Just as Turnbull’s economic plan completely ignores climate change, his innovation plan completely ignores social enterprise.
If you listen to Malcolm, it’s all about technology, but what of the social entrepreneurs?
Social enterprises are businesses that exist primarily to benefit the public and the community, rather than their shareholders and owners.
In the Australian context, because there is no legal structure called social enterprise, we define social enterprise as an organisation that:
- Is driven by a public or community cause, be it social, environmental, cultural or economic
- Derives most of their income from trade, not donations
- Uses the majority of their profits to work towards their social mission.
One example is Property Initiatives, a real estate agency that ploughs any profit into a charity developing accommodation for vulnerable women.
The social enterprise runs like a commercial agency, currently managing 60 properties, but returns any profit back into the cause of sole shareholder Women’s Property Initiatives, the former Victorian Women’s Housing Association, which develops and provides accommodation to homeless women in Victoria. The state had more than 46,000 homeless women according to the 2011 census.
Another example is the Bawrunga Aboriginal Medical Service (BAMS), an Indigenous owned and managed not-for-profit community cooperative, established in Bowraville NSW in 1999, to address the need for affordable, accessible, and high quality health and medical services through the provision of culturally appropriate primary health services for the local Indigenous population.
Today BAMS operates five medical clinics in the Nambucca Valley and NSW Western Region, sustained through bulk billing income. With a primary focus on preventative health education, BAMS deliver a range of community outreach programs utilising funds generated from the clinic business, including early childhood nutrition, substance abuse prevention, healthy lifestyles and youth related projects. Unlike traditional AMS, BAMS is the only bulk billing medical clinic in Australia that is self-funded and caters for both Indigenous and non-indigenous members of the community.
Then there is the Eaglehawk Recycle Shop, a social enterprise started by Future Employment Opportunities Inc. (FEO) 18 years ago, with the twin goals of creating jobs and extending the life of landfill through recycling. It was set up next to the Eaglehawk landfill, where valuable materials are diverted and reclaimed for re-use or recycling. Recycled scrap materials are sold to commodities buyers, and products that can be re-used or up-cycled are sold through the adjacent tip shop, providing the community with access to such items at a low cost.
Following the experience of establishing Eaglehawk, FEO has established six more recycling enterprises in regional Victoria. 80 per cent of income at each site is put back into wages to create more jobs. Having more staff means that more items can be recycled and resold, in turn increasing the site’s income – creating a virtuous cycle.
Cleanable is a non-profit cleaning business created to provide long term employment and retraining opportunities for individuals excluded from the mainstream labour market as a result of mental illness. The social firm model is premised on providing employment for the target group in an integrated workplace with mainstream award wages and appropriate workplace supports within viable businesses.
Cleanable offers a range of commercial, domestic and industrial environmentally friendly cleaning and maintenance services, and has recently diversified the business to include a retail outlet and online store, selling eco cleaning products. Today, Cleanable works at 36 sites across Melbourne and has 16 employees with a mental illness.
Another community project that I found very interesting was a primary school that makes wine. Myrrhee Primary School is surrounded by vineyards and several years ago, the school community volunteered to pick grapes for local growers as a fundraiser. The collaboration grew with local growers donating some of their crop to the school who now produce their own award winning wine.
The children are involved in every aspect from the picking, through production and scientific testing, to art work for labelling, and then marketing. The money they raise is spent by the school on excursions and equipment. The community benefits in many ways as they get cheap/free labour and the school lends their equipment, like PH testers, to local producers saving them from having to purchase expensive items to use once or twice a year. It is also educating a whole new generation of people in both the specifics of the local industry and in the chain of business practice in general. The kids can see the practical purpose of what they are doing and get to enjoy the results of their labours.
There are many ways that government could be encouraging and supporting social enterprises including legal structures, taxation treatment of funding from philanthropists, seed funding and start-up capital, and using social benefit suppliers in their procurement incorporating them into their supply chains and contracts.
The innovation policies from both parties fail to recognise the importance of social enterprises and the many-faceted benefits to both the economy and the community.
But hey, venture capitalists and foreign shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank as we throw money at their shiny gadgets. It’s all about the profit.