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The (almost) united states of social enterprise

9 July 2019 at 8:18 am
Jay Boolkin
Laura Reed and Jay Boolkin offer a state-by-state helicopter view of what’s happening in the social enterprise space.

Jay Boolkin | 9 July 2019 at 8:18 am

Laura Reed


The (almost) united states of social enterprise
9 July 2019 at 8:18 am

Laura Reed and Jay Boolkin offer a state-by-state helicopter view of what’s happening in the social enterprise space.

Recently, through working on a social enterprise strategy project and catalysing a NSW/ACT social enterprise network, we were fortunate to speak with a range of social entrepreneurs and social enterprise supporters all over Australia.

Excited by the momentum that is building for social enterprise across the country, we summarised our notes from all of these conversations. We hope this helicopter view inspires further connection and collaboration, locally and nationally.


Given the amazing work that is underway, and the generosity of a number of Queenslanders in sharing their experiences with us, Queensland is top of our pile.

Queensland Social Enterprise Council (QSEC) continues to grow, representing, connecting and empowering social enterprises across Queensland. The Chair’s Report in QSEC’s most recent annual report is worth a read to learn more about their journey to date.

A particularly exciting development is the Social Enterprise Sector Standup Project and also check out their upcoming Unconference. In partnership with CQUniversity and local organisations, QSEC is also working to support the regional social enterprise ecosystem, with workshops in Rockhampton, Gladstone, Cairns, Bundaberg and Emerald this year.

The Queensland government is investing in social enterprises and has recently announced $1 million in 2019-20 to support the development of a Queensland Social Enterprise Strategy that will focus on helping existing businesses grow, foster new ventures and increase the capacity and flow of investment to the social enterprise sector.

This builds on earlier government commitments and increasing tertiary support from Griffith University’s Yunus Centre and QUT’s Bluebox ImpaQt.

A common thread of funding and support throughout many of the initiatives happening in Queensland has been the English Family Foundation, who deserve special acknowledgement.

And last, but not least, check out this great video of a recent local social enterprise tour, in conjunction with Impact Boom.


Victoria has had a Social Enterprise Strategy since February 2017, backed by $10.8 million for eight initiatives to support the growth of the social enterprise sector and inclusive economic growth across Victoria. 

The strategy, the first of its kind in Australia, was developed to improve and expand on existing support for the sector and to position Victoria to lead the country in driving employment participation and inclusive economic growth through social enterprise. And perhaps, most excitingly, is the emphasis in the strategy to advocate for greater coordination across government to support social enterprises.

The strategy identifies three action areas: increasing impact and innovation, building business capacity and skills, and improving market access.

Social Enterprise Network Victoria (SenVIC), a state-wide practitioner-led network established in mid-2018, will soon be in action having recently recruited an executive officer. Initiated by nine founding members, all of whom are leading social enterprises, the purpose of the network is to support the establishment of a thriving social enterprise sector in Victoria.

At a local level, Banyule Council continues to put social enterprise front and centre having recently recruited for a social enterprise officer role.

Western Australia

Impact Seed was founded in 2015 as Western Australia’s first and only social enterprise and impact investment capacity builder. They have three major initiatives currently in the pipeline, including the Impact Investment Alliance of WA launching with the Western Australia treasurer and Aboriginal affairs minister, an incubation program for regenerative agriculture ventures and social enterprises across regional WA, and a partnership to seed WA’s first impact fund, all slated for the second half of 2019.

South Australia

In South Australia, there’s an emerging network, with different social enterprises stepping up to host events alongside support from Volunteering SA and NT. 

The Adelaide Social Enterprise meetup group formed in January 2019 and now has 290 members. Each month a different member of Adelaide Social Enterprise takes responsibility for hosting an event that showcases South Australia’s social enterprise sector. A small working group from Adelaide Social Enterprise is now meeting to progress the establishment of a South Australian social enterprise peak body.

Australian Capital Territory

A Social Enterprise Taskforce has been established to focus on developing the right support mechanisms for social enterprise, social procurement and social businesses. 

Meanwhile Mill House Ventures has been evolving its offerings in response to a growing social innovation ecosystem in ACT. Earlier this year they launched three brand-new programs based on Social Traders’ highly successful CRUNCH Accelerator.

New South Wales

Growing from a conversation from within the Sydney Social Enterprise Exchange, and building on the models of QSEC and SENVic, a social enterprise network is currently being catalysed for NSW and ACT.

The Expression of Interest for founding members and partners is now open. From this initial catalysing process, a group of founding members and partners will take the organisation forward.

City of Parramatta has been working on local social investment for a number of years, it is now delivering against its second action plan which has a strong focus on social enterprises. While Jobs for NSW is looking into a proposed Startup Hub in Parramatta which is planned to have a social enterprise focus.

Following suit is the City of Sydney who is in the process of developing its first social enterprise action plan.

Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do to catch up in NSW, however with great initiatives and models to learn from across other states we have a clear path to follow.

The state initiatives highlighted are proof of real momentum for social enterprise in Australia. This is in addition to exciting broader activity like the Social Traders Conference in August and bursary opportunity for the Social Enterprise World Forum being held in Ethiopia in October. 

It is our hope that the combined actions of state-based social enterprise networks will inevitably encourage the establishment of a national social enterprise strategy and agenda.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to speak with anyone in Northern Territory or Tasmania as part of this project.

About the authors: Laura Reed is head of social impact partnerships at Seventh Street Ventures and Jay Boolkin is co-founder at Social Change Central.

This article was first published on Social Change Central.

Jay Boolkin  |  @ProBonoNews

Jay Boolkin is co-founder at Social Change Central and enterprise development and communications manager at the Social Impact Hub.

Laura Reed  |  @ProBonoNews

Laura Reed is head of social impact partnerships at Seventh Street Ventures

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