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Aus Social Enterprise: Leaving History Behind

3 December 2014 at 9:58 am
Lina Caneva
Improved communication about social outcomes is needed to overcome the “bad taste” left by the “dressed-up charity programs” of social enterprise's early days in Australia, according to panelists at a Sydney conference.

Lina Caneva | 3 December 2014 at 9:58 am


Aus Social Enterprise: Leaving History Behind
3 December 2014 at 9:58 am

Improved communication about social outcomes is needed to overcome the “bad taste” left by the “dressed-up charity programs” of social enterprise's early days in Australia, according to panelists at a Sydney conference.

The session on social enterprise  at Think Outcomes was facilitated by Associate Professor Cheryl Kernot, Director of Social Business, Centre for Social Impact, who joined Lisa Boothby, Head of Enterprise Investment Readiness, Social Traders; Steve Williams, Enterprise Director, SEED PPM; and Matt Pfahlert from the social enterprise, The Beehive Project.

Asked to imagine the social enterprise sector ten years down the line without any change, Steve Williams warned that the sector “wouldn’t be able to argue our case to Government about the benefits that we know intuitively in social enterprise….and we wouldn’t be able to attract new players to the sector and to the market.”

“We’ve got to rebuild,” Pfahlert added.

“In the early days of social enterprise development here in Australia, we spent a lot of money on projects that were dressed-up charity programs. They didn’t have the commercial underpinnings of a business.

“You know what, that’s left a really bad taste in a lot of funders and policy-makers’ mouths. It’s an absolute disgrace it was allowed to happen.”

The outspoken Pfahlert said the sector was stuck from a lack of leadership and the fact it still wasn’t widely known what a social enterprise was.

“There isn’t a peak body for social enterprise in Australia… we don’t have a political champion who’s banging the drum, saying, ýou know what, this social enterprise thing is the real deal. It could be beyond the margins of business margins and right in the guts as a hybrid model. But we don’t have anyone doing that.”

Pfahlert who spent time in the UK as part of his Churchill Fellowship, said he observed that the country had a 10-15 year jump on Australia in how they looked at social value models, business and community ownership, and spoke of the role of political figures in championing the movement there.

“When you’ve got that kind of leadership, it’s very easy to get people into the room,” he said.  

“Tanya Plibersek is one person I can point to, about the only one, who has championed social enterprise in a policy sense,” Associate Professor Cheryl Kernot from the Centre for Social Impact, said.

“We did have the Social Enterprise Development and Investment Funds (SEDIF), the $40 million, but I think there was a classical problem there – money, but not capacity building. Not enough social enterprises investment ready.  The other countries seem to have matched that much better than we have so far.”   

Steve Williams spoke of his experience working with the Queensland Government as Chair of Queensland Social Enterprise Council.

“They’re very interested in outcome measurement, and in impact measurement,” he said.  

“If we can really clearly engage some outcomes and impacts it’s going to engage some star entrepreneurs [in addition to funding] and I think we’d be able to grow changemaking [Government] policies, especially in social procurement.”  

Social Traders’ Lisa Boothby said she was also optimistic.

“We’re making progress but I think that comes from the context of a reasonably low base. Social enterprise and the frameworks around it in Australia are relatively new.

“Social enterprise needs to be measured both on its financial and its social impact even if the investor is philanthropic and the money does not require repayment. Ultimately that social enterprise, if it’s not financially viable, can’t deliver the social outcomes.”

Think Outcomes, hosted by the Centre for Social Impact in partnership with the Social Impact Measurement Network of Australia (SIMNA) and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), is focused on the measurement, analysis, evaluation and communication of social outcomes.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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