Social Inclusion By Design
12 June 2013 at 11:05 am
A Melbourne social enterprise has designs on tackling social inclusion. This week we look at an architect collective, CoDesign, in our Spotlight on Social Enterprise – a column that explores the challenges and impact of social business in Australia.
CoDesign is a collective of professional architects and designers aiming to generate social change through projects that shape the built environment.
Led by founder Lucinda Hartley, the social enterprise initially launched as a charity two years ago. It didn’t survive.
“You need some capital resources to keep going,” Hartley said, noting the difficulty of
maintaining a team of skilled professionals working in a volunteer capacity.
The transition to a social enterprise model one year ago has seen it flourish.
CoDesign has now undertaken 25 projects both here and overseas, some temporary, some permanent.
Clients including Government bodies, local councils and Not for Profits pay a fee to CoDesign, who then work with the community.
The process of communities building something together is a powerful aspect of their work, Hartley said.
“The strength of [our projects] is in community activation. We help communities generate ideas and see their ideas realised.”
Hartley said CoDesign made people think differently about social enterprise.
“When people think of social enterprise they usually think of hospitality or goods”, she said. She believes that as a service, CoDesign is uniquely placed.
CoDesign has proved that projects do not have to be big and expensive to achieve significant social progress.
A recent project transformed a burnt warehouse in Collingwood into a vibrant community space. It was built under CoDesign’s guidance by volunteers using repurposed materials.
Hartley, who trained as an architect herself, said she was compelled to start CoDesign
because she recognised the way the physical environment influenced social issues at a grassroots level.
“I saw a disconnect between my trained profession and the way people interact with
the built environment,” she said.
“One of my design professors once said, ‘we train people to provide services for rich
clients.’ That really resonated with me.”
“We were interested in exploring how design and design thinking could be used to
mobilise people and create change in their communities.”
CoDesign has three key indicators they use to track their social impact:
- Improvement in measurable levels of community empowerment, where people realise they can have influence over the spaces they live in.
- Creation of social capital and the building of relationships within communities.
- Environmental improvement and positive perception by the community of the environment they live in.
Some projects are rejected because they do not meet these benchmarks. As a non-profit social enterprise, CoDesign is eligible to receive grants. Hartley said as a consequence, they must be able to demonstrate tangible social impact.
Hartley said being a part of the social enterprise movement has been advantageous in publicity terms, but the term ‘social enterprise’ needs to be properly defined to avoid its misuse.
“I hope Australia will provide a proper definition. The reason we exist is not to make a profit. It should come down to the primary objective.”
Corporates must play a role that goes beyond what we now classify as corporate social responsibility, she said.
“Social enterprise has helped charities be more sustainable.
“But I’d like to see it go further. We also need to see that big business can be oriented to social purposes.”
Either way, the plan is for Hartley’s designs on profit with purpose to continue to transform communities for the better.