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Opinion  |  Good BusinessSocial enterprise

Social enterprise has a unique role in the COVID-19 challenge


1 April 2020 at 7:30 am
David Brookes
It is vital that social enterprises rethink their priorities to ensure they can continue to deliver ongoing positive impact, writes David Brookes, managing director of Social Traders.


David Brookes | 1 April 2020 at 7:30 am


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Social enterprise has a unique role in the COVID-19 challenge
1 April 2020 at 7:30 am

It is vital that social enterprises rethink their priorities to ensure they can continue to deliver ongoing positive impact, writes David Brookes, managing director of Social Traders.

In the midst of the growing COVID-19 crisis, globally and here in Australia the unique and innovative solutions of social enterprise are needed more than ever.

The health and economic implications associated with COVID-19 pose damaging flow-through effects on communities and business, including social enterprise.

Social enterprise has a unique and proven capacity to create employment pathways for some of the most disadvantaged Australians, along with delivering a range of associated community and social benefits. 

As the impact of COVID-19 bites the broader economy hard, the risk for those people supported by social enterprise is amplified. 

The impact of a vulnerable person falling out of the workforce is much more significant than the impact of someone who faces less barriers to employment. 

Vulnerable people are much more likely to remain unemployed for longer, they will most likely have zero financial reserves to draw on and they will be much more likely to have reduced life expectancy.

This is why support for the social enterprise sector is critical now. The disadvantaged who have made their way out of poverty are actually the most important group to retain in the labour force in challenging times like this.

There is no blueprint for us to follow. It is vital that social enterprises rethink their priorities to ensure they can continue to deliver ongoing positive impact.

So what can social enterprise do? 

It’s never been more important to engage and understand the needs of your customers. 

Working with your customers

There will be obvious challenges during this period as the certainty of contracts or purchasing arrangements with customers might be in question as the economy contracts. Conversely, some social enterprises may experience increased demand for their products or services.

Here are a few tips on working with your customers over the next period:

  • Track the websites of key customers and have discussions with contract managers to better understand the impact COVID-19 will have on your business. Negotiate what can and cannot be achieved and seek to understand their needs.
  • Forecast customer needs for the next three, six and 12 months when things should be much improved.
  • Consider the gaps in the market that your social enterprises could take advantage of. Market opportunities will arise – a packaging social enterprise might consider bottling hand sanitiser; a caterer might look at home delivered meals; a labour hire business might find an opportunity where key workers are sick or unable to work.
  • Most of Social Traders business and government members are in industries that will continue to operate, in many cases at current levels. Be alert to tenders and requests for quotations that will continue to go to market. We will aim to keep ST certified social enterprises updated on opportunities via our website and online events.
  • Join these online events where you can. As well as providing new insights or opportunities, at the very least, they will help you to better understand the current market.
  • As global supply chains encounter their own challenges, now is a good time to focus on your local market. Many social enterprises could benefit from the shift of consumers to buy local. Leverage your relationships with local councils and businesses.

More than ever during this time, there is an emphasis on the need for good corporate citizenship. Whilst your customers may be under financial pressure themselves, communicate and discuss issues you may be having with them in order to look for solutions together.

Access to financial and business support

It’s important to be aware of the available Commonwealth and state economic stimulus. 

The key thrust of government support at this point is maintaining jobs and providing tax relief for small businesses, along with other support packages such as defined period, no interest or unsecured loans. 

Also, there are other useful non-financial forms of assistance that will be valuable to all social enterprises including templates for rent relief requests and business continuation plans.

Additionally, staying connected with activities of your local social enterprise network (SENVIC, QSEC, SASEC, SECNA), the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, Yunus Social Business Centre and other sector organisations can provide other sources of support. 

SE to emerge stronger post COVID-19

There is no doubt that COVID-19 will heavily affect the community and the economy. Yet we know that the crisis will pass, whether it is three, four, six or more months. 

Social enterprise has a unique capacity to provide supported pathways to work for the many people who will find it difficult to easily transition back into the labour market.

Thus as the economy recovers, social enterprise and social procurement stand to become a larger and more important part of a new economy.


David Brookes  |  @ProBonoNews

David Brookes is Managing Director of Social Traders and is an Executive Director on Social Traders’ board.

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