Sailing Solo for a Regional Boost
24 September 2014 at 11:49 am
A startup spruiking traditional wooden boats in regional NSW is aiming to boost the local tourism industry and the prospects of the marginalised – despite a disconnect from the social enterprise hubs of the capital cities, writes Nadia Boyce in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Active Endeavours is a community-based Not for Profit based in Narooma on the NSW South Coast. It was established in 2012 with the intention of assisting disadvantaged youth through the building and use of wooden boats and the teaching of life and employment skills.
A motorbike accident five years ago forced Founder and CEO Ian Langworthy to leave his boat repair business and “to think outside the box.”
Langworthy has a background in tertiary education, particularly in working with international students. Active Endeavours is a culmination of his skills and experience – a way for him to combine his interest in working with youth with his education background.
Now, Langworthy juggles his full-time job with his vision for a community-focused and financially sustainable social enterprise, as he continues a relentless search for funding to tip Active Endeavours into fully-fledged operation.
A Perfect Fit
The crux of Active Endeavours is that it is tailored to the Narooma region – both to its needs, and its assets. Langworthy’s immediate focus is building smaller-scale projects to address disadvantage before transitioning to his grander plans.
The organisation recently started up it’s first program, centred at Narooma High School.
“We’re building a small timber rowboat with some Year Eight maths students of low maths ability,” Langworthy says. “We’re teaching them maths through hands-on learning and we’re obviously hoping to excite them about maths and give them a good and enjoyable experience.”
It is a first step on the road to achieving larger scale social impact in the community.
“We want to create an environment where at-risk kids can work alongside professional boat builders and skilled volunteers,” he says.
“We’re obviously hoping to work with a full range of disadvantaged kids. Young people who are disengaged and skipping school – and also we’ve got three Aboriginal communities within our region. We're In the process of introducing ourselves to them, and getting their support.”
What at first glance may appear a difficult-to-conquer niche is seemingly perfectly suited to the region.
“There are a lot of retired boat builders in this part of the world,” he says. “And we’ve got such beautiful waterways. Coast, freshwater lakes and beautiful rivers. We’re obviously in the perfect position to be building boats, and we have a lot of disadvantaged kids in our area, so this is a perfect opportunity for them.
“We’re looking at teaching kids a lot of skills which are transferable to other vocations, as well as those other skills which build human capital and employability. Like teamwork, problem solving, communication and resilience.”
Active Endeavours could create lasting change for the local indigenous population in particular.
“We're now liaising with the high school and local aboriginal communities to run a timber surfboard program as an after school project next year, to engage some aboriginal students,” Langworthy says.
“That will be partly tied into the curriculum at the high school, as we really want to encourage the students to come to school. We do have a bit of a truancy issue like most schools.
“Initially Narooma is our focus. We are looking at branching out down the track to other schools. We have had expressions of interests from the local police’s aboriginal liaison officer, but of course, it is still very early stages.”
True to his intent to make Active Endeavours truly community-focused, Langworthy also hopes to involve further groups in Active Endeavours’ programs.
“We’re looking at utilising some aboriginal mentors, some elders, but also some local aboriginal artists who can assist us with training in cultural design and artwork. Also, having one of our local dance groups perform at boat launches,” he says.
“Obviously we’d also like to extend it and open it up to tourism down the track, because tourism is our main industry here.”
The Tipping Point
Having developed his vision, assembled a capable board and put initial programs in place, Langworthy has reached a point where capital is the only the next step in making his vision achievable.
“Initially, we really do need some funding to get off the ground. That will decide our direction. We’re really in process of trying to get some initial money to get things up and running.
“We’ve stuck with our original business plan,” he adds. “When we registered 2-3 years ago, it was probably prior to the real social enterprise movement. If just made sense to me that we would be less reliable on grants and donations.
“We’re obviously a fairly new organisation and we haven’t really reached the stage where we can call ourselves a social enterprise yet, as we haven’t self-generated any income.”
For now, the focus is on social impact, but even that is stymied by funding, which is causing difficulties in registering as a training organisation.
“We’re really just running on a shoestring at the moment. We would like to become a registered training organisation down the track, but right now don’t have the $8000 for the application fee.”
Langworthy has extensive plans on how services will be rolled out once an initial injection of funds is received.
“We have got 30-40 boats listed on our website for sale as part of one of our self-generated income streams. We’re also interested in retaining some of those boats for ourselves to run a community boat share scheme. We’ll have people from the local community who will pay a nominal fee and will have access to our fleet of traditional-style wooden boats.
“Ideally we can then develop a fleet of surfboards, paddleboards, dinghies, and we’re looking at doing environmental programs down the track. We’re also hoping we can employ some the the people we’re training. That’s the idea, to have some employment opportunities.”
The pursuit of these goals has evidently swallowed large portions of Langworthy’s time.
“It’s been my main focus for the past nine months. We’re really just now starting to up the ante with regard to the PR side of things. Obviously we’re hoping we’ll be a model of social enterprise that will attract some business and people who like the concept we’ve come up with,” he says.
“I’m currently employed full time elsewhere so its obviously taking a bit of time to take the ball rolling. I’d like to work full time on Active Endeavours, that’s what we’re working towards. There’s definitely enough work there that I could be working on it full time at the moment!
“It does take up a lot of my spare time. But it’s also something I've set out to do and something I’m enjoying. It’s going to be a slow process, its not going to be immediate results overnight, but I think if we can get some runs on the board like we are with the current program at the high school we can start to show some success, and hopefully that will attract some others as well.”
Going it Alone
The immediate future for Active Endeavours rests with after further after-school programs, or programs Langworthy says he could run from his small home workshop on a dirt road outside Narooma. He says premises, however, are what he really wants.
A major fundraiser for Australia Day 2016, marketed as the first Australian Championship cardboard boat regatta, is also in the pipeline, designed to generate publicity for both Active Endeavours and Narooma as a tourist destination.
“But,” Langworthy says, “at the moment, we’re really focusing on a community issue.
“Like any business model, if we can take things further afield, that’s likely a step in the right direction.”
Being in regional Australia and far removed from the social enterprise hubs of Melbourne, Sydney and the other capital cities, Langworthy, though grateful for community support, faces building Active Endeavours without the support and resources afforded to many of his metropolitan counterparts.
“We do have a lot of retired people in this part of the world so there is a lot of expertise we can tap into at a local level,” he says. “But it’s really difficult to attend conferences and the like.
“From my research most of the social enterprise networking goes on in the cities, and that’s not possible for me. Also working full time, it’s not even possible for me to get out and network locally.
“In a way, we’re really going it alone.”