SPOTLIGHT ON SOCIAL ENTERPRISE: Lessons from a Disability Enterprise
1 May 2013 at 11:30 am
While social enterprises are on the rise it is not always easy for these businesses-for-good to stay afloat, as one Newcastle-based social enterprise discovered earlier this year when one of its five enterprises had to close its doors.
This week Pro Bono Australia takes a look into the business model of Lifestyle Solutions which runs a series of organisations to support people with disabilities find employment, in our regular Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Operating in Newcastle, Lifestyle Solutions is a Not for Profit that was founded in 2001 providing services to people with disability. Since then, their vision has grown to providing opportunities to people in the community who have difficulties in maintaining sustainable employment through their social enterprise programs.
Karlie Kearney is the Manager of these social enterprises and says that all staff are paid award wages as a part of the ‘Work Assist Program’.
“We have five social enterprises – there’s an outdoor nursery, gardening maintenance, online bookstore, home maintenance and mowing,” she says.
“Our social enterprises are creating employment for people with a disability, mainly mental health.”
However, until recently Lifestyle Solutions boasted the operation of a social enterprise cafe called the Butterfly Effect that had to be closed earlier this year after only 18 months due to financial difficulties.
“The main reason we lost our cafe was that we had some flaws in the model,” Kearney explains, attributing too high staff costs as their undoing.
“We learnt some hard lessons. Hospitality is very different. It’s a tricky situation.”
The Work Assist Program has been developed to:
- Identify people with a disability who want to work
- Match people with a disability to appropriate and desired types of work available in the community
- Manage the individual needs of people with disability and provide the opportunity for them to explore their potential in the workplace
- Monitor (through a specific Mood Monitoring Tool) the impact that secure, sustainable and supportive employment makes on an individual’s general well being and quality of life.
Kearney explains that the challenge for a lot of the assisted workers is managing anxiety in difficult and confronting situations. Aspergers is a common condition of the staff employed in the enterprises, along with depression and anxiety, and entering the workforce can be confronting for many.
“Starting work can trigger people’s conditions,” she explains.
“Data tells us the first three months are the hardest, but after three to six months there’s a significant shift. They find their groove in the workplace.”
Lifestyle Solutions offers support to their workers, but keeps this help separate to their employment.
“The reason why I took the direction of the social enterprise model is that, in my experience, there is a difference between a worker reporting to their employer and reporting to their support officer,” Kearney explains.
“Support is independent.”
All workers are part time, averaging around 21 hours a week to ensure that no one earns over the pharmaceutical benefits threshold making them ineligible for the card.
“The average price is around $500 a month for medicine.
“Usually they work 12-20 hours a week to maintain less than 59 hours a fortnight to maintain their pharmaceutical card. Otherwise they’d just work to pay for their medicine.”
Social enterprises in regional NSW
Kearney says that social enterprise is by and large a ‘foreign concept’ in the Newcastle area, but generally people want to be able to ‘do good’ for their community.
“They just don't have an understanding,” she says. “It is rare – especially for Newcastle.
“There’s a wave going on – many disability organisations around here are switching to a social enterprise model.”
2013 is set to be the year of corporate partnerships for Lifestyle Solutions.
“In 2013 we have a clear focus on corporate citizenship,” she says. “We have no Government funding so we rely on corporate sponsorship.”