A Fresh Start for Former Offenders
18 January 2017 at 8:15 am
Social enterprise Fruit2work creates second-chance jobs, hiring former offenders to pack and deliver fresh fruit to businesses around Melbourne.
Statistics show that employment for former offenders is linked to an increase in their sense of self-worth and financial security, and a decreased likelihood of reoffending.
But sadly, unemployment among this cohort is rife.
Ariel Hersh first heard about the issue from his school friend Doron Lavan, who worked as a Barwon prison psychologist, and together they set out to change the pattern.
“It was quite shocking to me to hear some of the challenges that former attendants face when they leave prison,” Hersh says.
“He’d tell me a story, for example, where he would ask someone if they were going to get a job when they left prison, and they told him ‘no’, because last time they got a job only by concealing their record. Then they were [so] worried about… revealing their record that they missed their parole appointment and [got] sent back to prison.
“It’s just crazy and similar to a lot of stories that Doron would hear, and the statistics are quite disappointing. It’s almost every second person who leaves prison is back within 24 months.
“So discussing that with him and using my experience within the social enterprise space and business skills we decided that we would try and help the issue.”
Investigating the problem, Hersh and Lavan heard again and again that the number one cause of of former offender unemployment was trouble finding appropriate work.
They decided the best way to help would be to create a business themselves.
“Primarily there are three challenges for a former offender to find work, the first one being their record and the stigma that comes along with that, they have lack of work experience as well, and then, third, they have appointments that they need to meet, some are mandatory if they’re on parole or a corrections order or maybe it’s a counselling appointment that they want to go to,” Hersh says.
“Because of those three issues they find it really difficult to get work.
“Then when we looked across the space what we found is there are a lot of charities out there who do a really good job at getting people ready for work, so work readiness training or helping them with their counselling, but they’re not able to provide them any jobs themselves.
“That was the gap that we saw and we heard of speaking to our charity partners and other advisors in the space and the reason why we decided to launch Fruit2work.”
They partnered with two charities, TaskForce and First Step, to hire former offenders for a six-month program which includes paid employment, counselling, work-skills training and long-term employment assistance.
“When we have an opportunity to hire someone, we can reach out to our charity partners and we say: ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for someone to come onboard with us,’ and then they identify the person for us as well as provide ongoing support once the person starts with us,” Hersh says.
Hersh and Lavan then launched Fruit2work in May 2016, with the aim of generating enough revenue from sales of premium fruit boxes to take on their first employee.
“We just really wanted to fulfil our mission, we wanted to give someone a job opportunity, but we weren’t quite there in terms of the size of the business at that early stage,” Hersh says.
“So we launched on Facebook and then a week later launched a crowdfunding campaign, and we raised enough to hire our first program participant, which was exciting.
“Through the work experience with us, [he was able] to find long-term employment, which was a fantastic outcome.”
Hersh says the positive impact of the program for participants is two-fold.
“One of our current program participants… hadn’t worked for a few years after her conviction. One, it’s wonderful for her to have some more money because without a job it’s quite limiting,” he says.
“But that was secondary for her. The biggest thing… is she became quite isolated in those few years that she wasn’t able to find work. So… having a job with Fruit2work gives her a feeling of inclusion.
“Her feedback to myself and Doron… is: ‘Thank you for giving me this opportunity to put meaning back in my life and having a feeling of purpose.’”
The business side, Hersh says, is more of a challenge.
“We sell fruit boxes to businesses mainly around the CBD and surrounding areas, so it’s a subscription model. They buy fruit and our program participants collect tax and deliver the fruit weekly,” he says.
“We’ve been really lucky to have good traction in the business community, we’re proud to have some big-name customers such as teams in Telstra, Accenture and Toll. For them it’s a really easy way to help out vulnerable Australians. It doesn’t cost them any more, our pricing is very good and we price on track with our competitors and our fruit’s fresh, so it’s just a really easy way for them to do something good.
“But just getting our name out there and getting in front of businesses is definitely a challenge.”
On the flip side, as a corporate-facing social enterprise, Fruit2work has developed strong relationships with businesses who want to offer additional support, including Toll Holdings.
“When people finish our program, Toll will look for opportunities for them,” Hersh says.
“So [if] they have something that they know they want to do themselves… they go and find that, or we’ll help them find a job.
“What’s important is, as part of our program we help them look for work while they have work, it’s always easier to find a job when you have a job.”
He says the next 12 months will be focused on growing Fruit2work, which was recently a One to Watch finalist in the Social Enterprise Awards.
“We’re focused on growing in Melbourne, and just increasing the amount of boxes that we sell per week so we can increase the program participants,” he says.
“So we’re targeting 10 annual program participants by the end of this year, and these are absolutely life changing.
“Like the example with our current program participant, we’ve given her a network and an opportunity for people to talk to and feel included in.
“So we want to create 10 of those by the end of next year, and then, from there, the opportunities are around selling other products so we can create more work, or looking at going into other cities in Australia.”