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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

Go WA! and The Tyranny of History

Tuesday, 5th June 2012

Everywhere you go in Perth you notice two things. The influence of the Alan Bond 80’s in the design of its architecture and the current amount of building going on reflecting the now..

We all hear about the two speed economy and the boom of the state of WA as the drive to reap the bounties of our country’s natural resources continues. Affordable housing is a major issue as Perth blossoms and hotel rooms here charge astronomical rates as the big mining companies book blocks of room for fly-in fly-out guests. “Another one of those companies who by Xmas time could be 50 people” said a woman in conversation who just walked by my table as I write this – and as I dole out $5.00 for a coffee..

The profit motive is everywhere AND now it seems there is the concurrent movement for PURPOSE.

On the back of some fairly damning research done by Lotterywest  in 2010 showing poor levels of giving both at a personal and corporate level. (“WA seems to compare favourably to the rest of the nation in terms of the number of people giving, but rather poorly in how much they give”)
WA is positively putting on its work boots and reforming the way they do philanthropy, social enterprise, social funding and community engagement. And the rest of Australia is taking note and setting up in WA.

Unhindered by institutional histories and entrenched personal politics the groups establishing here are taking the best of what the rest of the country has been doing and applying it and enhancing it and reinventing it. On top of this the WA entrepreneurial culture is making “the new”.

Then I moved from a tour of the fabulous new Spacecubed social enterprise hub  to the restaurant named ‘The Green Room’ across the road (totally furnished with recycled materials). My company for the evening was with three of the states active youngins (introduced to me by Jan Owen and Neil Pharoh of the Foundation for Young Australians) who are developing amazing social enterprises – one of recycled Bicycle service working with kids in trouble and the other, an enterprise set up by a young engineer to modify equipment for disabled folks – the most recent being a painting easel for quadraplegics. Spacecubed now has over 300 members who pay a small fee to be part of the network..

Concurrently Giving West has been established to encourage the big end of town to give and is headed up by a number of high profile WA citizens. So far not a great result has been seen from this initiative however as the oil, gas and mining billionaires breeze on and are showing a stubborn reluctance to engage with philanthropy in any meaningful way.

Volunteering WA headed up by Mara Basanovic is the best state peak Volunteering site I’ve seen in the country and who, as the rest of the state based volunteering bodies crumble or fight their way through this nightmare of funding cuts is showing great leadership.

Finally there was the launch of a WA edition of Philanthropy Australia’s Journal which I missed as I was back on a plane heading east with a noticeable number of FIFOs (“fly in fly out” people).

Lotterywest which gives over 240 million + away annually out of gaming revenue is a sophisticated thoughtful fruitful organisation whose resources for the sector here are fabulous. 95% of the approximately 1300 Not for Profit organisations in WA would receive funding from this bountiful organisation.

As the suns sets and I’m watching from the aeroplane cabin I know that I’ll be back – soon – probably in fact in November,  to be at the CPA congress. And I will take up the lovely friendly offer of some WA citizens to share brekky in Fremantle and the opportunity to catch up on new developments.

Karen has been on a roadshow around Australia launching a new  partnership with CPA australia to introduce financial skills through their members Volunteering into the Nfp sector. Pro Bono generates the opportunities – they fill them.

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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