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Social Entrepreneurship is an approach by companies in which they find solutions to help promote social good. These businesses are more concerned with social good than just making a profit. There are many challenges and also misconceptions about social enterprises and social entrepreneurs.

Meet: Mike Batley, director of the Restorative Justice Center in Pretoria, who after 20 years of working in the public service started an NGO turned social enterprise. This interview will try to define what social enterprises are, the challenges faced in starting them, the lessons learned by running them. Mike also provides some valuable personal reflections on how to go about starting a social enterprise.

Thank you Mike for agreeing to share your story! As an introduction can you please tell us about yourself and why you started the Restorative Justice Center Pretoria?

In 1998-1999 I was turning 40 years old (chuckles) and I was looking for career options and career development.I had been working in the government department of social development. I could see that, although I had established myself in public service and had initially seen a future for myself there, I increasingly realised it (my career development) probably wasn’t there. I had discovered this concept of Restorative Justice and I wanted to promote it. I realised that to promote the concept in the public service space, even though it was relevant, my options would be limited. Then the idea of having an NGO dedicated to doing that became very appealing. So at a time when other NGOs were taking strain and closing down, we started a new one. I started up with my colleague Nigel Branken who had more entrepreneurial spirit and we registered the NGO. Can you briefly explain to us what ‘restorative justice’ is?

Restorative justice is a different way of thinking about crime and justice issues. It’s the reconceptualization of what justice is compared to what we know particularly from Western justice systems. It draws on older traditions, indigenous justice systems and faith traditions. Punishment should not be at the center of the justice equation but rather we should focus on making things right. Restorative justice asks, who got hurt, how do we respond to their needs, how do we respond to harm. Restorative justice shifts from an exclusive focus on punishment to a much wider perspective. It is concerned with harms and needs, whose obligation it is to meet those needs and uses inclusive collaborative processes with everyone who has been affected by the crime incident. It also seeks to address the underlying roots of what led to the crime and recognises the impact of the wider context in which it took place.

What are some of the benefits of restorative justice?

Restorative justice has been around for 40 years and increasingly studies have shown restorative justice is actually very effective in reducing repeat offending, in conventional systems it has been found that 80% of convicted criminals reoffend when released whereas restorative justice studies have shown that it reduces that to 30%-40%. Restorative justice systems scores very high compared to conventional justice systems when it comes to the satisfaction of victims with the process of justice and the punishment of perpetrators. Also victims have reported a great reduction in their own feelings of vengeance and violence.

How did you become interested in restorative justice?

In the mid 90’s I was working as the head of a local probation officer’s unit in Pretoria. I was basically supervising a team of social workers whose job it was to prepare sentencing reports for the court. Many legal people were not interested in whether a sentence would decrease repeat offending or other various issues. They tended to be concerned mainly with how much punishment should be imposed. You talk about initially starting the Restorative Justice Center as an NGO, when did you switch to becoming a social enterprise?

I think from the beginning that (social enterprise) was the idea we always had, we kinda got stuck into the grant model and it was very hard. There was however interest in the concept because we had some expertise and could offer training and could charge for training to other practitioners who wanted to know more.

How would you distinguish a social enterprise from an NGO?

I’m not sure that these are completely distinct entities from my understanding. They have different histories and trajectories but I think the lines are blurred. I think a lot of traditional NGOs who have worked with grants and government funding have started to see that they actually have skills that are valuable for the marketplace and have got monetary and commercial value and have started exploring ways to do that. So they (NGOs and social enterprises) are not mutually exclusive.

What has the social impact been and how has the RJC been able to measure that?

We’ve struggled with that (measuring social impact) to be quite honest, part of that struggle was just being in survival mode a lot of the time. We were sucked into the grant model so there was not enough space to fund evaluation research and so tracking what our impact has been a major weakness of ours. My own personality also contributed to that, it was more about feeling that what I was doing was good and valuable as opposed to demonstrating that by actual returns.

Getting funding plays a major in any NGO/Social enterprise, can you please take us through some of the challenges in acquiring funding?

We were not wary enough to resist being funded by social development (a government department) which was always in a way of a subsidy. So they fund 55%-60% of the total cost the rest you have to find on your own. There was also the National Lottery but they were unreliable, some years they would call for proposals, some years they would not. What are some of the challenges the RJC faces?

I think just working with offenders has never been attractive. This kind of work is not as attractive to investors as opposed to education for example or working with children and vulnerable orphans. From our perspective it is of high value because you prevent people from reoffending and facilitate healing but from a corporate marketing perspective that doesn’t seem to be readily apparent.

What would your advice be for anyone looking into starting a social enterprise in regards to measuring their impact and social good?

(Mike goes on to tell a story about a 20 year old inmate that was coming up for parole and had requested to meet his victims. With the help of the RJC volunteers and Correctional Services social workers he was able to meet with one of his victims and the whole process actually helped the victim in that she finally got access to counseling and empowering herself. He narrates the story quite emotionally)

Key takeaways:

Have follow up interviews. Get feedback on how they feel about the process. Document your body of work and invest in pulling all the information together and having knowledge from the stories that are the “nuggets” of the crop.

How then would you distinguish between a social entrepreneur from someone who is a normal entrepreneur?

It depends on their motivation. It is much less about the profit than the social need but that is also a bit blurred because obviously an entity needs to be financially viable. Social profit and social good are the distinguishing factors. I think also a strong commitment to addressing these is very distinctive. A typical business entrepreneur would simply stop pursuing something if it does not generate a financial return. What would be your hope for the future of the RJC?

We are trying to build a hybrid model that is positioned to continue to access grants, which can offer services for a fee and that can attract small contributions from individual donors. That would provide some stability for some core funding and would position the organisation to really promote the concept of restorative justice and conflict transformation in a range of contexts. These would include environmental crime, sexual harassment and schools. My dream is to be able to do that successfully and draw income from all of those three streams and to be able to work with a wide range of people in different ways.

What are your two tips for people starting a social enterprise?

1. To be very clear about why you’re doing it. 2. It has to be more than a way of making money or making a living. It has to be connected to a greater sense of purpose and calling. It’s incredibly hard so you need to be very realistic upfront about how you’re going to survive and why you’re getting into this. You’re going to go through all sorts of obstacles and difficulties but if it’s connected to your purpose then you cannot leave it, you have to do it. For anyone interested in contacting the Restorative Justice Center :

Contact number: 072 214 3880

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