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Turnbull’s innovation policy ignores social enterprises

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.


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  1. nexusxyz

    Turnbull’s innovation policy is total crap. The focus on innovation is all wrong. It should be on how to make the country more ‘competitive’. Included in that would be the generation of superior outcomes for the community as commented above. Aside from the lame innovation model they don’t give a stuff about community.

  2. kristapet

    This and too many other areas are ignored – such as: Tourism / all the Cultural and Arts and Entertainment enterprises, as well

  3. Peeved off

    Both parties are pathetic. They are both too bloody busy worrying about stinking refugees and their stand in the world’s media! Also too busy selling Australia off bit by bit to stinking Asia and anyone else who offers them a quick buck! Don’t worry, we’ll be at civil war within Australia very soon. Neither party give a rats about it’s own people and our country!

  4. diannaart

    Top article, Kaye Lee.

    We are told (ordered?) to be innovative yet to be creative we need the support that social networks provide – not all of us live in a harbour-side mansion 😛

    Just a small addition (as I couldn’t get thru FR paywall) home page for Women’s Property Initiatives:



  5. peeved off

    If we can’t look after our own how the hell do they think they can look after thousands of refugees bleeding off our welfare system into the trillions by the time this government finishes. It’s enough to make on sick! I’m also sick of listening to the so called bleeding hearts out there as well. They are blind and ignorant to the real issues!

  6. Kaye Lee

    peeved off,

    Immigrants, be they refugees or not, have made an enormous contribution to this country in every arena including economically. If there are social concerns, which there are in some areas, then we need to work harder on listening and providing what communities need. This is another area where social enterprise could be beneficial.

  7. Kaye Lee


    This is the AFR article….

    “Property Initiatives social enterprise builds rent roll for women’s housing”

    Property Initiatives, a real estate agency that ploughs any profit into a charity developing accommodation for vulnerable women, is counting on partnerships with developers to give it scale.

    The social enterprise headed by chief executive Jeanette Large opened its doors just over a year ago. It benefited from an early contract with Grocon to manage a handful of apartments in the developer’s 28 Bouverie Street tower on Melbourne’s Swanston Street and is winning business from like-minded private investors, but needs more such tie-ups with larger developers.

    “We will hopefully break even next financial year and after that start to deliver profit back,” agent in charge Kristie Looney said. “To break even, with our overheads, we want a rent roll of about 130-150 properties. At the moment, we’re sitting at about 60.”

    Deals under way – mostly funded by donations – were likely to boost its number of properties providing a regular management payment to 132 next financial year, she said.

    The social enterprise runs like a commercial agency but ploughs any profit back into the cause of sole shareholder Women’s Property Initiatives – the former Victorian Women’s Housing Association – also headed by Ms Large. It develops and provides accommodation to homeless women in Victoria. The state had more than 46,000 homeless women according to the 2011 census.

    At a time of growing unaffordability, Australia has an estimated shortage of 170,000 social and affordable homes and community housing providers are trying to fill some of the gap.

    Grocon already included sales of the 700 apartments in its Bouverie Street and Swanston Square residential projects in a separate program, Homes for Homes, which takes a cut of sales to fund housing construction for the vulnerable.

    Property Initiatives was also planning to create a sales arm in time, Ms Looney said.

  8. diannaart

    Received with thanks, Kaye Lee

  9. Lyn Reed

    How about this for innovation Mr Turnbull? I volunteer at an emergency relief organisation which provides food to people in need. Around Xmas time it was found someone was collecting food parcels and putting them up for sale on facebook. I am not condoning this at all, but a part of me applauds the initiative this took and thinks that if this happened in the business world, it would be seen as the height of innovation!

  10. Matters Not

    One wonders whether ‘peeved off’ understands that ‘refugees’ constitute such a small part of Australia’s total migration intake. In 2013, there were 190 000 migrants who came under the Migration Program, the same number that came in the previous year. In addition there were 13 750 who came under the Humanitarian Program (read refugees).

    A quick calculation reveals that the Humanitarian intake was less than 7% of the total intake. Really a small percentage. But then again, I am unsure as to how many of them were ‘stinking’ because no stats are kept.. ? ?

  11. thebustopher

    nexusxyz says “Turnbull’s innovation policy is total crap”. Does anyone know a policy from Turnbull that isn’t?

  12. Florence nee Fedup

    Peta Credlin might be devil incarnate but she and Kristina Kenneally on together are not bad value. Not that I believe or agree with much she says.

  13. kerri

    Always an education to read your articles Kaye Lee. In fact educationak to read any articles on the AIMN!
    Will be looking out for the wine from Myrrhee.

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