Michael Doneman On Making Money, Doing Good & Changing The World


Michael Doneman is founding director of Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurship. He has a background in education and community cultural development which inspired work in business design, vocational education and training, and information technology.

Along with his partner, Ludmila Doneman, Michael founded the Edgeware model of ethical entrepreneurship development in 2006. He has a coaching practice focused on the generic value of creativity in the growth of entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and leaders.


Michael discusses social entrepreneurship, (and why this term shouldn't exist), gives strong tips to impact entrepreneurs and talks about the keys for running a successful business that improves communities.


Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - Could you please share a bit about your backgrounds and what led you to work in entrepreneurship?

[Michael Doneman] - It's an usual background for what I call myself now, which is a business educator. In that, my background, and Ludmila's, is in creative arts. Particularly the performing arts. And what we then called in the last century, community arts, then eventually community cultural development. And as such, were particularly interested in working with disadvantaged and disengaged communities; young people in particular, and particularly Indigenous young people. But across the board, we were interested in the arts as a field, a platform, for disengaged communities, to find a voice, to connect with each other, to connect across boundaries, and to advocate on their own behalf. So to make artefacts, to make statements, and etcetera. It was kind of a politicised notion of the arts.

And it was in that work that we came to business education. We'd find ourselves working invariably with public funding in, say, an indigenous community in the bush, (perhaps) working with young women who are producing visual arts. And we found there was a real risk, when the money dried up, and the experts flew home, that there would be an entropy, that the value of that work would not be sustained. We found by accident, when we went looking for alternatives, looking for action, we came up with ideas, like a pop up gallery or an online store, or something.

So it became about helping them do that, and that turns out to be business education. So in particular, with that constituency in mind, with indigenous young people, which is to say the whole mob, because they tend not to hive off young people quite as readily as non-indigenous Australia does, we found ourselves developing as a tool set that people found accessible, that was very flexible and that sort of fitted the bill, of working in those conditions... in order for people to create a pop up gallery, or an online store, or something, and control that. The bonus was that, that thing was no longer (about) us as the experts, that they became more self sufficient. So it did a social job, as well as the job of the intervention. And we found by pure dumb luck, that in a political economy which is changing, (this was the last couple decades of last century), there wasn't a term called social enterprise, or social entrepreneurship at the time. We found that tool set, that technology, that pedagogy, works for everybody. And that's still the case in my experience. If it works for blackfellas, it will tend to work for everybody else. Because it's accessible, it's flexible, it's based on relationship, mutuality, trust, experience. And it's very, very focused on real drop on your foot benefit; so you can't fart around. Indigenous people have, in my experience, a really fine nose for bull shit. So you can't try to fool people with a lot of big words and things. They have to see the sense of what you're doing, in their immediate context.

And again, a term that wasn't around then, but is now, is 'just in time training'. So it's a pedagogy, and it's a tool set that's radically learner centred, experiential, and just in time. We call that curriculum on the fly. We have tools, and we have a course now, and we even have an accredited course. But it's very, very flexible. We've worked in the last 12 years with probably 17 hundred, 18 hundred start ups in this kind of social benefit, ethical space. And amongst our Indigenous customers, we have 100 percent retention. We have never lost an Indigenous student.

That's fantastic.

And in fact, we've got a really high retention rate generally. Because if people see the sense of it, then that becomes self motivating. It's not us being experts, it's about us laying a table of dishes, where the dishes are the potential things that experience, not book learning, have told us, will be useful for you. And it's up to you then, what you pick up from the table, and what you ignore. So we're co-creators of the learning. It's not about me teaching you anything. And that works.


That's certainly some really, really interesting experience. And you can see how there's that, sort of a natural progression, that's lead you to do what you do now. How did you find your purpose then? What started you off on this journey? [6:44]

Well there was always this notion of social benefit. And I did a project for the Office of Small Business, in the Southeast Queensland of Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, last year. Which was consulting on the notional formation of a Statewide Queensland Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, a network of Indigenous businesses.

So I travelled around the State, talked to a lot of Murri entrepreneurs, Murri small businesses... and the breadth of what was out there was extraordinary. These are people not just putting dots on canvas, or dancing in airports. These are people that are doing high tech VR, touring education businesses, and fibre optic provisions to the islands and stuff. Serious modern businesses.

And I saw dozens of businesses there, and I did not find one, that did not have an idea, of 'benefit for mob', built in to the business. It was just simply part of the cultural formation of the business, benefit for mob.

And I've seen that too, in places like Bhutan. It's sort of become 'de-facto'.


What does it take to build a cultural pre-disposition towards social responsibility, into it from the beginning? And that's really been my practice. So when I worked in the arts, it was about benefit. How could the arts benefit people? Now when I work in business, it's how can it benefit people? And it's just woven in by now. I can't imagine working in some kind of business that exploits the environment, that exploits people.

It seems common sense, right?

If you want to live a meaningful life, we got this off a bumper sticker, from one of our clients, once; I don't know if this is attributed to anyone, or if this person made it up. We've taken it, and it's really attractive to our customers. And the DNA bumper sticker is 'make money, have fun, change the world'.

And at about similar, equal proportions. So make money is the question, is this thing sustainable financially? Can it pay for itself without creating dependence on big brother, or big sister government operations, whatever?

Have fun is the question, is this thing meaningful? Does this help me become the best I can be? Does this give me a place or a purpose in the world?

And change the world means, is this thing responsible? Does this thing give back, in return for what it takes out? And so far, my customers want to answer, "Yes," to all those questions. "Yes it pays for itself, yes it is meaningful, and yes it makes a difference." That's just the DNA. Everything comes from that. We'll do this visioning goal setting process, like Stephen Covey said, "Start with the end in view," right? So we invite you to envision the ultimate success of your business.

And we'll put it in those terms. Like, "How much are you earning? (and) how meaningful is it? Are you having fun? Where's your relationships at? Are you enjoying your life? And, are you making a difference? And if so, how? And how would you measure that? Because you can't manage what you can't measure.

You can measure finances obviously, and that's the where a lot of business education defaults to, in the financial machinery of business. But how would you measure your level of personal actualisation, happiness, relationships, that sort of stuff? And how would you measure social impact, social value?

And there are, as it turns out, metrics for those things.

So build those into your business case. You don't just tack them on to the end as kind of CSR plumage. You actually make it as a structure of your business.

We just kind of accidentally found ourselves in this discourse called social enterprise, now. It really has its roots in working with Indigenous kids in the [Fortitude] Valley, in 1990.

I really like the way that you've framed that. And in working with a great breadth of different entrepreneurs then, what have you found to be some of the biggest challenges for purpose driven entrepreneurs, as they work to create this change in the world? [11:43]

I think there are generic challenges. I mean, there's the obvious and inferential challenges about living in a shallow, patriarchal, racist culture. There's challenges associated with that.

But really in terms of making a business work, and your business as a practise, and your business as a life, as an activity that you are, not that you just do, that identifies you. There's two things in terms of attributes of success, that I've noticed. Among those hundreds of people we've worked with by now, there is persistence, or commitment. So just, sticking with stuff, not taking no for an answer, having a clear eyed view of what you're about. And sticking with it. And what comes along with that, is the second thing, which is resilience. Understanding that there will be risk, understanding that you have to take risks, if you're an entrepreneur, if you're doing something novel. And understanding that that is an opportunity to learn.

So sticking with things, learning from mistakes. If you can actually bring those generic qualities into whatever it is that you do, then you can deal with the more ephemeral challenges that surround you.

And how that's useful for us, (and again, we're very practical) is that we're not born with either of those things. Those are learned behaviours. And if they're learned behaviours, they can be cultivated, and nourished, and challenged, and extended through experience.

So if we remember what I was saying before, about the experiential orientation that we have, and that really practical orientation, we'll certainly talk about what your 'thing' is, and what the value is, and how you are going to sell it, who your customer is, what your value proposition is, but we'll also talk about the 80/20 rule, and getting just enough of it together, to take it out and try it, and be ready for it to fall down.

Until it does finally work experientially in relation to others in a social context. That's just straight business wisdom. But if you want to actually make change in the world, to create benefit for others, the same rule applies.

So if I'm working as an old white man, with a group like Logan Women's Health Centre, how do I bridge the cultural, and other gaps? The gender gaps, that actually exist in there? Well, we get down to this generic stuff. You know, and for a man, or for a Murri, or for a refugee, *commitment* is the same.

I have a commitment to different things, but the value of commitment is the same. The value of resilience is the same. So we can work on that. And that's the language.


Before we started recording the podcast, we had this conversation about action. And if you had any, you're in luck. So how does that tie into taking the action? And not just thinking about these things, but taking those steps? [15:10]

It's simple, but profound. Simple doesn't mean easy. I found this by developing the tools. So it comes from a residential workshop, that we ran with a group of young people, young entrepreneurs, over a long weekend. And these covered concrete walkways, connecting the buildings. And we gave everybody chalk, and encouraged them to draw, or write, or whatever, on the walkways.

And somebody wrote out in big letters, 'action precedes clarity'. And again, I don't know if somebody famous said that, I haven't really found it on the internet, but it made absolute sense to us.

And it's become another one of those memes; if you want to try out an idea, or if you want to actually create a business case, then have sufficient enough of the idea to be able to take it out and try it.

So if you own a catering business, or you want to start manufacturing cakes, or whatever, then make some little prototype cakes, and take them down to the markets, and see what people buy, and what people don't, and get some feedback from them.

And for cakes, read anything. It could be disability services, or motor car maintenance, or pet care, or whatever. We encourage people to be smart and lazy. They won't be lazy, because if you actually believe in your business, you'll tend to do what it takes, and you'll work the hours that you work.

But imagine that you're lazy. What would the lazy person do? What would be the delegation? What would be the shortcut? What would be the work around that you could use, to get that idea out, and get some real feedback, from real people?

So again, it's this experiential, start from sort of something quite simple. Apply it, commit to it.


And that can present to you, as luck. Or as good fortune, or as providential. There's no such thing, you've just made it visible by virtue of you turning up and engaging with the world.

And this is what we'll find again, and again, and again. You'll hear the entrepreneurs say, "You make your own luck." And that's what I think they're saying.

Do you think that in terms of taking action, that this sort of method you've spoken about now ties in to the Lean Startup? What Eric Ries would say, about build, measure, learn? [17:58]

In retrospect, this is what academics do, isn't it? They notice something, and they apply terms for it, and then they own it. I mean, when I was doing my Master's research, we did action research. An iterative cyclical process; plan, act, observe, reflect, plan, act, observe, reflect in cycles. Agile, Six Sigma, Lean Startup, or you can call it Design Thinking. You know, that's the most recent.

So they all have in common, iterative, cumulative, feedback based. That's all it is. And I can ... You and I can move into that now. We can call it something like, 'the Greyzone'. And suddenly, if we're clever enough in marketing, we'll have a little book, and we'll have seminars, and it'll be 'the Greyzone'. We'll have bandanas, we'll have speakers.

It's actually the same principal. And I continue to learn from Indigenous people. They just continue to challenge me. Two days ago, there was this extraordinary midwife, Marianne Wobcke, at a seminar who was asked the question, "Is what you are doing art, or is it health?

And she said, "Well, you use these words 'art' and 'health'. We didn't have words like that. We've been doing for millennia, what I've been describing today." Being good for women with them giving birth, and helping people into the world in a certain way. That is, she didn't buy the discourse that was being put to her. And that was another reminder to me, of how often we take our own assumptions and presumptions about the world, into what we do.

And we create these names. Whitefellas love these names. These categories, and these heuristics, where we kind of short cut everything.

When all we really need to do, is to listen very carefully to what's going on, and get out of our own way, so that we can serve the situation appropriately. 

And that situation can be making money. It doesn't have to be oogey boogey. It can be very practical.

Do you think that in terms of taking action, that this sort of method you've spoken about now ties in to the Lean Startup? What Eric Ries would say, about build, measure, learn? [17:58 continued]

So I'm working with a younger woman now, who has a serious degree of disability. And in our first workshop, such was the nature of the culture, she was in tears a couple of times, because she was so unused to being treated in a regular way, by regular people.

And that's not a disability workshop, and that's not disability strategy, that's just responding appropriately to the situation that we find ourselves in.

And it's sad that it was so novel, that it broke her up. So for her, (read, migrant refugee, read, young people with mental issues, read, gay kids, read, kids in jail), these are just the circumstances in which you find yourself.

And if you've got a really adaptable tool set, and an adaptable methodology... I heard the other day about this young dude with a disability. And his secret sauce, his magic was, he was really good at waiting. He could really wait, still, for long times. So he made a business of standing still in those lines for tickets, and stuff. He would hire himself out, stand in the queue from six in the morning. Then the guy that hired him, would come along at 12, when the queue got up to the head of thing, and off he went. Now you know, all that he is doing, is re-framing what we might call a disability, as an asset. Thinking asset instead of deficit. And that is the appropriate response. That's not me carting in my discourse, and carting in my assumptions about my judgements, my opinions about that guy.


There's some really nice insights there. So to move it to The Old Ambulance Station; you're the President there. Could you tell us more about this hub? Where is it located, and what sort of projects are coming out of this space? [22:25]

In a way, the 'Old Ambo', as we call it. The Old Ambulance Station, is a kind of example of pretty much everything I'm talking about, made into a building. Or manifesting as a building.

It started as an old ambulance station. It's in a town called, Nambour. 100 kilometres north of Brisbane. The town is suffering economically, and socially, culturally. It was the hub of a sugar industry. The sugar industry fell over, it was government and health services, both of those are now eroding. Shops are empty. Common with a lot of regional centres, where there's been profound economic change, there's those issues.

Which in common with the story I just told you about, (the young man who can wait), can also be framed as assets. Mainly in business terms, cheap residential and commercial rent. And a railway line to the capital. So what might become possible...

This event that I mentioned a minute ago, where the indigenous midwife presented, was catered by two young dudes who run a vegan café, next door to the Old Ambo. Now they started with a coffee shop down at the railway station, then we gave them the front left hand corner of our gallery space. And now, they've migrated to their own space, and they're employing people, and catering for big events.

So it started its life as a creative industries incubator, which failed, I won't go into details of that but it failed. But the remnant volunteers, (it's owned by the local government) were run ragged. I was invited to come and chair the board. By virtue of the fact that, I'd run some Edgeware courses there already, so they sort of knew what we were on about. And had a certain credibility with them. That was five years ago. And over the last five years, it's been like climbing Maslow's pyramid. You're going from getting the asbestos out of the roof, (we inherited 20 grands worth of ATO debt), replacing the hot water system, making sure the toilets work, that sort of stuff. Into what's starting to kick in right now, an interesting time. A transformation, it's a cultural transformation, really. From the kind of welfare state construction of a heavily government subsidised service provider, for the creative industries, or anything else, to a social enterprise.

So a self-guiding, self-determining, self-funding business, which has a social benefit. We're wiring that into what it does. A lot of the people on the board, the other people on the board, had done the Edgeware course, so we're very much on the same page, with that 'make money, have fun, change the world' thing.

So the Thrive event, (the event I keep mentioning, that happened two days ago) was not a response from some government policy, for which we applied for a grant, and then deployed the grant. That was our idea actually in the beginning, which we designed, put on the ground, and knock wood, is revenue neutral.

But the impact of which, even a few days later, has been profound in our local area. So we're calling that, Ambo Enterprise. And we are a not for profit, but we need to do something about the infrastructure, it's still a fairly run down building. We need to do something about the infrastructure, it's still a fairly run down building. So why can't we lean on our landlords, the council, to guarantee provision of professional development events, teaching, training services for us, to locate them in their space, what is after all, their space, guarantee us that income for three years? Which we can then pick up, and leverage in the debt market, to self-fund our own infrastructure development, and take the building the way we wanted to. Rather than the way government, or anybody else wants it to go.

So that's a cultural shift, and we've got to be very careful to bring our constituency along with us. Because if you've grown up in the welfare state model of free provision... again, we learn from the Indigenous people. It produces dependencies, and it produces cultures of entitlement. And you've got to break those, without offending people. So we have a kind of parallel discursive development; talks and seminars, where we're trying make these things clear as ideas.

It's not the practise as much as the ideas. It's not just seen as a few smarty pants, over educated people, on the band wagon. It's actually seen as cultural change.

So in talking about cultural change, (the Old Ambo project started five odd years ago), how would you say the social enterprise sector has changed during that time? And where do you even see that going? [28:09]

I don't know if I'll live to see it, but I'd love to live in a world where the term 'social enterprise' is unnecessary, because it's simply inconceivable to think of any business, which does not have benefit or value to the world. So it's just simply enterprise. This is the way we do business.

I think in the meantime, people are recognising the phrase, and saying it's creative industries, as distinct from the arts. If that's the way people want to label things, then that's fine.

But like Aunty Marianne, let's not get hooked up into those discursive labels too much, and let's consider ourselves in terms of relations, and interactions, and what happens. Rather than, what school of thought we belong to, or what tribe we belong to, or whatever. It's just impractical.


Do you think it can create an us, versus them, type of atmosphere? [29:23]

Yeah. Well when it started, in QUT, where I've done some work for at least 20 years. They have a Centre for Social Enterprise. When they're starting up, they were doing some research, as academics do. It had this online questionnaire, and I sort of set out to answer it as Edgeware. Now Edgeware is a proprietary limited company. It's not a not for profit, and upon thinking that, I realised now, when we set it up 12 years ago we didn't want to be in some kind of community sector category. We wanted to be in business.

So I'm filling in the questionnaire and I get two, three pages in, and the question is, 'are you not-for-profit or private?' And I ticked private, and it went, "Click. Thank you very much you don't need to go any further."

So at that stage, (and it's different now), you had to be a not-for-profit to be a social enterprise, sufficient to be able to participate in that survey. Now, we would all agree probably, that we're past that. That you can actually have private companies, you could have trusts, there's all sorts of legal structures, that can still have social purpose.

So as you'd expect, out of five years, that discourse in practise has deepened and broadened.

But I'd still like to get to the point where those Indigenous businesses that I mentioned are at, where it's inconceivable, it's unthinkable for me to start a business which doesn't have 'value for mob', built in. It's just assumed.

And I've encountered it in Bhutan. Which is a developing country, it maps to Indigenous Australia, in this respect. They have a, a notion, called Gross National Happiness, which balances gross national product. So it's about wellness, a cultural, social, spiritual wellness, as well as financial wellness. That's integrated. And it's expressed in kitchens, and dining rooms, and bedrooms, and streets, as much as it's expressed in shops, and culture bunkers, like theatres, and cinemas, and universities.

In one way I think you can say, it's ahead of the game [GNH]. As we outsource and offshore industries like manufacturing, and things that robots, AI, the Chinese, or the Indians can do, far better, faster, and cheaper. Then what's left? And this is why we talk about the experience economy, the concept economy. The value driven economy. What's left is the bespoke, the human, the wet, the relational, not the transactional. So these models, these ancient models, could actually be seen as models of the future. That is, to behave like this, to behave ethically, to behave to build relationship as part of transaction, is going to pay off at the till.

So if you're just going into it to make money, then you can't.

This is the problem with the banks. Their whole business model is transactional. They're trying to tell us they're relational businesses, and we're not fooled. They only see us as cyphers, as numbers, not as people. And they will always suffer because of that.

You mentioned Bhutan. So are there any other countries around the world, that you think are really, really leading a charge, when it comes to social innovation, social enterprise, call it what you like; making money, doing good. [33:06]

There's some terrific stuff coming out of the States, and I mean, the United States is not one place. And I don't know so much about that, because I'm afraid of Americans.

Why is that?

I'm not attracted to the culture. I'm not attracted to the mainstream, protestant, monetarist, managerialist, post Harvard MBA, business culture of the place. I know that there are these really interesting reactions to that, but not on the first take, if I have my druthers, I'd rather read something about Bhutan, then read something about Silicon Valley.

I'm sure there's good stuff, but I just don't know what. What I do know about is Denmark and Scandinavia, where I've been a number of times over a couple of decades.

I'm interested in the way progressive social democratic traditions play out, in business education, community work, etcetera. So there's this school in Aarhus, in Denmark, called the Kaos Pilots, which has been very influential in our thinking about that.

And in the same way (that) Edgeware comes out of  community cultural development, the Kaos Pilots has come out of social work with kids, with rough kids in Aarhus. And the guy who started it up, was a social worker. And he thought, "Oh. This stuff I'm doing with these kids, this could turn into a business."

And now, it's a good brand in Scandinavia, and a lot of people are copying it. So they've been very influential, and the Norwegians and the Finns in particular, have some interesting takes on this sort of work.

Most recently, we visited in January of this year an organisation in Brussels called Transforma, which I'd really recommend people have a look at. And especially in the sense that unlike the Scandinavian model, this is entirely privately funded.  So it's two guys that have debt funded this really substantial facility in Brussels, where people can go to develop business ideas, play with business ideas. They have a Fab Lab and a maker space. So they can actually try out ideas, play around with technology, build prototypes, and then go into light manufacture. And then market. And then store and distribute. So, manufacture, store, and distribute, all in the same roof.

So you can go from, having kind of a really loose idea, to actually storing and distributing the product that you make, under that roof. So there's clusters of expertise around each stage of that. And the whole thing is in view; it's a U-shape building built throughout a permaculture garden. They talk about curating businesses, the way the bees curate the garden.

So it's this organic, socially oriented activity, which is privately funded, and pays for itself. There's no government money in it at all. Now I think that's a really interesting model. I'm not quite sure of anything I've seen anywhere, that does that. And it's this cultural thing. It's a culture from the beginning. And that doesn't come from anyone, but those two guys. They started it with this kind of tribe around them slugging away at this stuff, for years.

But I think that's the example of the kind of business, in my end of the stick, developmental, educational, training end of the stick, that's going to emerge.

It's a really great example, that's for sure. So books, Michael. To wrap things up. Which books would you recommend to our listeners? [36:54]

I don't read a lot of business books, because I'm not a real business head.

Books in general...

There's a school of thinking, that started off as therapy. Like NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), that started as a therapy, then business got a hold of it. It's called Solution Focus. It's a radically positive, future-oriented, strength based orientation, to coaching. And we actually deploy that in our business planning, as well. Now it turns out that in Solution Focus, you imagine the best of all possible worlds. The best way, and I ask you the question, "If your business absolutely goes perfectly over the next five years, how would you know? How would you measure that? What would be the conditions? What would be the evidence that you can see, that it's been totally successful?"

Now it turns out that's one of Stephen Covey's, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He calls it, 'start with the end in view.' And there's good science to that now. He just assumed that, because he's a business genius. And that book was published decades ago, it's never been out of print, and I really recommend that. It's simple, really clear, really practical.

Easy to understand and apply!

There's another one, I think a lot of, a lot of popular business books are really one or two ideas that people have. And it's a bit like we were saying, with agile, six sigma systems. They find a term, then they go out to find evidence of that. So chapter one is the statement of the idea, chapters two to thirteen are stories about that, and are there to prove the idea. And there's a capstone chapter at the end.

Now I don't think you need to read the whole book. You actually need a distillation of the first chapter, and the last one.

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. And it gives about three pages to each of a hundred business books that you'll find in any good business bookshop. And pretty much, that's all you need, in my view. You can get in three pages, what they typically try to sell you in 200. In my view.

Value for money.

Yeah. So, 100 Best Business Books of All Time. I really like Seth Godin, for the net, for marketing, for training. And he's accessible. I mean, he gives away so much. He's the perfect example of a modern business. He makes money by giving stuff away.

Daniel Pink, a popular journal, psychologist, was a speech writer for the Clinton Gore White House, has written about motivation, has written about the new economy, this concept economy, 'why the future belongs to right brainers.

Big internet presence again, a lot of his stuff will be free. There's a guy called Hugh McLeod. His website's called, gapingvoid.com. He's a sort of IT guy, but he's very funny.

He writes cartoons, and he's got a free pdf out there, called How to Be Creative, which is really sarcastic and tongue in cheek. But he's like this business type guy, but with a heart.

And finally, anything and everything from my point of view as a trainer, and as an educator, by Ken Robinson. So he's got, I think it's the single most popular TED Talk. He's a raconteur, he's very amusing, very smart guy. And he talks about the kind of ways we need to develop and educate, and train people, for this emerging concept economy. In a very clever, amusing way.


Initiatives, resources and people mentioned on the podcast


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