Jaison Hoernel On Social Enterprise & Giving Others Tools To Create Their Own Impact
Jaison Hoernel has over 30 years of professional experience in personal mobility and the bicycle industry internationally. Starting his career as a bicycle mechanic, then bicycle shop owner, he moved onto management of international teams in product development across both cycling and bike share.
Delivering innovation in both product and process in bike share and other last-mile solutions, he has worked with leading manufacturers and operators. Additionally, he has consulted for local and state governments and NGO’s.
In 2015, Jaison joined Good Cycles as CEO as the organisation began to focus on developing transitional employment opportunities through innovation and disruption with bicycles in mobility space. Good Cycles uses the simple bike to not only engage and empower but to provide unique employment pathways for young people.
Jaison discusses how bikes are being used to change lives, provides tips for social entrepreneurs and discusses how momentum is building in the Australian social enterprise space.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Rachel Stevens] - To kick things off, could you share a bit about your background and how you got involved in social enterprise? [02:10]
[Jaison Hoernel] - Sure. I've been in bikes for most of my life. I told someone today that I made my first dollar out of bikes. I think over 35 years ago, I started as a bike mechanic and always had a passion with bikes. That led me to owning bike shops and a range of other things, through to bike share and it's been a lot of fun along the way. Probably about four or five years ago now, I got to the point where I was looking to do something a little bit different, and I thought I wanted to get into the nonprofit space and into the charitable space. I'd heard about Good Cycles and a little bit about it, but I actually didn't anything about social enterprise. So I can say four years ago I didn't even know what the term social enterprise meant but I just landed in Good Cycles. Having, as I said, tried to get into charities and nonprofits which sometimes can be a bit tricky, but with Good Cycles it seemed like a pretty strong connection. They were looking for someone who knew about bikes and I knew a fair bit about bikes, so that brought me into this role.
Oh, perfect. It seems like a very natural evolution for you.
Yeah, it certainly is. It's been a lot of fun.
Brilliant. So you became the CEO of Good Cycles back in 2015. For our listeners who might not be familiar with the work you are doing there, it's a social enterprise that's using bikes to change lives through creating employment pathways for young people who might need a helping hand. Can you tell us a bit more about your journey so far with Good Cycles and how you ended up at the helm of this social enterprise? [03:31]
Sure. So I actually met the founders back in 2013. I was introduced to them by another social entrepreneur in Melbourne who said, "hey, I know these people that are interested in doing something with bikes." And I said, "well, I'll have a chat." I met the founders and they explained that they wanted to make a business and they wanted to have mobile mechanics ride around the cities and fix people's bikes. They didn't explain social enterprise to me and I said, "well, good luck. You know, it's going to be pretty tough," and sort of left it at that. Then a few years later, I was at the time involved in bike share in the Melbourne Bike Share Project here, and a number of projects overseas and started hearing a little bit more about Good Cycles. The penny dropped that it was not just about making money but the whole thing of using bikes for good, which, for me really resonated. So at that time, I caught up with the founders again and it was actually really good timing because I had just left my previous role with the bike share company I'd been working for. I was looking again, as I said, to get into the charitable sector and the founders said, "well we want to take a little step back. We've got this great, great thing up and going, but now the question is what do we do with it and what comes next?" So, it was a really good opportunity for me to come in and look at the organisation and look at what it was doing. I guess for me the idea of using a bike and having impact was something that I'd been doing my whole life, but I hadn't really framed it up in that way. It was a chance to come in and look at the way the organisation was running and see where we could really build on the impact that the founders had developed.
We've actually only just scratched the surface of what Good Cycles is. Do you think you could tell us a little bit more about the work that's going on there, what you guys are doing? Because I know it's very busy and there's a lot going on! [05:46]
So when we started it was pretty simple. We had this idea and that we could teach a young person or someone coming from a disadvantaged background how to fix it a bike, then they could get a job as a bike mechanic. So having that skill was pretty simple and bikes, for the last 10 years, have just grown and grown in popularity. There's more people riding and more bike shops opening up, certainly in Australia and I think around the world. So that was the simple idea. Out of that, what happened was they developed a program which was pretty straightforward. They were taking secondhand bikes, so re-purposing bikes that were destined for landfill. Bringing those in, giving young people or whoever was there, a couple of spanners and some tools, and then over four to six weeks helping them to fix the bike that was in front of them.
So teaching them how to maintain the bike, fix punctures, tune the bike, tighten the brakes, adjust everything, then at the end of six weeks, they walked away with a bike that was destined for the landfill and they turned that into mobility. So they got a lock, a helmet, a light, and that mobility, which was an amazing impact. So suddenly they had the ability to get around and that program was not only working for people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, but we were also delivering that program to asylum seekers and refugees. Anyone who actually had the need for mobility and potentially didn't have access to that. So that was where it started. That was where we kept going from and out of that, those programs had all sorts of incredible mental health benefits as well. You know, the idea of using a bike and fixing your bike, for us here is almost the same as, you know, you hear about therapeutic practices like music therapy, pet therapy. We actually ran a project which was bike therapy, and we've formed a whole bunch of great outcomes from that. So three or four years ago, we were running programs from a whole range of diverse backgrounds from mental health, autism, primary school, secondary school, drug and rehab. We were doing programs in prisons and and it was fantastic. However, back to what we were originally about, which was getting employment outcomes, we were struggling there a little bit, so we've had a really good look at what we were doing. We decided that it was the time to focus on employment. We took a lot of programs that we were doing and we provided those to other organisations to operate them. We then turned around and focused on creating jobs and and specifically not just creating jobs to get people ready for working in the bike industry, but saying that if we use the bike as a mechanism to engage, then hopefully we can create people that help people to become employment ready, not just with bikes but in the broader industry. So lots of people love bikes, but not everybody wants to be a bike mechanic. So that was a big step for us and that's where we are now.
We use the bike as an engagement tool, but what we do is we get them job ready by giving them a job, we pay them, they become an employee, and during that process they get employment ready and at a really simple but very powerful level, we're able to give them an employment reference, which for most people is all they need to be able to go get a job out in the open labour market and that's where we help them. That's the biggest part of what we do. As a social enterprise, what we've done is we've said, well, we can do lots of things. We can run bike shops where we fix bikes and we continued to do that. We still do mobile mechanics where we ride around the city and we go to the end of trip facilities. We go to corporates and we fix bikes and buildings. We run training classes where we teach the general public how to fix and maintain their bike and those all provide commercial revenue. What we also do, is we look at what else could happen with the bike. So we say, well, what other activities could create commercial revenue? So one of those significant ones, is we have about 160 car share cars that we go out to. We ride out on our cargo bikes and electric bikes and the teams do a water-less clean and a vacuum of those onsite, every fortnight. So that provides incredible employment opportunities and it cuts down congestion in the city by providing a service that would normally be done in a van and doing that on a bike. Also for us, it also creates revenue which allows us to then deliver our purpose.
Fantastic. You guys have had such a broad experience. I'm really curious actually, before you decided to focus back in on how to assist people with employment opportunities, how did you decide that your focus was too broad and how did you make that decision on what to focus in on? [10:21]
I think when we got to the point where we realised that bikes are a powerful mechanism for everyone and bikes touch people. Everybody has a story about bikes, I think is the message that I always say. On the same side, you can't be everything to everyone and we recognise that at some point when you start an organisation as the founder did, and they put so much energy and effort into it. They connected bikes with unemployment, with youth, with mental health and everybody just went, this is fantastic and it is, it really is.
But as an organisation you have to at some point go, well, okay, what do we do well? What can we make the biggest impact in?
We looked at that really hard and we thought, you know what? For us, it comes back to being able to create those employment opportunities and being able to focus ourselves as a social enterprise. Meaning that we could reach sustainable commercial outcomes and not have to continuously seek government funding.
Those two things together are what linked us to the fact that we said, well we have to be very clear about what our value proposition is and we have to be very clear about what the impact that we want to create will be.
That's what lead us back into this focus of commercial outcomes, direct employment opportunities and as a broader test to using the bike as an engagement tool, but also for jobs out in the open market for wherever they were, wherever someone wanted to be.
I think the flow on effect as well touches on many of the other points were talking about earlier like mental health. The impact that you can create just through creating that youth employment already helps deal with so many of those other issues, so it makes a lot of sense why that's the focus. [12:15]
We also had to be really clear that we are commercially focused. We don't mind making money, we just want to make sure that we do good things with it.
You have also experienced quite a bit of collaboration with other bike and socially focused organisations over the years. I'm really curious to hear about what challenges this cross-pollination of groups has brought, but also what benefits you've seen as a result of this? [12:41]
I think it was interesting coming from a background of private, I wont say corporate, because I wasn't really ever in the corporate scene. Commercial collaboration is really easy because it's very easy, are you both making money or losing money? In the nonprofit sector that was a challenge initially for me to understand that a little bit more. As I said, bikes are complicated in terms of what the value proposition is. So we've been fortunate, we've had some really great collaboration in the social sector in terms of organisations that have been able to support our outcomes. We run very light in terms of our program staff, so we don't have case workers or case managers. We focus on delivery, which has meant that for us it was really important to create really strong partnerships with those organisations that do have that case management and had that ability to support all those necessary requirements for someone to be able to get a job. So those relationships have been very strong. We've been really fortunate to have those both with larger mental health organisations, youth organisations locally and some of the employment agencies. So that's been critical and it's allowed us the flexibility to focus on what we do well, which is create job opportunities and build businesses and can give people that employment without having to focus on all those other things. Which can be really complicated in the mental health sector and had all of those social underpinnings. So those have been really good. They've been challenging at times since that social sector speaks a very different language to the commercial sector.
When I first joined Good Cycles I remember saying to the chair, I said, "oh, this'll be easy. It'll all be nice and simple, making money." I say jokingly sometimes, that it's actually quite easy, but getting people jobs and employed is really hard. So those collaborations have been really, really important. We've been fortunate that from a commercial sense, we've been able to build some really strong commercial partnerships. We have partnerships with State Government, we have partnerships that expand into bike share both in Melbourne and in the Gold Coast in Queensland with quite large transport companies and that's been great. So it's been a bit of a balance.
One of the challenges for us is that we're a bike shop that's a social enterprise, and it's often been a little bit challenging to explain that to other bike shops.
That we're here as a commercial organisation, yet we're in competition, but we're also here to try to help support employment. That sometimes is met positively and sometimes it's just met with indifference and sometimes it can be met fairly negatively.
So you just have to be a bit pragmatic and make sure that you know you're doing the right thing.
I think it's still very much one of the big challenges of social enterprises, is that people are still really working out what that is, so I can imagine that can be tricky explaining. [16:00]
Yeah. I think social enterprise still trying to work out what it is too. I've been fortunate, I think to come in at a time when, whilst it's not clear, there's certainly lots of questions being asked and that's really great.
I'm curious; some of the relationships that you have spoken about that have been really foundational to you guys and to supporting the work that you're doing - it can be really hard to build those relationships, to build those connections. How do you go about making those connections and creating that collaboration? [16:22]
I think one of the most important things that you recognise as a social enterprise and we're also a registered charity, is that we can be completely transparent.
I've got nothing to hide behind and really learning to leverage that. So being able to be very upfront about that. It seems counter intuitive that the best place to start is to say, hey, what can you give me for free? It actually is really powerful and not to shy away from it. So I think certainly when you're talking to commercial organisations it's about creating that value proposition.
We've always been really careful about making sure that we're very transparent and also that we're delivering really high quality because I think that's also really important.
It's been really good for us to be able to have those conversations openly and say, look we know you want to support us, but we're definitely about quality we were fortunate to be successful in a proposal that gained us the operation contract for Melbourne Bike share. So that's the system that's run here in the city of Melbourne and we won that contract because we were able to assure them on the quality that we were going to deliver.
The social outcome side was great, but certainly that quality piece was what won us the contract.
So it's that sort of understanding, and we're very open about that when we communicate. The other thing is just talk to everyone, don't ever close the door, don't ever walk away from something.
My wife says that I'm nagging, I say persistent. I think that that's really important. Just communicate your message as clearly as you can, to as broad an audience as you can.
So in the few years that you've been with Good Cycles, I'm sure you've seen a lot of change. I'm interested to hear how you think the social enterprise sector has transformed already in your time with Good Cycles and where do you think it's heading in the future? [18:35]
I think, as I said before, I'm fortunate that I've come in at a point, certainly in Australia, where there is a significant change in the way businesses as a whole are viewing their impact.
Five years ago, we talked about triple bottom lines and there was a lot of rhetoric going on, but actually I think now it's starting to translate through.
We're starting to see that come through at a corporate level certainly. So that's for me been fantastic. I'm lucky that I've got a network around me and a lot of the people that I'm around had been in social enterprise for 20 years and I can see they've done the long, hard yards in this space and they're saying, "Yep, we can see that it started to gain traction." I feel a little bit of a lucky that I've come in at this point where that's happening and it's happening in corporate Australia.
At a government level, the Victorian government's just released their social procurement framework and that's an all of government framework in Victoria to push the government to buy from social enterprises. That's significant and that is really having a knock on effect.
I think we'll see the effect of that in the next few years which will really raise the bar on social enterprise and the fact that it can be competitive in the same places as for-profit and still deliver that social impact behind that at the same time.
So, as I said, I've only been in this sector for three years, but even in the last 12 months, Australia has definitely a really, really great appetite for something different. Business done a bit differently I think is the way it's being viewed.
Very exciting to hear. From a policy perspective then what do you think needs to be done by the government to help foster and support such an innovative and social enterprise sector? [20:46]
As I said, the framework that's been developed here in Victoria is a really great start and we can see now that the government's wanting to make sure they're embedding that into legislation, which is really great. I think that in Australia, what we're starting to see is a little bit of a formation of the intermediaries in that group. So, Social Traders who's very active now in social procurement here, where they used to do a lot broader range of social enterprise facilitation. They had Crunch, which was about entrepreneurial development. They're focusing down on just social procurement. We're seeing other organisations fill those gaps. So Social Enterprise Network Victoria is looking to form, which will create a peer group that the industry can go to for learning.
I think what is great to see is that we're now starting to see the sector grow to a size big enough where it can manage those individual pieces of the intermediary, the framework underneath. So it's really important that the government continues to foster that and continues to support it, but also that the social enterprise sector itself starts to look up at that. It's a sector, but it's split across industries and that is always a challenge. So we're starting to see a little bit more clarity around those industries. I know, for example, that one of the largest social enterprises here in Australia has developed a network around food and they're starting to really build that out. So as long as the government is supporting it from the top, I think that will really start to trickle down.
So as someone who, as you said, is only fairly new to the social enterprise sector, what advice would you give to a budding social entrepreneur who's begun work and want to grow and scale their own enterprise? [22:37]
Start with your passion.
I've got two passions is my life. One is bikes and the other is music and I've been able to do most of them woven through my life. So start with your passion because you really need that, and if you can, try to really see clearly where you want to get to. I think that you've got to be able to see in your mind's eye what you want. That may not be where you end up, but at least have that.
I've heard people say you've got to be angry about what you do, you've got to be angry about a cause. And I think, yeah, it's good to be angry, but honestly you've got to know that it's passionate and you love what you want because that's going to get you certainly a lot farther than just trying to change something. I'm a person who tries to figure out how to buy the bus. It's just as arguable to sit there and go, well, how do I stand in front of the bus with a big sign and get it to stop? So, so both of those are valid.
If you've got a business background, definitely lean on it.
Don't forget those things because that's what's going to get you to the point where you can start having choices about what you do. And that's what it's all about.
Don't be afraid to make money and find ways of socialising your idea.
For me, I talk about it. I have to talk things through and I will find whoever, whenever will listen to me so I can talk through ideas that I have and that works for me. If you need to write them down or whatever it is, it's different for different people, but make sure that you have that network around you. You'll have to.
You'll be frustrated, you'll be angry, you'll meet all sorts of walls. But make sure that you keep it in the middle of your heart and have a good network around you.
Are there any other inspiring projects or initiatives that you've come across which creating some interesting social change or social impact? [24:38]
I'm currently quite fascinated with, (and I'm the first to admit I'm not an expert in this at all), platform cooperativism and how that will lend itself to economic change. I have a joke with someone who I can't mention because I'm not allowed to, but I want to figure out how to decouple capitalism from the free market. We have a running joke about that and she said I couldn't let you study it but it sounds interesting. I think for me, I've seen so many things in the last three years and at all different levels. I've seen people who want to create a product that they can take to the world that allows them to scale and grow. Something that can be duplicated globally and creates amazing impact. I've seen things that are just so simple that just help the people right in their neighbourhood. I think that on both sides is just amazing.
If someone's passionate about something and I've seen things where, you know, it's just as simple as knowing what they want to change. There's an organisation here called Dr. Cranky's and he's been going now for probably five or six years and it's really simple. He goes into primary schools and he figures out how to get the bicycles, the second hand bikes that are in those primary schools to be re-purposed and reused in the primary school. He gets them up and going and the parents run them. It's so simple and it works so well and he's now got those in I think 10 primary schools across Australia. It's such a simple little thing, but it has so much power to it. So those are really cool. I really liked those things. Big tickets I guess that you see out on the market are great too, but it's those little things that I think are very personal and meaningful.
Yeah. That accumulation of lots of small impact can be really, really satisfying.
To finish off, what are the top books you'd recommend for our listeners? [26:51]
So I've just read a book called Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laurel, which I'm fascinated with. It's sort of similar to the holacracy approach by organisations and shifting organisations to be able to be self managed. I think it's worth a read for anyone who's looking at it organisation. It's got a lot of really interesting stuff in it. If I didn't mention Jonathan Livingston Seagull, my father would be aberrant at me. If you haven't read it or you've never heard of it, it's a 15 minute read. Those are probably the two that stand out to me.