Social Enterprise From “Down Under”

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Carla Javits, REDF’s President & CEO, was invited by Social Traders, Australia’s leading social enterprise development organization, to give the keynote speech at their 2016 annual conference, which is happening this week, in Melbourne. REDF and Social Traders have a lot in common—we both believe in the power of the marketplace to create social change and impact, and believe that social enterprise is a viable and innovative business model to accomplish this goal. Like REDF, Social Traders is an intermediary, working with social enterprise organizations, business, government, philanthropy, and the public, to build the field and help harness the power of this approach to changes lives and create a better society.

Lori Warren, REDF’s Director of Marketing and Communications, interviewed David Brookes, the Managing Director of Social Traders, to get an overview of the state of social enterprise in Australia, learn why they were so excited to have Carla give the keynote, and find out what they have planned for her visit. This blog summarizes that conversation.

What’s the status of social enterprise in Australia?
In Australia (population 24 million), social enterprise is rapidly gaining interest from government, social investors, business and consumers. There are currently 20,000 social enterprises employing 300,000 people and contributing approx. 2-3% of Australia’s GDP.

Social Traders believes that social enterprise in Australia has the potential to contribute much more, and that by 2025 social enterprise could employ over 500,000 Australians and contribute to 4% of our national GDP.

For this to happen we strongly believe that government needs to champion policy to create a stronger enabling environment. Businesses and consumers need to have the ability to make informed purchasing decisions from social enterprise, and the social enterprise sector needs to recognize itself and speak with a coordinated voice.

Our Federal Government led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has recently announced a National Innovation and Science Agenda with the intention of creating an Australia that values new ideas, business and technology.

While this is a positive step Social Traders believes that innovation is not simply synonymous with new technology. Innovation is about finding new ways to solve old problems, and in this context, social enterprise itself represents innovation.

We couldn’t agree with you more. So this effort is going to be about helping people understand just how innovative and effective the social enterprise approach is. Key to that, of course, are stories of impact.

In Australia today there are so many examples where social enterprises have demonstrated innovation to solve existing problems. Here are just a couple from Social Traders’ own Social Investment Portfolio.

Getting Health Food into Low-Income Communities: 2&5
To address the problem of limited access to healthy food in low-income communities, 2&5 is a social enterprise that operates a shop in Norlane, Geelong (a port city of about 300,000 near Melbourne), one of the most economically marginalized areas in the State of Victoria (Australia’s second most populous state). 2&5 sells fresh, healthy food in an area that is unable to support a fruit and vegetable shop. They grow food on a local plot of land and use excess stock – for pickling and making jams – to sell at upscale markets in the region. 2&5 measures success by the kilograms of fresh produce sold in their shop – kilograms that translate into affordable and accessible fresh food for a community that otherwise struggles to access it. Through this innovative approach they are able to keep costs down, minimize waste and provide a market-based solution to address the challenge of getting healthy food into low-income communities.

The Integrated Medical Centre
In Melbourne, The Integrated Medical Centre (TIMC) is a social enterprise medical practice owned and operated by a community health service known as “cohealth.” TIMC has been established as a means of generating revenue for cohealth by doing what they do best – providing healthcare. TIMC provides a range of health services at market rates to the more affluent members of the local community. Profits generated from these services are used to fund community healthcare programs run by cohealth for those most in need in the community. By broadening its client base to include more affluent people who are able to pay for medical services, TIMC has been able to take advantage of a market opportunity for the benefit of their traditional clients – those who cannot afford access to healthcare.

Another thing that REDF and Social Traders have in common is that we are both working to build the social enterprise ecosystem. Tell me how you are going about doing that in Australia.

As part of our work at Social Traders, we are always seeking the best ways to further develop and raise the profile and understanding of social enterprise. To do this, we often seek international social enterprise perspectives. This increases the credibility of our work, enriches our collective knowledge, and provides valuable insight into alternative approaches designed to achieve outcomes that are consistent with our own.

In 2010, Social Traders co-hosted the second Social Enterprise World Forum in Melbourne. Since then, Social Traders hosts the only annual national social enterprise conference in Australia. This event aims to bring the national social enterprise ecosystem, including government, businesses, social enterprises, philanthropy, academics and community sector organizations together to share knowledge and information through experience and best practice.

A valued part of this information exchange is to hear from international experts and the respective approaches, challenges, and opportunities that face the development of social enterprise in different countries.

At last year’s Masters Conference we heard from Jonathan Bland, Managing Director of Social Business International in the UK. Jonathan is an expert in developing social enterprise policy and framework with great experience in the UK, Spain and Finland and expressed the importance the role of government has in creating the right conditions for social enterprise to flourish.

This year, our interest in REDF stems from the recent work that has been done to generate employment for marginalized and disadvantaged workers. Social Traders believes that employment generating social enterprises have an increasingly important role to play in addressing chronic unemployment and exclusion for people in communities around Australia. With the recent announcement of REDF’s new nationwide portfolio comprising 22 of some of the US’s most innovative and effective social enterprises, and the collaboration required between REDF and the Federal Social Innovation Fund to make this happen, we feel the REDF story will be of great interest and value to our key stakeholders. That’s why we were so excited to invite Carla to give our keynote address. She’s recognized both domestically and internationally as a leader in the field.

In addition to the keynote, Carla also has quite a packed itinerary after the conference. You have her meeting with a diverse array of people who make up the social enterprise ecosystem, including funders, government, investors, corporate partners, community sector leaders, and social enterprise practitioners, and the media, one of whom is a comedian. What do you hope will come out of those meetings?

As a leader in this field, we want Carla to share her knowledge and experience on the positive impact of REDF’s work in generating employment through social enterprise. We hope to use her visit to demonstrate how social enterprise is providing innovative new solutions to solve old problems in markets other than our own. While we are focused on our work in Australia, it’s really valuable for us to be aware of – and link to – like-minded organizations – like REDF – in other countries. Linking internationally is a fantastically effective way to encourage and diversify learnings through best practice and experience. As Social Traders continues to engage with government, the business community and philanthropy, providing an international perspective such as REDF’s enriches our ecosystem’s understanding and view of social enterprise. As I’m sure it is for REDF, education is an important aspect to building a thriving social enterprise sector.

Naturally we are also eager to learn from REDF about the work you do and how you approach challenges and opportunities around social enterprise capacity building, investment, support, government relations, other intermediary bodies etc. As for the comedian, Wendy Harmer is the ‘mornings’ presenter and host on one of Sydney’s most listened to talk back radio station ABC702. Wendy is actually a multitude of things that include being a children’s author, actor, TV personality and journalist, however it’s her dry and satirical humour that has made her most well-known in Australia. While Carla is with us in Australia we’ve been fortunate enough to generate interest from a number of Australia’s largest talk back radio outlets. Why talk back radio? Well, while it’s a digital world, talk back radio shows no sign of abating and continually rates as a high influencer platform, amongst a very interesting demographic. We’re also fortunate in Australia to have a strong public national broadcaster in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) which is highly trusted, valued and has a high audience listenership. Carla will also be featured on talk back radio in Melbourne and in Brisbane.

Well I know it’s going to be an amazing experience for Carla, and vicariously, all of us at REDF. Thanks so much David for your time and for this wonderful opportunity.

G'Day Australia

You are so welcome. And knowing that from an American perspective, a conversation with an Austrailian wouldn’t be complete without this, here you go – G’Day!