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COVID-19 reshaping social enterprise sector

24 July 2020 at 5:14 pm
Luke Michael
Social enterprises are pivoting to ensure they keep delivering community impact 

Luke Michael | 24 July 2020 at 5:14 pm


COVID-19 reshaping social enterprise sector
24 July 2020 at 5:14 pm

Social enterprises are pivoting to ensure they keep delivering community impact 

Australian social enterprises are continuing to trade throughout the COVID-19 pandemic despite more than half experiencing major declines in revenue, new research reveals. 

A survey from Social Traders found that 57 per cent of social enterprises have experienced significant or drastic revenue declines since March, when the effects of pandemic were first felt.

This has not stopped 96 per cent of social enterprises from staying open, while a vast majority are also still targeting growth – with three-quarters of those surveyed suggesting they still had the capacity to increase their social impact footprint.

Social Traders managing director David Brookes said the social enterprise sector was a ready-made solution to get the most vulnerable Australians back into jobs, meaning support for the sector was critical.

He noted that in the two years prior to the pandemic, the Social Traders marketplace helped create 700 jobs for disadvantaged people, through $105 million worth of trade with private business and government agencies.

“So we know that social procurement works ­­– embedding social enterprise into supply chains is a proven solution to long-term unemployment that uses sustainable market activity and frees up government resources that are needed elsewhere,” Brookes said.

“The estimated value of Australia’s infrastructure pipeline for the coming five years is $265 billion.

“Our modelling shows that if just 1 per cent of this was spent with social enterprises, it could create over 9,000 jobs for the most vulnerable people at risk of long-term unemployment.”

Social enterprises adapt to the realities of COVID 

Many social enterprises have been forced to offer new services in order to continue operating during the pandemic. 

For Brisbane-based Hotel Housekeeping – which delivers housekeeping services to hotels while providing employment for disadvantaged Australians – things were looking up until the crisis took hold.

“We had big plans as most businesses did. Then COVID-19 struck and threw all our plans out the door – our operations virtually ceased as COVID shut down tourism and business travel,” general manager Shannon Price said.

Realising the need to pivot the business, Price decided to make the most of the growing demand for commercial cleaning.

That led to Spring Services Group being formed, a business delivering commercial cleaning and disinfection services.

Price said within weeks of establishing the business, it had already secured commercial cleaning and disinfection services to three of Lendlease’s retirement villages. 

“It has its own name, brand and business separate to our hotel housekeeping services, but it’s a neat sidestep with similar capability requirements to what our team already has,” he said. 

Sonan, a 38-year-old immigrant from Bhutan, struggled to find work until an opportunity with Hotel Housekeeping came up in November last year.

He is now working as a supervisor with Spring Services, giving him the job security that he says has changed his life.

“This opportunity has given me the confidence and reassurance to know that nothing is too big to handle,” Sonan said. 

“The work-life balance this job has provided me is amazing. I can do my job while looking after my family. I am very happy with how this opportunity has worked out.” 

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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