Regional Social Enterprise Ecosystems; Cohesive & Collaborative Models To Create Change
On October 25th 2018, the Sunshine Coast Social Enterprise Forum was held with 200 attendees representing a broad range of sectors, local and state government. Impact Boom proudly supported the forum and hosted a panel discussion with some of Queensland’s leading social enterprise ecosystem builders. So how might we best create positive social change in the regions?
Alex Hannant, Davinia Nieper, Emma-Kate Rose and Tony Sharp shared key insights and experience during a lively panel discussion moderated by Tom Allen whilst the audience participated with some great questions. Listen to the podcast or find the article below!
Impact Boom would like to thank the entire organising team from the Social Enterprise Network Sunshine Coast, who worked very hard to put the event together, as well as the event sponsors, speakers and enthusiastic participants. University of Sunshine Coast provided an excellent venue at the Innovation Centre - thank you to Sondra Smit for capturing the audio. Finally, we’d like to thank Sunshine Coast Council for their support and look forward to continued collaboration with Council to see social enterprise on the Sunshine Coast thrive.
Director, Yunus Social Business Centre, Griffith University
Alex is Director of Yunus Centre for Social Business at Griffith Business School. The Yunus Centre leads the University’s research, teaching, and engagement in the field of social entrepreneurship and enterprise.
Alex also work on a number of other projects supporting innovation and enterprise for social impact, and currently serves on the Boards of B Lab Australia and New Zealand, the New Zealand Advisory Board for Impact Investment, and Pomegranate Kitchen - a social enterprise focused on supporting former refugees.
Previously, Alex was CEO at the Ākina Foundation, New Zealand's primary development organisation for social enterprise.
Founder, #Makingithappen & Chair, Social Enterprise Network, Sunshine Coast.
Davinia Nieper is the founder of #MakingItHappen, a Sunshine Coast-based consultancy driving growth in socially-conscious businesses and not-for-profits across Queensland.
#MakingItHappen is the culmination of a life’s journey for Davinia and her guiding belief that economic success isn’t the end, but merely the beginning for a good business. Since the age of 23, Davinia has worked in the social and community space developing and delivering projects and programs for the Sunshine Coast Council, Education Queensland International, the European Social Fund, Médecins du Monde, and Amnesty International among others. Combining her enterprising spirit and belief in community work, Davinia founded #MakingItHappen in 2014 to support social impact organisations in transitioning from grant and donation-dependent operating models to newer, sustainable revenue-making approaches.
Guided by Davinia's expertise in management, strategy, business development, and funding coordination, #MakingItHappen empowers not-for-profits by making them more business-like and strengthens businesses by making them more socially-minded. Their clients range from compact start-ups to established international brands, as well as community organisations across the health, sports, arts, disability, indigenous and multicultural sectors.
General Happiness Manager, Food Connect & Chair, Queensland Social Enterprise Council.
Emma-Kate has extensive skills in applied research, sessional lecturing, project management, event management and start-up enterprise development. She joined Food Connect as General Happiness Manager in 2011, coordinating a significant internal restructure, improving financial accountability and getting ‘investment-ready’ to scale impact.
The enterprise has led the way in transforming the local food system through paying farmers a fair price, employing marginalised people, and engaging over 60 volunteers around Brisbane to act as pick up points for customers. Focusing on ecological agriculture, family farms and strong local communities, Food Connect has developed its model over the last decade and open-sourced it's model with replications in cities and regions across Australia and New Zealand.
In May 2013, Emma-Kate became a Fellow of the Australian School for Social Entrepreneurs. She is currently Chair of Queensland Social Enterprise Council and is a contributing author to Fair Food, published by University of Queensland Press.
Founder, Substation33 & Chair, Social Enterprise Network, Logan.
As the founder of Substation33 it gives Tony great pleasure to see this Social enterprise continuing to grow and develop, expanding into new and exciting subsets. Substation33 provides meaningful work and skills development for volunteers and employees, and generates social returns for YFS and the Logan community.
Tony's role allows him to combine his business skills with his passion for improving opportunities for people who are traditionally marginalised from employment.
Tony started community work as a Youth Worker at YFS in Logan. Tony's role at YFS developed into Social Enterprise Development Manager, allowing him to focus on generating more employment opportunities, not just for young people but for other people with significant barriers to mainstream employment.
Tony's passion lies in creating sustainable social enterprises that create opportunities for people to participate in a supportive work environment as they develop the skills and behaviours they need to work in mainstream workplaces. As a result, Tony was the driving force behind the development and continued growth of the 'Independent Social Enterprise Network - Logan' as the founding and current Chair. In 2017 Tony co-founded the inaugural Logan Startup Weekend.
Tom Allen (Moderator)
Founder & CEO, Impact Boom.
Tom Allen is Founder and CEO of Impact Boom and is passionate about working with purpose-driven organisations, entrepreneurs, individuals and regions to deliver strong, lasting social and environmental impact. Tom works to help social entrepreneurs and their regions to thrive, building critical skills and design-led mindsets capable of tackling complex challenges.
He also works with leading universities, governments and clients locally & internationally to develop and deliver world-class programs across social entrepreneurship and innovation, human centred design and marketing. Tom is highly active in building the social enterprise ecosystem and is a Board Member of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council and Social Enterprise Network Logan, Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Yunus Social Business Centre (Griffith University) and an Advisory Panel Member of ImpaQt (QUT Bluebox) and Brisbane Tool Library.
Highlights from the panel
[Tom Allen] - What are the key ingredients of healthy regional social enterprise ecosystems? What can we learn from other regions, from around the globe, that are demonstrating cohesive and collaborative models that we could then apply into the Sunshine Coast?
[Davinia Nieper] -
Because in a regional area you've got so many smaller actors, it's really important to come together and collaborate.
I find that maybe in larger cities, or in urban centres you've got way more market to put on, you've got way more resources that can help you. You're probably closer to government too, rather than in regional areas. So in regional areas it's really important to stick together and make that collective, cohesive voice be heard. Know who your people are, know who you're helping and it's easier I guess in regional areas to have that connection with the people. Then it's a bit harder to maybe get it to where it needs to be in order to get that support. So I would reckon that collaboration would definitely be the key factor in that.
Thanks Davinia. Tony do you want to add to that?
[Tony Sharp] - Yeah I do. So about four years ago, talking about collaboration, a group of us got together in Logan and started to talk about how we would start the Independent Social Enterprise Network of Logan. That is a group of some of the larger community organisations and what we wanted to do was to take away the conversation where the CEOs or the high level management were fighting against each other, to get piles of money. So we got together as the social entrepreneurs within those community organisations and we formed up a very loose working party. It’s now named the Social Enterprise Network of Logan. But interestingly seven weeks after we had the initial meeting we ran the first Logan Social Enterprise Forum, we had 100 people in the building that day. What we've been able to achieve since then is groups of workshops, we've been able to support our peer to get these things started last year.
But I suppose for me it's about collaboration, it's not about any one organisation. But it is about supporting individuals, and the comment that Matt made earlier;
if we've got bad players in the ecosystem we've got to move those bad players on, and to support the strong, hard working individuals who want to create ecosystems and wrap ourselves around them and get going.
It's not necessarily about that individual, but that individual’s drive is the thing that pushes these things to the next level, and that's collaboration.
[Emma-Kate Rose] - I guess just to add to that, I think one of the key ingredients, if you're looking at collaboration as the key ingredient, how do you collaborate? So what are the tools of collaboration?
So I think it's really important for regional networks to have those tools, to be able to hear the voices from the grass roots.
So, any opportunity that you can provide for people to have a voice in this sector, whether that's through forums like this, providing education opportunities through workshops and the like. Through just a simple networking drinks event after work one night, it strengthens relationships, and I think the strength of the relationships is what actually keeps a network going and builds trust, and builds like-ability in what you're all about in what you've got to offer.
[Alex Hannant] - I mean I think community just matters a lot more when you can see and touch people on a regular basis. So it's thinking about what are the dynamics around social enterprise. You know people are trying to identify and solve problems, people are trying to create an exchange value, resources have to come into those things for them to succeed. So while you may not be close to big pockets of money necessarily, or sort of national funds or what have you. You have a whole heap of other advantages in other ways, because people are more invested in the things that you're trying to change and improve. So I think there's a sense of how do you sort of really align, sort of social enterprises, which are supported by local communities, they're invested in by local communities. I mentioned before things like crowd funding, is an incredibly effective way for people to actually take a stake in something, which is directly relevant to them.
I think if you take things into a further step, you see sometimes local currencies, you know the Brixton Pound, or the Bristol Pound. So there's a number of ways which where things are smaller they don't necessarily have the upside of scale. They get a hell of a lot of benefits because everyone's in it together. So I guess in terms of thinking what does a local or regional ecosystem look like? What are the strategies which are going to enable people to be more aware of local, social and community enterprises? Give them the option to actually get more involved in those organisations as well.
[Tom Allen] - Fantastic, so collaboration being one of the key things outlined here. Having three of the regional areas, we could say Logan, we've got Brisbane or Queensland more broadly, represented by Emma Kate, and of course the Sunshine Coast. What's our plan for Queensland? How can we collaborate ourselves between the regions to form a very cohesive body that really pushes forward a strong Queensland strategy, that leads to a national strategy as well?
[Alex Hannant] - Well I mean I think the bones are really well set here, in so much as you already have two regional networks and you have QSEC, which sort of aims to be a state level network, which presumably further down the line can become a network of networks in effect. So I think you know an early stage you get to determine the architecture of that, which is really hard to retro fit if it starts to get too advanced or too messy. So I think there's a bit of intentionality to say, right at the beginning, we recognise we're really interested in the sort of hyper local, but how do we make sure that there's a kind of comparability between what's happened in different localities. Then what's the best mechanisms for those localities to actually engage, either through learning or perhaps more importantly, actually trade, and sharing of resources, and sharing of new business models itself.
So I think you know the art here is to think what do we want this to look like in 10 years? How do we actually start to build that architecture now, so when this stuff inevitably expands it does so in a way which makes sense.
[Emma-Kate Rose] - Thanks Alex. The plan for QSEC at this point in time is just to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes our way, which we've adopted this year. One of those fantastic opportunities that's come to us this year is to enter into a memorandum of understanding with CQ University, which have campuses all up and down the east coast of Queensland. So we're working a lot with Robin Dick. He's been working really hard behind the scenes trying to connect QSEC and the players within QSEC where we can, where we can get resources to interact with the regional areas more. Using the infrastructure that CQ University can provide. So I think partnerships with key actors in this sector are really important in terms of not just developing the strategy per se, but allowing more voices to have a say in that strategy.
Because in a way we do have a little bit of a deadline here in Queensland, we know that there's a lot of government interest. They've set themselves a very short time frame to get a state wide strategy up and running in this term of government.
It's up to us as a sector to build and strategise at the same time.
It's not going to be a linear process for us, we're going to have to be running and building, and strategising as we go. The best way that we can do that I guess at this point in time, while we're not resourced, although we hope that will change pretty soon, is to just say ‘yes’ to the opportunities as much as we can, and hope that we get a little bit of sleep at night.
[Tony Sharp] - Yeah, I suppose to add to that the Social Enterprise Network [of Logan] was definitely bashing on about trying to duplicate it's model, and it just wouldn't work. We talk about these social enterprises and the Social Enterprise Network is a place based approach. So what we do in Logan and what's happening in the Sunshine Coast, and what's happening in Brisbane, are three completely different things. Although they're the same thing, but they are different spin off of the same thing. We definitely had a change of direction only two or three months ago with some work that we've been doing, as a couple of us here are Social Entrepreneurs in Residence with the Yunus Centre at Griffith University. A decision was made that Logan Social Enterprise Network would become a chapter of QSEC, and QSEC adopted that virtually straightaway. We hope to see in future, although I can't speak because I'm not here as a QSEC member, as a QSEC board member. But it would hope to be that QSEC become the overarching Queensland based peak body, and then spun off underneath them is place based or community based social enterprise networks.
My hope would be that in a years time or 18 months time, when you look up ‘social enterprise network’ in Google, you get eight or 10 options for Queensland, that are individual options. And QSEC's role is to advocate for us all, but we're not coming, blowing in out of the big smoke into Biloela and telling them how to run our social enterprise network in Biloela because, what they do in Biloela is completely different to what we're do in Logan, and what we're do in Logan is completely different to what they do on the Sunshine Coast. I think that's the learning that we've been able to learn, and that work only happened ... I believe that work only happened because of our roles of social entrepreneurs and residents with the Yunus Centre of Griffith University. So watch this space.
[Davinia Nieper] - I totally agree with Tony. I mean when the social enterprise I took for the Sunshine Coast was first thought up, Tony was my go to person. We spoke a lot, we designed some stuff together, but what we ended up with here on the Sunshine Coast was completely different than what they needed in Logan, and this feeds into what Matt was saying before.
When you're looking at what your social enterprise ecosystem needs or your local based kind of landscape, you're looking for your problems and your issues, and then you're looking at your resources, and that's going to be different in every single place. So one model does not fit everywhere. However, just as a positive, I think that the people that are involved in this process at almost like a state level at the moment, have got a lot of energy, and there's a lot of talk going on. There's a lot of communication, there's a lot of organising that's been happening in the ready for when the sector is asked to speak. So at that level, I think we're getting there and I think it's quite strong.
What I'm more worried about is at the grassroots level with the engagement of, the smaller social enterprises and how those are supported enough to actually have the capacity to contribute to these networks, and to come to the meetings, and develop and build capacity.
I work really grassroots. I work with young people that are trying to turn their idea into a business plan. So when I see what they need and what is needed in other places, and there's so much good intention, and there's so many people that want to do good, they just don't know where to start.
So maybe I would focus my energies more on supporting, the real grass root level.
I think at the higher level where we're all speaking together. We got this, but we just need to make sure that, that expertise, and that knowledge, and that support actually does filter down all the way to where it is needed.
[Tom Allen] - So the final question before we go to the audience Q and A, we're really lucky to have local and state government represented in the room today. So, what message would you give to the government to really help them to support the work that is being done on the ground?
[Tony Sharp] - For me personally I'm not too sure that the social enterprise community, if you want to call that, is commercially ready in Queensland. I don't think we're mature enough just yet. My message to not only the state government, to local councils, but to big businesses is always the same message that I give. Please consider a social enterprise in your tendering opportunities, but please don't expect us to be able to just dump up to a million dollar a year contract today, because that's not something that we can do.
But please consider us to be able to deliver on time, on quality, and on price to maybe $100,000 tender, and that's the message in five years time I'm hoping that's another zero at one end of that conversation. But just at the moment, let's start the conversation in small. I'm about, failing and failing fast, but getting up and have another crack, and we don't want to fail on a big contract, we want to fail on a small contract.
[Emma-Kate Rose] - I kind of agree and I kind of don't. We're ready for a million dollar contract if anyone wants to approach Food Connect. And I really do like, I am inspired by the model of Vanguard Laundry where the buyer was willing to invest in a big longterm contract so that they could be procurement ready. I thought that was a really inspiring example of a big buyer, facilitating social impact that way.
So I think, there's a wide spectrum of social enterprises which can fulfil procurement contracts at any level.
I agree with Tony that the sector does need nurturing, it needs investment, it needs advocacy, especially at the state government level. I think my message to state government and local government today would be to resource us.
[Emma-Kate Rose, continued] - You've got a lot of expertise in the advocacy circles that you see here today. You've got a diversity of experience. There's a lot of us that have been doing this day in, day out for a decade or more. We get the grassroots, we understand the pain points of business. We're still here standing, and we might not be, massive corporates with private jets, but we get business and we get the social impact that we know can save the government money whether at local level or at the state level.
So invest in us to expand our network and resource the sector.
That is my message today.
[Alex Hannant] -
I think that the first thing would be, there's a massive prize here, that a thriving social enterprise sector delivers on so many outcome areas which are directly relevant to government, be that around, community cohesion, be that social inclusion, inclusive economy. When you think about it, it's less about funding, this is an investment.
A modest investment in the growth of social enterprise will yield huge returns for, the public as a whole.
And if we've put in 75, 80 million [dollars] a year into Advance Queensland, with quite a narrow focus around tech innovation, I think there's a sense of, think about scale in a different way, not vertically but horizontally, because these are the business models which are going to sustain and nurture communities across the state, and will stay in those communities.
They're resilient, they're not so subject to the fluctuation of different industries and sectors or flight of talent, once they get established. So I think it's a basic numbers game. It doesn't have to be warm hearts and fuzzy and all those things.
If we've got people which are counting the dollars ultimately, it makes absolute economic sense to invest more money in these hybrid and blended forms of organisations, especially because more and more people, want them, want to work in them, want to buy from them, and want to invest in them.
So it's really about the sense of just seeing where the future is going, and making sure that you're an enabler of that rather than a constraint.
[Davinia Nieper] - I would ask governments to allow themselves to be inspired by this movement, and to let themselves allow that imagination and let themselves come onboard and be in this game that, well, it might sound a little bit risky at the beginning, but actually while we were in Edinburgh, I had a really good conversation with a venture capitalist, (who has assured me that he is reformed), but he was actually saying that they've got statistics and he was working in London at a big venture capital company, and he was saying that they've got stats that actually, social enterprise is less risky than venture capital, because one, the amount of money that's put into it and also about the due diligence that goes in before the investment is done.
So in the long run, why not invest in people? Why not invest in something that's actually going to show you that it's going to give you returns in so many other ways. I mean, all of these social and environmental and cultural areas, they are big areas of government spending. If through procurement, any of those expenses can be in any way addressed, then why not? It's time.
[Tom Allen] - Thanks very much, panel. So let's take some questions from the floor.
[Vinnie Kinchela] - Hey, how're you doing? My name is Vinnie. Considering like a lot of us are in this room where we're in the spirit, we're in the theme of it, but when we leave, bills catch up to us, all this other stuff catches up to us, we start to forget about it. If I could ask each of you just a single thing about collaboration, just one word, what would be a key thing about collaboration from each of you that each of every single one in this room who is watching could think about?
[Alex Hannant] -
Keep at it. Just turn up.
Just the importance of basically building a community of interest around this area, that you get together on a regular basis and can share what you're doing. Even if you've done nothing, you can just listen to what other people might have done in that time. It's only by through that process of creating the opportunity for new stuff to happen, that new stuff will happen.
So I think, the base thing is just keep at it, keep turning it up, and if you do, things will inevitably… we're just industrious creatures. We can't stop doing stuff. So if we put ourselves in a position where stuff might happen, it will. So just turn it up is the main thing.
[Emma-Kate Rose] - I would say, put your hand up to help Davinia and her team at social enterprise network. Actually turn up to the meetings, volunteer to help out at events, run a side event for her that in your sector or in your area of interest under the social enterprise network banner. They'll help you facilitate it they'll help put, the comms out for you. Just come to us with the idea and help us run with you because we're all doing it voluntarily while we're 24/7 in our own enterprises and it's a big commitment but the more of us that participate in this the more traction will get with every with the wider movement of people.
[Tony Sharp] - Mine is definitely to be having open, frank, honest conversations and not be afraid to tell your business plan or model to other people. Trust me, nobody is going to steal your idea. And our job for the rest of us is to wrap ourselves tightly and as hard and as fast around that individual as much as we can.
We've got to support founders with the founders of tech organisations or the founders of whatever they are, but particularly founders of social enterprise need to have as much support around them.
We're all going to work as hard as we can to make sure that that founder succeeds and therefore the founders business succeeds along with it.
[Davinia Nieper] - I would suggest to definitely keep at it. It does get better and if you keep working at something, just keep doing what you love doing, and once you're doing what you love doing, you're not tired of doing it. You can keep doing it even with your other work until it starts paying off and sometimes that transition into doing what you love and leaving what you paid for. It can be really hard it's not easy because when we get business and young businesses take a while to actually get off the ground. And social enterprises sometimes take even longer so that definitely a reality, but keep doing it, keep doing what you love, keep helping the people around you and keep connecting, keep collaborating, keep talking about it and eventually opportunities will come. I'm a true believer that if you're doing the right thing the universe will help you do that.
[Tom Allen] - Thanks for your question Vinnie. Do we have any other questions?
[Ana Greenfield] - This is probably a targeted question to Tony about the biggest learnings from social enterprise in Logan.
[Tony Sharp] - Social enterprise in Logan or Substation33?
[Ana Greenfield] - I'm interested in the whole of the community and when it started was it a fraction community has this brought you together, what are some key learnings that we could maybe take to our community like a town like Nambour?
[Tony Sharp] - I think our key learnings from Logan is you've got to keep at it. We took the eye off the ball probably 18 months ago and we didn't have meetings and we didn't facilitate meetings and we didn't keep going we've just got to be in constant conversation and I'm not talking about email conversations and phone calls. I'm talking about face to face communication with other humans, they're in the same space at the venue brought up a very good point if you're doing the right thing in the universe will come in and give me a hand. The same thing applies in Logan or Nambour or Biloela or anywhere and that's been the key learning for us is to keep going and keeping the conversations going.
It's not a closed group of people. This is a very open group of people that everybody is, everybody should be part of it. And the other conversation for us is, I think the other conversation for us is changed the paradigm of at those conversations not looking for funding model. And that's the piece of work that we've been able to really successfully do with their local council. It's not what are you going to give us, it's what services have we got an offer that you can purchase from us. So we're in that pathway now, we're in that transition model. And for example, our Council is actively seeking out products and services that they can buy from their local social enterprises.
And that's coming through some procurement policy changes and not only from social but also local and Indigenous businesses are three separate streams in the local community. But that's only to come through robust conversations about not going with your handout, but going with your hammer or mower in hand, whatever that might be.
[Asrar Ismail] - I’m a university student and we collaborate with other students and hoping to collaborate with business schools. How can universities engage with social enterprise across the coast as well as throughout region?
[Davinia Nieper] - We're extremely lucky I guess on our little network we've got two universities that are really, really active and that have been giving us amazing support. I think universities are realising and listening to what young people have to say. And as we saw in one of the slides before, a massive percentage of young people want to do something more meaningful in their lives. They don't want to be in an office nine to five, just pushing papers and doing staples, they want to make they want to do change, they want to see change, they want to be part of that. So the universities have obviously listened to that because obviously it's a target market they would be silly not to.
We see USC hosting us here today and being very supportive of the network. They also offer Social Enterprise course. CQU also offer a whole series of social innovation courses. And they have also been extremely, extremely supportive of this network. They obviously play a role that, they are the one who start programming and getting the professionals of tomorrow ready. So their role is very important in all of this. And as I said, I thank them from here, they've been really supportive to our network and they have been really crucial in collaboration because when you get that type of academic support around what you're doing, physical support as well. Universities have big campuses, they have big spaces they usually have quite a bit of resources too so, access to research as I said places it's been really good to work with them.
[Tony Sharp] - If it's okay to say one more comment to that question too if I could. What we've been able to do in the Logan is we got a partnership arrangement, the four-way partnership arrangement going so that was between our YFS, Yourtown, Access Community Services and Marist 180 because neither one of those for organisations was big enough to be able to tender into the Logan City Council's building and services Asset Management thing. And so because of that four-way partnership we're able to co-work and get lots of labour out of what we needed to.
Interesting when we put a proposal to Council and we're now only one of three on the panel to provide services into that buying on with latency council so we three months into that process, there's been about seven or eight jobs and we have won seven or eight jobs already so it’s early days but we’ve got a long way to go.
[Tom Allen] - There’s three key points I'd like to wrap up with. I think we've covered a lot of ground about how Queensland may advance forward now as a community, as a region in pushing the social enterprise ecosystem forward. I would encourage you as a room as we said earlier, to come and get in touch with the network here, join up, become a member and become active, turn up to the meetings and push this forward as a region. There's a really great group of people driving this forward. They've been really active and it's very encouraging to see that move forward.
The second point is on the 20th of November. If you'd like to come to Brisbane we will be having some social enterprise networking and drinks at Wandering Cooks. Please find out more and RSVP here.
And finally we have an amazing opportunity for Australia. Already today we’ve heard about the possibility that was taking the Social Enterprise World Forum to New Zealand and Alex led that. We also heard from Matt [Pfahlert] about his time at the SEWF in Scotland this year, which Davinia, Michelle Knights, myself, Alex and a number of others such Robin Dick were able to attend. We've been really excited about the opportunity, and Impact Boom is working with a number of organisations and peak bodies to bring this to Australia in 2021.
We're currently working on a bid and we would like to make that a reality. That's only going to happen if we work together as an opportunity for the Sunshine Coast region, for Logan, for Brisbane and for Australia more broadly. If you are interested in being involved, please let us know and we'll look forward to making that a reality, to help drive forward social enterprise in Australia.