Learning From Queensland’s Strong Grassroots Movement On The Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour

Tony Sharp of Substation33 shares his experience.

Tony Sharp of Substation33 shares his experience.

What is social enterprise? Why is growth of the ecosystem important and what's all the excitement about in Queensland?

Recently, Impact Boom and the Yunus Centre (Griffith University) got together 100+ people for the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour for a jam-packed day exploring some of Brisbane's social enterprises. We sought to answer some of the above questions, learn from the teams on the ground, share stories, foster connections and spark interest to see the ecosystem develop further.

We heard from some of the key ecosystem leaders working hard to develop Queensland's strong grassroots movement, as well as the 15 social enterprises on Impact Boom’s Elevate+ Accelerator program. The Yunus Centre’s Social Entrepreneurs in Residence, (Tony Sharp of Substation33, Emma-Kate Rose of Food Connect, Anna Guenther of PledgeMe and myself of Impact Boom), were all active in contributing to a great day.

Explore some of the stories shared on the day below. Follow Impact Boom on Facebook, and be the first to hear about new tours being planned to explore and learn from other social enterprises.

 

Queensland’s social enterprise ecosystem is growing, yet while the momentum is gaining, there remains significant work to be done.

 

The day began at Griffith University, Southbank, where the enthusiastic group mingled before packing the tour bus to capacity. Aboard the bus were 35 social entrepreneurs and a variety of business owners, academia representing the four main universities based in Brisbane, local and state government representatives from relevant departments, investors and board members from Queensland’s peak bodies in the sector.

As the bus headed towards our first stop of the day, the Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative (NCEC), we met those in the seats around us and Impact Boom provided an update on key activities happening in the local ecosystem, presented some key goals moving forward and what to expect for the day.

On arrival to NCEC, we were greeted by Richard Warner, Board Members and the broader team who shared the story of how NCEC formed, as one of Brisbane’s oldest social enterprises.

First stop of the day. Participants gather in Nundah to hear from NCEC.

First stop of the day. Participants gather in Nundah to hear from NCEC.

NCEC was formed in 1998 to create sustainable employment and training opportunities for people with Mental Illness, Learning Difficulty or Intellectual Disability and in 2015 was named Australia’s best social enterprise.

NCEC is a not-for-profit organisation that currently trains and engages more than 20 people in meaningful work opportunities through their two businesses: Espresso Train Café & Catering and NCEC Parks & Maintenance. The people they support have struggled to find their place in the current economic structure. They’re keen to work, but due to the pace they learn at, employers are often unwilling to support them.

NCEC creates more than 8,000 hours of long-term employment annually to people with disabilities, as well as providing social enterprise training to community start-ups. Their model is different than the standard ‘flow through model’ of employment training, in that they transform the local economy to create lasting job opportunities for those who have been excluded.

Richard Warner and the NCEC Board share their experience.

Richard Warner and the NCEC Board share their experience.

As participants made their way to Espresso Train Café for coffee and morning tea, we stopped by Vessel Nundah, where Founder Marion Glover shared her story in starting this zero-waste retail shop in Nundah.

Vessel Nundah offers everyday people the opportunity to shop for their body care and home cleaning products without the single-use plastic. They buy quality products from quality brands, manufactured as locally as possible, in bulk, and customers come to the shop and fill their containers from the bulk containers. Marion is has been collaborating strongly with NCEC from the beginning and has been working hard to develop the business model.

Vessel Nundah’s model for sustainable consumption will see expansion this year with a delivery service and opportunities for corporate and government buyers to procure socially.

Marion Glover of Vessel Nundah welcomed participants to her BYO container shop.

Marion Glover of Vessel Nundah welcomed participants to her BYO container shop.

After some great networking over morning tea, we boarded the bus and Ingrid Burkett, Co-Director of the Yunus Centre, Griffith University, gave a great overview of some of Brisbane’s social enterprise history, as well as providing commentary on some of the activities currently happening to build the ecosystem. Ingrid has a long history in developing the ecosystem and laid some of the core foundations for the Queensland Social Enterprise Council.

Ani Wilson of Motley Bunch shared her journey with the bus.

Ani Wilson of Motley Bunch shared her journey with the bus.

Throughout the day between different bus stops, the current Elevate+ cohort of 15 social enterprises, as well as other social entrepreneurs aboard the bus, had a couple of minutes to share their work with the rest of the bus. It was a great way to get some insights into what’s happening in the city.

We arrived to Bertonni, a relatively new social enterprise which employs homeless and vulnerable young people to handcraft beautiful porcelain homewares.

Mike Lepre of Bertonni talks about development of the social enterprise to date.

Mike Lepre of Bertonni talks about development of the social enterprise to date.

Founder Mike Lepre (Elevate+ Alumni) and team members Rachel and Simon welcomed everyone into their studio space where we heard how Bertonni is on a mission to empower homeless and vulnerable young people to overcome disadvantage and realise their full potential.

Bertonni’s first two employees, Rachel and Simon are involved in the many aspects of production, where they are taught technical ceramic skills, as well as the art of craftsmanship. They also develop soft skills such as confidence, self-awareness, and the ability to structure a day. It was fantastic to hear directly from Rachel and Simon where they bravely shared their personal stories.

Rachel and Simon of Bertonni share their personal experience.

Rachel and Simon of Bertonni share their personal experience.

Sabrina Chakori of Brisbane Tool Library talks about their key learnings.

Sabrina Chakori of Brisbane Tool Library talks about their key learnings.

Upon boarding the bus again, we headed to the Brisbane Tool Library, which is based at The Edge, State Library of Queensland.

The Brisbane Tool Library Inc. started at the beginning of 2017, being Queensland’s first tool library (library of things). Their tool library allows people to borrow hand and power tools, and other equipment, such as camping and sport gear.

Founder Sabrina Chakori (Elevate+ Alumni), and other friendly BTL volunteers shared the journey and challenges to date, explaining how they are based on a circular economy. They explained how they are building a more sustainable society, reducing consumption and waste going to landfill.

Michael Lyons of  Navisafe  pitches his navigation technology for the visually impaired.

Michael Lyons of Navisafe pitches his navigation technology for the visually impaired.

It was time to move on, and we made our way south to the suburb or Salisbury, where Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate Rose of Food Connect Brisbane provided a warm welcome, before sharing their story.

When Robert lost his family’s fourth generation farm twenty years ago, he went into exile. The grief and shame led him on a journey to explore positive ways forward for farming in Australia. As a dairy farmer he felt a huge disconnection between his milk and the people drinking it. That feeling triggered a passion for creating a fairer food system for all farmers and for exploring ways to help people connect to those who grew and processed their food.

He believed that this disconnection and the increasing impact of climate change meant a solution was urgently needed. Small farmers who grew nutritious food and looked after their soil, land and wildlife needed customers who were happy to share the risk, reconnect with their growers and pay the true cost of production. Enter Food Connect, a social enterprise that Robert, a few local farmers and a small group of motivated mums kick-started, using the principles of Community Supported Agriculture in 2005.

Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate Rose  of Food Connect showing people around the warehouse.

Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate Rose of Food Connect showing people around the warehouse.

Today, they have a strong team committed to their vision of creating a fairer food system, while earning a living wage and playing an integral part of transforming the food system.

In late 2018, together with over 500 of their local community, customers, farmers and supporters, they raised over $2 million in an equity crowdfunding campaign to purchase the warehouse that they’d rented for over 12 years.

They now have Australia's first community-owned local food hub, the Food Connect Shed, providing the infrastructure to provide a stable market for their farmers, completely divorced from market forces, and to create a home to many ethical food entrepreneurs.

It was time for lunch, and what a lunch it was. A big grazing table had been prepared by Yarraka Bayles and the team from BlackCard Cultural Tours. Yarraka provided a warm welcome and shared knowledge of the Indigenous history.

A few of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council Board Members provided an overview of key QSEC activities, with strong regional growth and support for the ecosystem planned moving forward. It’s an exciting time for QSEC, which are currently kicking off the Social Enterprise Standup Project (SESP) alongside the Yunus Centre and supported by funding from the English Family Foundation.

The SESP project will raise the profile of social enterprise as a contributor to social impact and inclusive growth, and make the case for investment into the social enterprise sector. It will convene and connect a broad range of actors engaged in social enterprise, and co-produce a coherent strategy with the Queensland State Government to increase the scale and productivity of the social enterprise sector in Queensland.

The Substation33 team provided a full warehouse tour.

The Substation33 team provided a full warehouse tour.

With full stomachs, we made our way to Substation33 in Logan. On the way, Max Noble of equity crowdfunding platform PledgeMe, (used as the platform to raise equity for the Food Connect Shed), shared key insights into crowdfunding and the changing impact investment landscape.

We arrived to Substation33 and were welcomed by Founder Tony Sharp (also Chair of the Social Enterprise Network Logan).

Substation33 opened its doors in January 2013 as an electronic waste recycling centre, providing a workplace where volunteers and employees gain confidence and skills for the transition to sustainable employment. Its purpose is to provide training and employment opportunities through the recycling of electronic waste.

The group assembles outside of Substation33.

The group assembles outside of Substation33.

More recently, Substation33 has started an Innovation Lab and has designed and developed a number of products for commercial, social and educational purposes. These included Flooded Road Smart Warning Signs, Electric ‘e-bikes’, 3D printers, a vertical garden monitoring system, to name just a few. These projects provide an opportunity for up-cycling and e-waste diversion from land-fill, which has environmental benefits, and skills development and transfer between professional mentors and volunteers, students and people seeking to return to the workforce, which provides social and economic benefits to the community.

It was great to have Bradley Clair of Powerwells and Amplfy (two great local social enterprises) sharing his story. Powerwells primarily operates out of Substation33.

It’s an exciting time for social entrepreneurship in Australia and globally. We look forward to running more tours and programs, supporting the sector and building the community into the future. Thanks for your support!

 

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