Social Ventures Sector Needs a Peak Body
27 January 2016 at 10:12 pm
A fixation with sustainable business models should not hinder the growth of social enterprises in Australia. Instead, entrepreneurs should be advocating for a well resourced peak body to fulfil a much-needed demand from within sector, writes social entrepreneur Theo Campbell.
In the short time since the clock struck 2016 people are feverently talking about social entrepreneurship entering a new phase of adoption. Social enterprise, impact investing and social impact bonds are moving away from individual case studies to a more mainstream audience.
Impact investing was off to a flying start with the first of HESTA’s impact investments, followed by the super fund likening impact investing to the “early days of infrastructure”. Social enterprises are being featured more and more in mainstream media outlets and the third Australian social impact bond will be launching in South Australia with several more in the pipeline.
The evolution of social entrepreneurship in Australia has been driven by committed pioneers in the sector. Organisations like Social Ventures Australia have championed impact investing and Social Traders have done the same for social enterprise. Collectively, sector leaders are redefining how positive social change is achieved and the types of organisations that facilitate the process.
If 2016 is the year that social entrepreneurship is more widely adopted then the public needs to understand what people are adopting. Elsewhere we are beginning to see this happen with books like Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works identifying what social entrepreneurship is and importantly what social entrepreneurship isn’t. Early adopters need to build trust in the social ventures sector and the people behind it or else the risk of damaging criticism will increase as the sector grows. All it takes is one person to capitalise and exploit the goodwill that industry leaders have spent so long building.
People outside of the sector need to understand what the sector stands for and people inside the sector need to stop debating their identity and start promoting it. This means creating continuity in the language that the sector uses. For example, when we talk about social outcomes do we mean getting someone into a job or getting someone into a job that they love? Do we mean providing a homeless person a house or a stable home? Is social enterprise a tool for neo liberals to exploit the goodwill of the social sector or is it an empowering community organisation that is self sufficient and financially sustainable?
The answers to these questions may seem obvious but we are members of this sector. If we continue to let people interpret what we mean and what we stand for there is a serious risk that their interpretations will be wrong. If people misunderstand what this sector stands for then how are they going to be inspired to join it?
The entire Not for Profit sector has struggled to grow in relative size to the rest of the economy not because it is incapable of growth but because of the way growth in the sector is perceived by the public. Dan Pallotta famously pointed this out in his Ted Talk, “the way we think about charity is dead wrong”. It would be devastating for the same thing to happen to social enterprise, impact investing and other emerging sectors with social justice at their core.
This article is not suggesting that we stop developing and debating who we are as a sector but that we collectively control our public image. If we want early adopters to advance the sector we must ensure the public trusts the sector to maintain a core set of values which are unfailingly upheld; the social ventures sector needs a peak body to manage this.
There have been some efforts which should not go unnoticed; Queensland Social Enterprise Council is the most recent peak body formation and Social Traders have assumed similar roles in Victoria. Impact Investing Australia has taken a leading role in this space with their Blueprint for Impact Capital Australia and persistent advocacy. With such a large interest and so much energy behind developing a social ventures sector why is it taking so long to establish a well resourced peak body?
I put this down to the sectors obsession with trade and revenue.
When a social entrepreneur approaches a problem, like how to start a peak body, they immediately start thinking of business models and methods of generating revenue. I have done the same thing for years and still have not come up with a model that generates enough revenue to support the role of a peak body. Memberships fees are one option but how can an already under resourced sector afford to fund the operating costs of a peak body? They can’t. Starting a “Robin Hood” model social enterprise where profits are donated to a peak body is another option but it is incredibly difficult and could take years to achieve, especially without a peak body.
So what does this mean for all the people and organisations who need a well resourced peak body to guide, grow and promote the sector? At the moment, they just don’t get one.
The social ventures community needs to accept that some services just don’t have sustainable business models yet. We accept this in the wider Not for Profit sector but for some reason when it comes to delivering services and advocating for social entrepreneurs we struggle. Let’s not let our fixation with sustainable business models hinder the growth of this sector. Instead, let’s advocate for a well resourced peak body that can fulfil the much needed demand from within sector.
About the author: Theo Campbell is a social entrepreneur and passionate advocate for the sector in South Australia. He is currently in the early stages of setting up a peak organisation that supports social ventures in South Australia and he is studying a Bachelor of Social Work at Flinders University.