Funding for social enterprises to support refugee employment

In late 2020, the federal government announced nearly $25 million to support refugee employment. Social enterprise veterans Jess Moore and Cindy Carpenter tell us why exactly the new package matters.

Following extensive discussions and consultations with the social enterprise sector, the federal government announced innovative funding to support refugee employment. This is a four-year, $24.6 million grant program with the Department of the Interior.

It will fund evidence-based initiatives to create employment opportunities, including self-employment, for refugees and humanitarian migrants. This will help the sector maximize the critical role it can play in this space. It will show how government and social enterprise together can unlock greater economic inclusion.

On Friday, December 17, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announcement Investing $37.3 million in new measures to support the settlement and integration of refugees and humanitarian migrants. These measures were designed to improve the economic, social and linguistic outcomes of refugees. The funding includes the $24.6 million Social Enterprise Grants Program.

Refugees experience higher unemployment rates than the general population. The refugee unemployment rate after one year in Australia is about 77 percent. After three years, this figure drops to 38% and after 10 years, to 22%.

Announcing new settlement support funding can help address and reverse this problem.

The announcement follows work by the Commonwealth’s General Coordinator for Migrant Services, Alison Larkins, to understand the nature of the refugee unemployment challenge and what works for better outcomes.

Larkins met with people from the social enterprise sector to understand Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISE), what they do to support refugee employment, and what they need to best achieve this.

It also follows ongoing industry-wide efforts to more broadly secure federal funding for work-integrated social enterprises.

The WISE directly tackle the unemployment of disadvantaged job seekers. They are a proven way to unlock lasting employment outcomes for the most disadvantaged people, groups and places. They also train people for the industry.

Although the government remunerates service providers and employers for their role in tackling unemployment, as these supports involve costs, this funding is largely not available to WISE. This has created a gap in WISE business models: WISE provide a service for which they are not compensated enough. This hampers their ability to sustain operations, secure investments, scale and maximize the critical role they play.

People across the industry have come together to change that; more recently by setting up a national collaboration called WISE Hub. The group came together because for some time a number of people and organizations had been working independently to develop the knowledge, funding and investments of the WISE sector, but not together.

The objective of the WISE Hub is to strengthen the enabling environment for the WISE sector so that it can grow and unlock greater economic inclusion. In the short term, it seeks to provide sustainable government funding to WISEs, relative to the public value they create, and sufficient for them to sustain and grow.

Sally McGeoch, Luke Terry, Joe Barraquet, Cindy Mitchell, Cindy Carpenter and jesse moore – all already working towards this goal – came together to launch the collaboration. The Social Enterprise Council of NSW & ACT (SECNA) provides grassroots support. The Westpac Foundation has committed the first financial support in a planned fundraising collaboration.

The key work the WISE Hub team is planning over the next 18 months is to:

  • Bring together key industry stakeholders to collaborate, learn and coordinate around a goal.
  • Aggregating what is known about CSEs and identifying and filling research and data gaps; specifically the WISE cost structures, the design features make the WISEs work and the milestones and payment amounts are required to adequately support the WISE cost structures in relation to the savings to the government.
  • Build a business case tailored to government and investor needs and opportunities.
  • Undertake targeted communications and advocacy.
  • Work with governments to co-design funding mechanisms that recognize and support the public value created by WISE.

In this context, the commitment of the Ministry of the Interior is a significant announcement for the sector. Not only will this enable greater employment and settlement support for refugees, but it will show how government and social enterprise together can unlock greater economic inclusion for the most disadvantaged job seekers.

Ongoing discussions with the Department for Education, Skills and Employment, and by Whitebox Enterprises with the Department of Social Services, aim to secure additional funding for WISE so that more people can access work decent and meaningful.

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