Never a better time to come home to the Australian social enterprise sector
2 September 2020 at 6:17 pm
Tara Anderson on what she noticed about Australia’s social enterprise sector when she returned home from the UK and why she is so optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead.
After seven years in the social enterprise and impact sector in the UK, it turns out that there’s no place like home.
We left Australia in 2013 to explore social innovation, social enterprise and systems change in the UK and Europe.
What we found was a mature impact sector. There are multiple well-established specialist intermediaries that produce hundreds of tools and resources, and an event and conference schedule that no one could keep up with. There are sector specific funding bodies, a maturing social impact investing marketplace and emerging financial models like community shares.
There’s a legal entity tailored to the social enterprise model. While government could always be more engaged, there are well-developed campaigning efforts that see new government money flowing and supportive policy in place.
Some of the things I learnt in my time there were:
- In a crowded marketplace where everyone shares the same vision, partnerships are a game-changer.
- Without intermediaries that speak for the sector, bring it together and support it to grow, the sector will stay small and vast amounts of innovation would never happen.
- Enabling the sector to speak in one voice, with a shared “brand message” is the best way to get engagement with audiences beyond the sector itself.
My UK and European experience was invaluable – a defining time both personally and professionally. But after seven years it was time to come home.
We landed back in Australia just as COVID hit. Despite the more than unusual and challenging times, what we found was a social enterprise sector full of energy, optimism and action. A sector with talented and passionate people doing inspiring work – game-changers, risk-takers, and never-give-up-ers. My kind of people.
It’s been a privilege to be welcomed back home to the Australian sector with such open arms and to join the fabulous Social Traders team. It’s been quite surreal being stuck behind a computer screen. But in every new conversation (tech failure or not!) I’ve left feeling inspired and energised by what’s possible for the social enterprise sector here.
The Australian social enterprise sector has a different opportunity to the UK. Australia’s sector is more emergent and the intermediary market that supports it is less crowded. And that’s exactly why it’s exciting.
Rather than creating a marketplace with overlapping offers and competing campaigns, we can grow together in a more coherent and more impactful way. We can shape the market strategically and collectively.
We all want to see a future world where social enterprise is business as usual. For me, it’s my career purpose.
In the wake of COVID, now is the time to be bold. For social enterprise to claim and celebrate its role in building an economy that is fairer, more just and more sustainable.
We all know that social enterprise was made for this. It’s a ready-made solution that’s been breaking disadvantage and changing lives for decades. It’s not socialism or charity. It combines profit and purpose in one business model, using the market to create impact.
Now is the time for the social enterprise sector to unite, organise and build on its past success. If we don’t make the most of this unique moment in history, we will look back and wish we were braver, bolder and more ambitious.
Most important, now is the time for us to work together. We’ll never achieve the scale of impact that Australia needs if we don’t combine and align all our talents, efforts and experience. And we’ll definitely never achieve it if we work at odds with each other.
We are an ecosystem. Like a mosaic, we all hold a piece, but it takes all of us to create the complete picture – to be more than the sum of our parts.
I have loved rediscovering that there’s a strong spirit of collaboration in Australia. In only my first four months, there have been a string of new collaborations forming with a long-term ambition to build a strong social enterprise ecosystem for a fairer Australian economy.
It’s a pivotal moment for the Australian social enterprise sector. It feels like a key point in the next phase of the sector’s evolution, building on the foundations in place. What we do now will shape the sector for the next decade and beyond. Let’s build a market where our efforts reinforce each other, so social enterprise can claim its place as a crucial part of our economy.
I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.
What a time to be home.