Calls to ‘Demythologise’ Social Enterprise
18 June 2014 at 10:12 am
A national conference has been told it’s time to debunk myths around social enterprise – given risk and recognition remain major barriers.
A panel discussion at the recent Social Enterprise Masters conference in Melbourne tackled perceptions and misconceptions around social enterprise – from the perspective of the government and social sectors.
The session, facilitated by Kevin Robbie of Social Ventures Australia, featured:
- Nancy Neamtan – Chantier de l’économie sociale (peak body);
- David Brookes – Social Traders (intermediary);
- Jane Hunt – Fitted for Work (social enterprise);
- Simon Griffith – Who Gives A Crap (social enterprise);
- Laura Angus – Federal Department of Social Services (government);
- Ron Miers – Westgate Community Initiatives Group (WCIG) (social enterprise).
Nancy Neamtan, the conference keynote speaker, said there remained assumptions around the riskiness of social enterprises.
“One of the issues is the issue of recognition – of movement building, understanding that this is an economic force that exists,” Neamtan said.
“We need to debunk a lot of the myths of what is risk and what is not. The best way to minimise risk is community support.”
Ron Miers called for social enterprises to be treated critically like any other small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
“The challenge is to change us – to demythologise how we approach social enterprise,” he said.
“SMEs come and go and we don’t tend to mourn them…Just because it’s a social enterprise, that doesn’t mean it has a divine right to exist and go on.
“We need to support people to shut down with as little pain as possible – a palliative care for social enterprise.”
Yet he said social sector colleagues could play more of a support role.
His own social enterprise employed people with disabilities on approved disability wages, yet he said he faced criticism from the sector.
“Our most difficult customers are our colleagues…I have people say all the time, ‘I’m not paying that rate because I know you’re paying them less [than the standard wage]’,” he said.
“I think we need to change our view of what we’re doing, buy from each other! We’re notoriously bad at it. There’s a bucketload of people who will only buy on price and not social value.”
Government representative Laura Angus said barriers also affected the government’s ability to purchase on grounds of social value via social procurement.
She said there was legislation at a Commonwealth level enabling contracts under $100,000 to not go to tender and go straight to a social enterprise or similar model.
“It doesn’t get used due to diverse delegations around procurement. Close to 2000 public servants can make procurement decisions.
“That’s a challenge because you need all those people to know what social enterprise is and to be confident to use that model.”
Social Traders CEO David Brookes raised the prospect of a social procurement exchange.
The organisation is currently developing a business-to-business platform in collaboration with the Ian Potter Foundation.
“We need to do that with government and corporate buyers,” he said.
While Brookes expected social procurement to help social enterprises scale more effectively, Simon Griffith, Founder of Shebeen and Who Gives A Crap, said it was capital in the early stages that was pivotal.
“It’s capital at early stages that’s really hard, the risk capital that we need to make much more accessible,” he said.
“One of things we kept coming up against is the need to tick boxes…we’d often get told, ‘you’re creating impact overseas so don’t fit within our mandate, you’re 27 and we only fund people 25 and below.’ If people have ability to do something good it’s worth us trying to work out how to get risk capital into it.
“I don't think it should be government capital. They’re good at coming in and funding things that are already successful, but generally not that good at innovation. The government should be giving capital to people who are good at funding innovation.”
The conference was hosted by social enterprise incubator Social Traders. More than 100 individuals from the social enterprise sector took part in a day of panel discussions and workshop designed to promote the business model in Australia.