Entrepreneurs, Co-ops and the Excluded: Ownership is Key
Thursday, 11th September 2014 at 9:30 am
What does it take to address root causes and grow opportunities for the deeply excluded? Ownership is a key, writes Richard Warner, Coordinator of Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative Ltd.
Australia’s so called ‘excluded people’* face multiple barriers to inclusion. They are beset with the challenges of the poor or no housing, histories of abuse and neglect, sub-standard health, addictions, and families where no-one has worked in a generation.
Engagement with the market where it occurs, is often in the role of a consumer of goods (usually poor ones) or as a recipient of public services.
Buckets of public and philanthropic monies are spent on important services to address the worst effects of exclusion – but its causes seem depressingly out of reach. What does it take to address root causes and grow opportunities for the deeply excluded? Our experience would suggest that ownership is a key.
Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative (NCEC)^ started with a group of people with cognitive disabilities, who despite best intentions, no-one seemed to be able to help. All were long term unemployed and had been through an endless cycle of job agency placements.
Most had completed multiple training courses and had certificates in multiple industries. Some had developed significant mental health issues and addictions in their time of forced idleness, but no one had been able to find a job.
Local organisations in Nundah (including Community Living Association and Foresters’ Community Finance) who knew this group of people, took the uncommon step of investing time, energy and resources, to help them take ownership of the problem.
They invited the group to meet and discuss their common challenge, helped them develop a shared understanding and encouraged them to take small steps of action. This resulted in the forming a humble ‘jobs club’ based on classic mutual-aid principles.
15 years later ‘’the Co-op’’ as its members call it, manage two successful businesses turning over almost half a million dollars a year. Twenty members with a disability have secured work through the cooperative, they collectively control the organisation and more than 80 per cent of their income is derived from trade.
Members who were formerly long-term unemployed now say things like: “I’m proud to have a job” “I feel like I’m contributing to the community” “It’s our co-op”.
What’s their secret? There are no easy answers, but ownership may be a key. Helping people to own a problem and to secure the means with which to address it, can unlock their creativity, drive and entrepreneurship.
To achieve this we need to think about our social investments and enterprise building in a radically different way. As well as supporting worthwhile concepts of ‘enterprising idea’ and ‘social entrepreneur’, we need to invest in concepts of the ‘enterprising excluded’ and ‘enterprising community’.
If we don’t invest in individual and community ownership of a problem and cede a level of control to the people affected by it, how else will they address the root causes of their exclusion?
About the author: Richard Warner is Coordinator of Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative – which provides employment for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues. It uses the cooperative model of business to create work for its members and deliver satisfaction to its customers.
A White Paper on Mutuals and Coops, Public Service Mutuals – A third way for delivering public services in Australia, which was released recently and commissioned by the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) said Australia should heed the European trend of turning to mutuals and co-operatives to deliver services traditionally provided by Government such as disability, employment, housing, aged care and health-care services.
*for an overview of the concept of exclusion see http://www.bsl.org.au/Social-exclusion-monitor/Measuring-social-exclusion/Depth-of-social-exclusion-in-Australia.aspx
^for the story and framework of NCEC see http://www.ncec.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17&Itemid=31