will be challenged to source elsewhere cheaper, somewhere easier, but you need to check your heart. It goes back to serving your community despite the cost.

You need to be creative in finding ways and means to keep costs low, while supporting people at the same time, making it viable financially.

Che Secillano is the founder of Dwellbeing, a social enterprise she started in 2021. Prior to becoming a business owner, she spent a few decades in corporate retail.