Igniting Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Regional Communities of Queensland


On October 26th, the Logan Social Enterprise Forum was held, bringing together key stakeholders to share ideas & experience, network and discuss the future of social enterprise in Queensland and more broadly in Australia.

Impact Boom hosted a panel on ‘Igniting Social Enterprise & Entrepreneurship’, with the aim of advancing the conversation forward.

Celeste Alcaraz, Anna Guenther, Matt Pfahlert and Sarai Tuuga shared key insights and experience during a lively panel discussion moderated by Tom Allen whilst the audience participated with some strong comments and questions. Listen to the podcast or find the article below!

Impact Boom would like to thank the Social Enterprise Network Logan Board who organised the event, speakers, participants and guests from local and state government. We’d also like to thank Jerome Walker of Kernel who provided photography of the panel.


The Panelists

Celeste Alcaraz
Yunus Innovation Programme Manager, Griffith University.

Celeste is an educator, Griffith University’s Yunus Social Innovation program manager and the Redlands/Logan regional innovation co-ordinator. She has over 10 years’ experience in higher education, teaching business and marketing strategy.

Celeste is passionate about improving youth employability pathways and enabling innovative approaches within academia, industry and the community. Her publications and research interests relate to the not for profit sector and graduate employability. In her roles for the University and Council, she establishes networks - industry, government, small and medium enterprises, the not-for-profit sector and education - to nurture the rise of economic and social capabilities in regional South-East Queensland.

Celeste coordinates programs covering a range of activities across the ecosystem - industry engagement, events of all scale, promoting social entrepreneurship, innovation spaces, and school activities. She understands some of the unique capabilities within the Redlands/Logan region and is focused on facilitating the necessary components to nurture this aspiring innovation ecosystem.


Anna Guenther
Chief Bubble Blower, PledgeMe.

Anna Guenther is the co-founder and Chief Bubble Blower of PledgeMe, New Zealand's first crowdfunding platform. Since launching 5 years ago, over 1,200 creative, community and entrepreneurial campaigns have raised over $30 million through PledgeMe.

Anna has also worked for the New Zealand Government, MIT and Harvard, and completed her Masters in Entrepreneurship with a focus on crowdfunding.


Matt Pfahlert
CEO, Australian Centre For Rural Entrepreneurship

Matt Pfahlert is helping to shape regional and rural Australia through igniting entrepreneurship in young people and their communities.

Matt started his first social enterprise in 1993 at the age of 23, working with ‘at risk’ young people in wilderness settings. His passion and drive for positive social outcomes saw him receive the prestigious Young Australian of the Year Award in 1996.

Motivated by a desire to create prosperous, healthy, thriving communities, in 2016 as co-founder and CEO of the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship (ACRE), Matt led a $2.5M community buy-back of the Old Beechworth Gaol. A neglected Australian heritage icon famed for its connection to Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang and located in Matt’s hometown. The site is being re-purposed as an exemplar of social enterprise, impact investment and rural rejuvenation through community owned assets.


Sarai Tuuga
Queensland Services Manager, Yourtown

Sarai is a Logan local and has spent over 20 years working as a Senior manager with Yourtown.  She has been responsible for the development and delivery of innovative case management, alternative education, training and employment responses and programs for young people.

Sarai also manages Yourtown’s social enterprises in Queensland which provides transitional employment for young people. Established in 1999, Yourtown enterprises deliver building refurbishment, landscaping, fencing, grounds maintenance and cleaning services on behalf of local and state government agencies, private contracts and community organisations, including community housing providers.


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 Event

(listen to the podcast for full details)

After introducing the panel, we started by watching this video, (2 mins), which provides an analogy to outline the difference between rural and urban approaches to entrepreneurship...

[Tom Allen] - So red and grey squirrels, what does that have to do with Logan? As Australians, it may be hard for us to relate to that analogy about squirrels, but I think it’s an interesting comparison. Do you agree with Donald's comparison as an accurate way to describe the difference between urban and rural approaches to entrepreneurship? Could it also be used as an analogy to describe the tech startup, ‘unicorn culture’ that we see thriving in Australia, and the difference between that and social entrepreneurship?

[Matt Pfahlert] - Yeah, I think it's about the difference between value extraction and value creation. So, people in rural communities need interdependency in how they kind of view themselves. So, if you, in a rural community have heaps of jobs, but are a really crap place to live, people will fly in an fly out of your community, for those jobs. Equally, if you have an amazing community but no jobs, people will hang on and hang on and hang on until which point they have to move.

We intuitively know in rural communities that the thing that binds us is a combination of our economic and our social health, and it's in our cultural capital that is the glue that binds us.

That's why we love rural communities.

Now, that's not a winner take all model, and yet the way our global marketplace works is a winner take all model. So, what I see with a lot of the commercial accelerators and incubators is that they're trying to unpick that one in ten or one in twenty high value talented ideas, where the owners or the operators of the accelerator can extract that value to then sell on to somewhere else. But nothing's left behind. And the Scots called this a leaky bucket economy. So, you're not building a community of capacity for everyone to actually play a role around business development and community development and entrepreneurship, you're actually trying to just extract value, and that's where I kind of think there's a big difference between how we deal with the world sometimes.


[Anna Guenther] - I think just to remark on that, is that we talk too much in binaries.

I think we talk too much about commercial or social or doing well or doing good, and we don't actually realise that those can be connected, and it's not rural and urban. We need to be thinking more about the intersections of our identities and how we can actually make it a win for everyone rather than thinking that they have to be these two separate identities, or these two separate things.

We have so many ballparks for our identities and that. So, you know, we might not try to make two buckets, how do we just fix the system?

[Sarai Tuuga] - I guess from practical experience, having been involved in the social enterprise network from its establishment, what's brought the people involved in it has really been about convincing conversations creating this whole environment, this enabling environment, to even start to have the conversations. I often reflect with Tony, we've come from two of the largest organisations in Logan that service young people, it's interesting the lack of conversation between the two of us, over the years. And then in the last four years, him and I have been able to build quite a bit of momentum, the two of us to what we are going to do, and this community. Not only in social enterprise space, but also in engaging young people, and assisting others, and having that conversation at least. So, I think that's a key component in all this.

[Celeste Alcaraz] - Yeah, I agree as well.

A key component of value creation is collaboration.

That's what's quite significant in this community is there’s many people who think in the region and work in the region who band together to create conversation for a collective approach to support innovation ecosystem. Whether that be smart social or commercial.

[Anna Guenther] - I guess my thing is though, I don't think it has to be commercial or social.

I think at the end of the day, we need to start thinking that social enterprises can be, and are commercial as well. But it's balancing both sides, it's not one or the other.


[Matt Pfahlert] - You know, I think that's an interesting point because people say to us, you know, "Why are you so fixated on everything needing to be social enterprise?", and we go, "We're actually not, we're the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship". They go, "Why's everything got social enterprise in it?", and I just say, ‘well because it's the single best vehicle that we've found that actually combines people developing the skills to be great citizens at the same time as being able to develop the skills to be entrepreneurial, because we need both.’

Talking of having commercial business in a town, creating all these jobs for people, we also want them to know how to be a good citizen, and so both sides are really, really important. And it just happens to be a great vehicle for that kind of learning.

[Tom Allen] - Thank very much. I'd like to come back to Sarai, having worked extensively in this area, and having spoken about the value of collaboration, particularly between yourself and Tony at YFS. Could you please share some of the key lessons that you've learned, beyond just that collaboration is a good thing? How do you believe that the sector as a whole, and private and government groups can more effectively collaborate and work together?

[Sarai Tuuga] - I'll talk about two examples. Having run these enterprises at Yourtown since 1999, there's been, I guess, an overt responsibility on us to educate others, and not only social enterprise, and also the value that we bring to conventional operators in partnering. Recently, it's a great success story, Logan City Council put out a tender for a building trades panel, and individually the social enterprises of Logan have constantly bid for this work in their own right, and missed out. Through some conversations across a number of social enterprises, we were able to agree that we could bid as a collaboration, or as a consortium.

Now, there's definitely experience within our sector in bidding as partnerships or consortiums, but not necessarily in the space of building or construction, or those types of contracts. So, we have a number of commercial partners, who have provided us some advice on how to build those consortiums, how to work together, and in fact we were successful in that effort. Logan City Council are obviously looking at social procurement policy and also they're looking to engage with social enterprises, but I think the lessons that we've learned are that in the commercial environment, understand that there is certainly learnings there that we, as social enterprises can benefit from, particularly in terms of scale.

Now, capacity as individual social enterprise is often quite small. But what we've managed to do through this consortium, is not only bid for a large amount of work, but work with large organisations, for example, the Lend Lease were recently approached by another consortium who were looking at the Cross River Rail project, so there are, you know, organisations, companies out there who are prepared to work with us, and scaling up, and I think the importance is not seeing it as them and us, but how do we collectively create the opportunities to work together.


[Tom Allen] - While we're talking about the local area, I think it would be great to jump back to Celeste. My curiosity is in asking where you see there are unique opportunities for the Logan and Redlands area, and what do we need to do to unleash the region's full potential?

[Celeste Alcaraz] - I think in answering that question Tom, is to come back and give the audience insight to the Logan and Redlands region. They are classed as one region. Not many people know this, by the state and federal government. There are half a million people who reside in this region. There are two hundred and seventeen different cultures, predominantly from a collective background, sixty three suburbs in Logan, Redlands has a vibrant city, and surrounded by the islands. The demographics are dynamic. We have an ageing population in the Redlands and a mean age in Logan of about thirty two and a half years.

But what's really significant is the passion of the people in these areas in the region, who are coming together at building collectives or collaborations to support the innovation ecosystem. I think more of this to include government, higher eduction, industry, and the community is necessary for building growth in social innovation moving forward.

[Tom Allen] - Anna, you've worked extensively in New Zealand, and in regional communities. I'd like to ask about where you have seen traditionally, from your perspective, where some of those key barriers exist for social enterprises to start up, but beyond that, to potentially, (if it's suitable), scale up as well?

[Anna Guenther] - In New Zealand we've been working for a very long time in the crowdfunding space, and for those of you that don't know what crowdfunding is... I imagine most of you do, but the idea is that you go to your crowd for funding.

And it's a little bit harder to reach people 'cause the crowds are smaller, it's just the way that populations work. But actually that's not always a barrier. You see in the space a lot of great opportunity because a lot of those communities are more connected, which comes back to some of the things that Matthew was saying. You know, they do really care about what's happening in their local community and they want to be a part of it.

One great example of this, for us last year was in Dunedin down south in New Zealand. Cadbury's decided to stop making chocolate there, and chocolate had been made in Dunedin for over 120 years. So the local Counsellors got pissed off, and they're like, "what are we going do to keep these jobs and keep the skill and keep these people?" And they decided to crowdfund through equity crowdfunding to raise enough money to buy a chocolate company.

They raised $2 million in 32 hours and that's the legal maximum they were allowed to raise in New Zealand. And the reason they could do that was because they didn't let a crisis go to waste, they used every opportunity they could to get into the media, and they had this community that really cared about it. And I know that's not technically a social enterprise, but I think the focus of it, to keep jobs and to keep skills and to make sure that CEOs are never paid five times more than their lowest-paid worker in their organisation, really means the social focus was embedded throughout what they were doing.

So I think we can look at the things that are harder in the regions, but I think we also have to look at the opportunities that they have and the strengths that they have. I think that we can see that often, when we look at people doing stuff in a slightly different way.

[Tom Allen] - Thank you Anna. I think it's really important that we talk about that place-based approach and acknowledge that all regions are unique, Logan is unique, as is the Sunshine Coast where we were yesterday for the social enterprise forum. Every region has their own unique capabilities, and strengths and weaknesses.

So, Matt, what does it mean for enterprise to come from a place and be unique to that place? You're very familiar with Beechworth and what that means for that region, so how can that be utilised to help that area thrive?

[Matt Pfahlert] - I'm assuming you mean unique by what our unique assets are. There's two opportunities we saw in relation to the Old Beechworth Gaol. And that is that the Ned Kelly story is an incredible story no matter which way you look at it or what you think of Ned Kelly. But how this applies to us is the fact that the story is probably more well known now, 140 years later, than it even was 50 years ago because our greatest creators in Australia have kept re-telling the story.

Whether it's through art or songs or movies or books. And to us, the idea of how we identify ourselves as a kind of a young nation and all that kind of stuff, and then our relationship to Indigenous people as well, we think that's a rich canvas to have a new narrative. And we see a great opportunity that this place of punishment [is being] repurposed as a place of freedom and creativity.

And so we don't need to have unique ideas we realised, because our community already has them. We just need to create the canvas.

So we're unlocking people in our community that we didn't even know existed. One quick example is that we've been looking at how we activate a sort of arts and cultural events component of our site in a really meaningful, kind of special way.

A young couple in our community come from a relatively famous rock band called Architecture from Helsinki ... I don't know if anyone's heard of it, there are quite a few nods here ... and their sound engineer's really connected into the music scene here and overseas. And they already corral some of the greatest bands you can imagine between Melbourne and Sydney driving to stop in Beechworth. So this guy says, "Oh, that's the easy bit." We're going, "Oh really? Is it?" That is wonderful because the canvas is there, and that's a wonderful little joint venture that we're kind of brewing at the moment.

So it's about providing opportunity and that enabling environment.


[Tom Allen] - Thanks for sharing that Matt. The final question I'd like to ask for all of us, is returning to what was raised earlier about social enterprise being a balancing act; that social enterprise doesn't have to be a ‘hand out’ activity. It's an enterprise. It's a trading business for good.

So where do you see that the social enterprise sector could better communicate the value of operating in this way? Some people would say the term ‘social enterprise’ should just be redundant, it should just be ‘business’. What comments to you have about how we can better communicate in a way that pulls a lot of people along on this journey and allows them to see the value of doing business like that?

[Celeste Alcaraz] - There is this issue of people not understanding what social enterprise is and not understanding that it is the adoption of a traditional business... the individual business model is adopted. I think if we can educate or simplify what we're saying, that probably will have some resonance with the audiences and get the message across a little better.

[Sarai Tuuga] - I've mentioned some of the examples earlier with some of the larger corporates ... the impetus of them working with us is around corporate social responsibility. That's really interesting when you talk to people from those corporates or more commercial enterprises, it's quite easy. They get it, they really do. But I think we need to raise the awareness, definitely. But it's also that what can we as social enterprises not only bring to the table, but where can we offer some value and not just in ticking the box but there's plenty of good examples out there of good solid partnerships in social enterprise.

[Anna Guenther] - I'm totally on board with the idea that in the future all enterprise should be social. I think that that's just the way we're moving.

The system has to change, we can't stop hiding the negative externalities that some businesses have. And I think we should focus on positive, social, environmental impacts that companies can have as well.

So I think part of it is just trying to make that the norm. How do we make things more transparent? Easier to do? How do we make sure that we are making good decisions for our people and our planet in everything we do?

[Matt Pfahlert] - I have a schizophrenic relationship with this question because a real sweet spot for the social enterprise schools initiative is grade five. And we can without doubt, always have a group of 30 10-year-olds understand the difference between what a traditional charity is and what a fully commercial business and what a social enterprise is within 30 minutes. They get it cleanly and clearly and obviously more than any adults. But it is so important that the business model that is social enterprise has a level of understanding by current people with influence, so that the policies can be put in place today that actually creates the enabling environment for the next generation.

So my superhero of social enterprise that I bang on about wherever I go is a social enterprise that existed in Ballarat, Victoria and it's a living museum. It's a kind of historic place where you go and you get a burst of being in this kind of 1860's gold rush township. Now that was a hair-brained idea when it started in the early 70's. No one believed it would work. Forward to today, and that one social enterprise contributes 780 jobs to Ballarat and has an impact on the Victorian economy of $1 billion every four years.

One of my other superheros, a colleague of mine, Craig Marshall from the Workgroup in Shepparton, Victoria, totally pivoted a traditional jobs support agency into a social enterprise and in the last 10 years has created a business that now has a $24 million turnover, of which they've just hit the $1 million mark per year. They're not-for-profit, so this social enterprise is gifting into programmes in our region that are changing multi-generational disadvantage. That is a not-for-profit bringing $1 million into our region every single year off their trading and these are the unsung heroes of social enterprise, because I don't know one corporate in our region that's going anywhere near $100,000, let alone $1 million. So these stories are important for people's mindset to shift, who are in power, because it doesn't suit them to see that these models work because the status quo is far more comfortable and easy, and it's really important that we bang the drum about this stuff.


[Tom Allen] - Thanks very much. So let's go to the floor. We'll take a couple of quick questions, and one of them is from Emma-Kate from Food Connect.

[Emma-Kate Rose] -

I'm going to sound like an entitled, whinging social entrepreneur, but why are we putting more pressure on the social enterprise sector to prove its value when we should be asking corporates to prove their social licence to operate?

[Tom Allen] - Would anyone like to respond to that or should we take it as a comment?

[Anna Guenther] - I'm just going to say plus one, yes. Let's make that happen.

[Matt Pfahlert] - Guilt and shame are powerful motivators.

[Tom Allen] - There's another question over here.

[Nicole Bray] - Hi guys, when I was listening to Sarai, I have been lucky enough to start working with Tony through Reverse Waste, and we are a recycling company, and I just wanted to go with Kate's comment there about what's our social licence. We operate for a business to make money, and one of the things that we're currently trying to do is, we already work with Tony as a social enterprise, and when I went to visit the other week, one of the comments you sent to me was, "Nicole, we work differently. You need to understand how we work in order to work well together". And that's something I've really taken up on board in my new role, and I think business does need to learn that, yeah, social enterprises have different priorities, and the better, we can work with Tony, and the better we can work with other social enterprises that we're starting to work with, the better it is for us. So I don't think it's necessarily my bottom line, yeah, that's important to me to look at, to report to ... otherwise I don't have a job.

But, that is not the only thing I am now looking at, because I'm looking at, well, if I did this a little bit differently, and if I get the truck to Tony on time, and make him happy, and it'll make us happy, and there's more opportunities to then bring in more people, so I like that, and I do think we have to prove our social licence to people that we work with and be a responsible partner, and I'd like to see more questions being answered, from businesses, how are we being a responsible partner? We're not just here to give you some money and hopefully you'll get some jobs out of that social enterprise, I think there's more that we can add, being able to value that is important.


[Tom Allen] - We've got one more question before the morning tea break. So would anyone like to ask a question?

[Audience question] - How do you get layers of government on board to see the same thing? Because we're in a regional community in Redlands and we're banging the drum, and we just keep getting shut down, while that system does allow that to happen. And that being caught up in red tape, it just drives our community into despair, and then it's hard to generate even the power in our community, if we can't get those layers of government on board to support us. We just drown in that red tape, can't make it happen, we’re in the too hard basket.

[Celeste Alcaraz] - Bureaucracy; big problem, red tape. I'm sorry to hear that you keep getting shut down, but I'd say keep trying. At the moment, there's a shift from governments actually... I'm not going to say the whole government, but I know from the Councils from the regional level to participate with people and the community and support people in the community on projects that are innovative or supporting entrepreneurship and enterprises. So that needs to be socialised a bit more in the Councils, and that's what they're actually doing at this point. So it is starting to look like a less hierarchal conversation and more collaborative approach where the government are listening to community on what they could do to move forward, so that's probably my comments on that.

[Sarai Tuuga] - We have one particular State Government department here in Queensland that have continuously supported our social enterprises since 1999.

It's been about key champions within the department who understand social enterprises, and even though we've had some turnover, they've actually educated their teams around the [inaudible] that we bring. So that's how we've been able to maintain some significant contracts with council, with state government around fencing.

So I think it's an important thing to find some advocates within the system.

Councillor Steve Swenson was the MC.

Councillor Steve Swenson was the MC.

[Anna Guenther] -

My thing has always been starting with the smallest possible intervention that I can with an enterprise that I want to start getting going, and then make it look so great that they look bad not helping you.

Once you have enough people backing you, they can't not try to change it, especially if it makes them look stupid, and you tweet about it.

[Matt Pfahlert] - I think that as well, the "make them look stupid" thing. But I do think there's one other thing that we don't do very well as a sector, and that is, a lot of people that come into the social enterprise space, because they care deeply about an issue, and they want to devote their lives to solving a particular issue, so they come out from a very, very strong, biggest-heart-in-the-world perspective, and the issue of having a big heart is you can be accused of being a bleeding heart. And people in business, and often in government, who need to deal in a rational, methodical, analytic world, often... even if intuitively when they want to help, there's nothing that they can help you with, because you aren't talking their language, nor are you giving them the tools that is going to help them chop it into their next level.

And the biggest thing I've had to learn as a social entrepreneur, one of those bleeding hearts, is to be bilingual. I feel like my native tongue is community, but my non-native tongue is business. And I've had to learn to a level of literacy in business that allows me to have a respectful conversation, (when I can control my anger), with people, talking their language.

And when I've been able to do that, I've got a better result. Better still, because of my reputation as the bleeding heart, I find people around me, who come from a business perspective, who advocate into the place of where we're wanting to go, far more eloquently and easily than I can, and so really it's about getting those four sectors in the room, who already get you, and then say, "How do we actually have a multi-pronged approach here?"

Because people identify with people, and it's very easy to let your guard down when you know someone's like you. But you've got your guard up when someone's unlike you.

Helen Sharpley, Deputy Director-General of DESBT, Qld Government provided the opening address.

Helen Sharpley, Deputy Director-General of DESBT, Qld Government provided the opening address.


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