Now is the time to move towards an Australian social enterprise strategy

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Last year, a group of leaders from the social enterprise industry came together with a common ambition to make social enterprise business as usual. Here, Alex Hannet, Jo McNeill, Belinda Morrissey, Tara Anderson, Matt Pfahlert, Nick Verginis and Michael Lim share their progress in developing a national social enterprise strategy.

Social enterprise is an idea whose time has come. Now more than ever, we need mixed models that build a fairer and more just Australia and that are also commercially viable. A group of leaders in the social enterprise sector have created the beginnings of a path for the social enterprise sector to organize at the national level.

There are already thousands of social enterprises in Australia. But the sector is fragmented and underserved. What will it take to boost the growth of the sector? How to level up?

These are the questions a group of leaders in the social enterprise sector asked themselves last year. We got together to talk about building the structures to see the industry succeed in the long term. We formed a project advisory group and with seed funding from philanthropy we engaged Yunus Center Griffith University as a research partner.

Our shared ambition was to make social enterprises work as usual to improve social and economic outcomes across Australia. The path we chose was a national social enterprise strategy. A strategy that would define a common direction for the sector and improve coordination. A strategy that would increase the visibility and credibility of the social enterprise. A strategy that would unlock new resources for the sector and build capacity.

We started by building on our international experience and precedents set in other parts of the world. Scotland has a 10-year national social enterprise strategy define a shared sectoral ambition. The Welsh government has also set a 10-year vision for transforming Wales through social enterprise. Europe Euclid Network advocates for social enterprise in 21 countries. The UK has a Social Value Law require departments to report on the social impact of large contracts. New Zealand has just completed a three-year sector development process supported by the national government, which is now considering next steps and a longer-term strategy.

All of this showed us that Australia can do more to support its social enterprise sector, so we started to explore what it would take to create a national social enterprise strategy in the Australian context.

The Yunus Center Griffith University has conducted research in the social enterprise sector, in Australia and abroad. The research is now available in two parts, with a third part available on request:

  • Part one is a summary of themes, tensions and provocations, capturing history and learning in the social enterprise sector in Australia and abroad.
  • Second part is one possible avenue to build connective tissue across Australia’s social enterprise sector so that collectively we can amplify our impact. He asks us to think – what would it be like if we were to organize better at the national level?

What we have learned so far is that there is broad support for better coordination in the social enterprise sector and a determination to increase its collective ambition and adopt common goals. But this is only the beginning.

It is clear that our first step must be to put in place governance structures to move the project forward, and that is what we are doing at the moment. Once that’s in place, we can start a broader consultation and co-create direction and strategy – we hope the whole social enterprise sector will be involved.

Improving the impact of the sector and developing a national strategy will take us all – anyone who wants to see the social enterprise sector grow and prosper. The government, businesses and social enterprises themselves.

As Australia plans to host the 2022 Global Social Enterprise Forum, now is the time for governments to improve the operating environment for social enterprise.

We all know that we can only achieve the scale of impact we all aspire to if we work more closely together. This initial research is the first step. There will be plenty of opportunities to get involved.

To learn more in the short term, join the conversation at A virtual conference on social enterprises on July 21 and stay tuned to the forums to explore the way forward.

Images courtesy of Impact Boom, Social Enterprise Council of NSW and ACT, Queensland Social Enterprise Council, Social Enterprise World Forum. Production offered by Digital Storytellers.

Authors: Alex Hannet, Jo mcneill, Belinda Morrissey, Tara Anderson, Matt Pfahlert, Nick Verginis, Michael Lim.


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