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Social Enterprise Inspiration Week 1: Susan Black

The “Big Friday of Social Entrepreneurship” was hosted by the Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM) this February and I was invited to participate as a GLP ambassador at the event. Throughout the day, five inspirational speakers who all work in or around Australia’s social enterprise industry ran the audience through their projects and insights. Over the coming weeks I will be recounting what I learnt from these speakers in short, digestible posts.

I recently attended the “Big Friday of Social Entrepreneurship”, an on-campus event hosted by the Macquarie Graduate School of Management. The key themes of the day were ‘Social entrepreneurship, ‘How to be a social entrepreneur’, and ‘What motivates a social entrepreneur?’. A social enterprise or entrepreneur uses business methods and tools to create positive social impact. For example, Simon Griffiths, a well-known social entrepreneur, sells toilet paper then donates the proceeds of the sales to fund sanitation projects in Africa. (Simon spoke at a GLP On-Campus Seminar in 2013).

Susan Black was the first speaker of the day, putting into context social enterprise in Australia and highlighting the trends and challenges in social entrepreneurship today. She currently works as the director of projects for Social Ventures Australia (SVA) but has been working in the field of social entrepreneurship for 10 years. SVA invest in organisations and businesses which have a strong social impact and help disadvantaged Australians such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the disabled, the homeless and victims of domestic violence, to name a few. Some of the projects that SVA support are: the Australian Indigenous mentoring Experience (AIME), Goodstart, STREAT and The Song Room. According to Susan, there has never been a better time to start a social enterprise in Australia. This sector has experienced major growth over the last 5-10 years and there are a substantial amount of grants and capital funding available from philanthropic individuals, organisations, businesses, councils, governments and other businesses.

A picture of Susan Black as found on the Social Ventures Australia website

All successful social enterprises are made up of three elements: capital funds, experienced talent, and strong evidence that the business has a positive social impact. Susan also stresses that the business or profit part of any enterprise needs to be successful in order to create social change. Remember it like this: social businesses or enterprises are like a duck on the water – business on top and a social mission going on underneath. As part of their work SVA mentors fledgling and established social enterprises, ensuring that the product or service that they provide is both reasonable and profitable. SVA also run business panels where people who have an idea for a social enterprise can “pitch” their idea. Essentially, it’s a nicer version of “Dragons Den”. Enterprises are assessed for their potential in terms of profit, short and long-term social impact, and the resources the individual has available to ensure a successful enterprise.

Towards the end of the presentation we were split into discussion groups to talk about three successful social enterprises: Múooz; BARK (Brothers Acts of Random Kindness); and SEED (Sandgate Enterprise for Economic Development). My discussion group focused on BARK, a great business run by Gavin Kumsing, an Indigenous man from Townsville. Gavin used to work as a gaoler and was distressed at the number of Indigenous men in prison, their inability to find stable employment after being released, and their rate of recidivism (re-offending). In response to this he started BARK, which gives Indigenous former convicts employment in property maintenance and parks. Notably, they work with Origin and the Townsville Council has funded and supported them from their establishment. As a result of BARK the rate of recidivism is much lower. BARK serves as a prime example of a successful social enterprise and how one grassroots organisation or “big idea” can impact upon a much larger social issue. I’m feeling inspired already and can’t wait to tell you about some more great stories of social entrepreneurship.

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