A Take on Social Enterprise from Down Under -Hon. Ben Carroll MP, Minister for Industry and Employment, Melbourne, Victoria

I recently had the opportunity to visit REDF and talk with CEO Carla Javits about the great work being undertaken in the US in the social enterprise sector. Carla kindly asked if I would like to write a post and it is on this basis that I’m pleased to update you on the sector from down under, in Victoria, Australia.

Voted world’s most liveable city for seven years running, it doesn’t take much to spruik Melbourne as the home of great food, excellent coffee and fantastic lifestyle. But it’s home to much more. Increasingly, as locals and visitors roam our famous laneways, the cafes and shops they’re dropping into have a social mission at the core of their business.

The growth and vibrancy of Melbourne’s social enterprises will ensure that everyone can benefit from our city’s liveability.

Take STREAT – a leader in its sector that now operates four cafes across Melbourne, training at-risk young people to give them the opportunity to go on and forge a career of their own, while serving up a great feed and coffee in the process.

Our social enterprises aren’t limited to our laneways. After working with Swinburne University last year, the Victorian Government launched Map for Impact, tracking the social enterprises that operate across the state of Victoria. What did we find? Over one-third of social enterprises in Victoria operate regionally, from cafes like Madcow that are working to break down the cycle of generation poverty and homelessness, to the Social Foundry, offering workplace mentoring for individuals with complex barriers to employment.

As I travel around the state, I make it a priority to drop in to social enterprises in the towns and cities I visit. It’s been an eye-opening experience that’s given me a glimpse into the innovative and inspiring organisations that operate Down Under.

In Victoria alone, there are 3,500 social enterprises, providing 60,000 jobs, including for people with a disability, for long-term jobseekers and for Aboriginal Victorians. Half of our social enterprises are being led by women – a stat that outshines most other industries in this state.

These businesses are setting the example for others to follow – giving back to the communities that keep them afloat.

Recently, we’ve seen a wave of enthusiasm for social enterprises, with Australians loving the idea that they can help someone out by choosing to pick up their morning coffee at a café like Ways & Means, or buying clothes from iconic brands like HoMie. The difficulty, as I know many working in this sector are aware, is how do we define a social enterprise? And how do we ensure these businesses continue to thrive?

This month, Social Traders Australia launched its social enterprise certification program. For the first time, we will have a national accreditation program to ensure that businesses with a social justice mission are properly rewarded. This is a fantastic first-step in giving social enterprises the recognition they deserve.

But more needs to be done. That’s why, in another Australian-first, the Victorian state government launched its Social Procurement Framework. The Framework prioritises tenderers that incorporate social enterprise into their bids to complete Victoria’s major infrastructure projects. For example, social enterprises are contributing to these projects by printing written materials, converting shipping containers into information hubs and providing plants for landscaping.

We are putting our money where it matters, and using the government’s purchasing power to benefit Victorians who are facing barriers to employment. This includes Aboriginal people, long-term job seekers, at-risk women, survivors of family violence, people with a disability and young Victorians.

Over half of Victorian social enterprises are less than ten years old and are still finding their feet in the market. To expand growth opportunities to these innovative businesses, we are leading by example and ensuring that everyone gets a fair go.

From now on, principle contractors who use social and disability enterprises or Aboriginal businesses in their tenders for government work will have a competitive edge over those who don’t.

On top of that, we’re putting money into the sector, giving social enterprises the support to build up the skills of their employees. We have a vibrant, innovative social enterprise sector. But to ensure that this sector continues to thrive, we need to back the businesses that are providing employment, training and support for the people who need it.

Check out the Social Procurement Framework to see how.

I hope you can visit one of our social enterprises soon.