The State of Impact In Australia; How Social Enterprise Momentum Is Gaining

Eco Games pitching during the  Elevate+  Accelerator.

Eco Games pitching during the Elevate+ Accelerator.


In order to highlight key insights on the true state of impact in Australia, Impact Boom has compiled the thoughts and experience from twenty of the sector’s leading doers; all of which were asked the above questions. What has emerged is reflective of a quickly developing movement, with a number of opportunities highlighted for Australia to take its impact to the next level.

Reflecting on the Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh last year, it’s interesting to note how two of the key takeaways were, the need for the movement to think more audaciously and create true system change, (a discussion largely sparked by Indy Johar), and the importance of collaboration and working together, rather than in silos. Self-organisation of the sector was highlighted as a ‘must-do’ to help propel the sector forward. Ten months on, and there’s no doubt that Australia is on a solid path to tackling the latter, with formation of state-based networks underway. Yet the need for us to think more audaciously seems to be a work in progress.

Some of the key points to emerge when collating these interviews was the need for:

  • deeper cross-sectoral collaborations to create larger impact,

  • continued work towards development of a National Social Enterprise Strategy,

  • greater buy-in and support for social enterprise development from government,

  • a conducive long-term policy environment to support the development and growth of social enterprise in Australia,

  • the need to address the missing middle of capital necessary for social enterprise growth.

At Impact Boom, our drive comes from finding ways to help social entrepreneurs and their communities to thrive. Providing the support, resources and sector awareness is crucial in leaving our cities and towns in better shape for our future generations. We believe the formation of a National Social Enterprise Strategy, informed by local and state-based networks is fundamental. We are encouraged by current activity and will assist in developing the sector further. In the past 18 months alone, we’ve worked extensively with over 50 social enterprises, 30 of which have gone through our Elevate+ Program, yet our big goal is to ensure that this support can be given to thousands of other impact-driven entrepreneurs in Australia and around the globe.

If you’re keen to dig deeper into Australia’s social enterprise movement, take a look at insights from the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour we ran and check out Social Change Central’s recent article titled ‘The (Almost) United States of Social Enterprise’.


Twenty of the sector’s leading doers provide their insights on the current state of the social enterprise sector in Australia.

We value your voice too! Please add your comments and personal insights at the bottom of this article.


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

Prof. Jo Barraket, Professor and Director of The Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne

I think the sector is really pumping. We’ve got lots of startups and lots of activity and really excitingly, we’ve got lots of peer-based networks popping up in different states to support each other. What does the sector need to do?

The sector really needs to get government to understand and buy into the value of social enterprise.

Sharon Zivkovic, Founder, Community Capacity Builders, Founding Member, Adelaide Social Enterprise

It is such an exciting time for the social enterprise sector in Australia. While we've been a bit late off the mark compared to some countries, the Australian sector now is strengthening at an extraordinary pace. The individual states across Australia are getting organised. The state networks are talking to each other and the more advanced state networks are supporting the state networks that are just starting up. We've got a national social enterprise movement happening here in Australia and what I think is so exciting, is that this movement is practitioner-led.

The social enterprise sector in Australia is putting in the groundwork to form a national social enterprise peak body that is representative of the sector. That's going to be our next step for creating further momentum, a national peak body.

We are then going to be able to create a national social enterprise strategy and a national agenda.

As an organised national social enterprise sector, we are going to be able to use the power of social enterprise to address some of Australia's most pressing social and environmental issues, our complex wicked problems such as climate change, poverty and food insecurity. While tackling these problems is beyond the ability of any one social enterprise with a national network, we're going to have the opportunity like Scotland has done, to create national thematic networks that focus on specific challenges. Social enterprises across Australia that are tackling different parts of these complex problems are going to be able to come together and cohesively address these huge challenges that Australia faces by focusing on the whole problem, not just their own isolated parts.

Nia Lewis presenting her work at the launch of the Adelaide Social Enterprise group.

Nia Lewis presenting her work at the launch of the Adelaide Social Enterprise group.

Alex Hannant, Co Director, Yunus Centre, Griffith University

A few thoughts on the state of the social enterprise sector on Australia at this time. My mind really goes to thinking about this in two ways. One, looking at social enterprise as a specific thing with the definitions which have emerged and are stated by leading sector organisations and in specific government strategy documents. And recognising there's been a lot of important and very encouraging growth in that respect. We're seeing specific initiatives, specific investments into supporting social enterprise, particular growth around social procurement, creating a really important part of the puzzle. Accessible markets which value the social impact that social enterprises create and that being a key in increasing their viability and allowing them to grow both as individual organisations and as a group. The caveat with that though is that while these things have been specific and important, they are still small and the number of organisations who are delivering impact at scale is modest, and the amounts of resource which are going into these strategies is very small compared to the wider innovation and business development strategies.So encouraging, but with caveats around how quick that growth will be.

I think the other way of looking at things is the seemingly exponential growth which is going on when you take social enterprise through a broader lens of people using business to create social and environmental change. Now there are any number of caveats with this. There is risks around impact cladding. There are risks with organisations who do not see themselves as social enterprises and may, as a result, either have weaknesses in their commercial practise or in their intent and ability to deliver impact.

But nonetheless, when you look at the framing of things like the new Advance Queensland Strategy, which sees social entrepreneurship, circular economy, impact as key drivers of that strategy, and you compare the resourcing of that to some of the social enterprise strategies which are taking shape, it asks some really interesting questions because the level of resource for those bigger strategies is in some cases hundreds of multiples more.

Also you see sort of nontraditional sort of innovators, new innovators, other policy changes such as the NDIS, creating social enterprise opportunities for organisations which never saw themselves as social enterprises. So the devolvement of state or federal budgets to service users rather than service providers is meaning a whole heap of organisations who were always mission-driven but never necessarily commercially driven, finding themselves having to operate in the commercial marketplace.

So lots of opportunity and risks in terms of that broader framing of social enterprise. Sometimes that's also included in the whole impact investment work and the framing of impact economy, lots of risks, but also the possibility of much bigger transformation of which social enterprises themselves can play a really important role in demonstrating how the work can best be done. So looking ahead, I mean what are the challenges? Well I think framing these as questions, how do we foster the skills and capabilities that will deliver a broader range of outcomes and equip people wherever they are in society to pursue missions that matter?

How can we harness the emergence of these new impact innovators and ensure that there's greater collaboration between them and more established parts of the social enterprise ecosystem? How can we achieve real diversity in the way that we design the innovation ecosystem?

And I think this is about how we can influence mainstream investments and programs to better serve social enterprises. And also think about the organisations who are often at the periphery, be that through geography, cultural context. How are they better equipped to use technology to increase their productivity and impact? Lastly, how do we get better connection between these different movements?

There is a movement of movements and while we should protect the integrity of those individually, there's a much bigger game here.

We have to go for economic transformation, the rise of climate change, political authoritarianism, the approach in AI technology revolution.

We have to be bigger and more influential if we are going to get the ultimate outcomes that we want.

And finally, I think a key part of this is there’s so much is going on. How do we better understand and learn what constitutes good and effective practise? So we have to start investing in better learning systems and then be able to recycle those insights into policy practise and the design of programs.

So it's an incredibly exciting time; specific growth around social enterprise, exponential growth around a bigger framing of impact.

But some key infrastructural challenges that we have to grasp and get on top of.

Luke Terry, Founder, Vanguard Laundry Services and Co Founder, White Box Enterprises

Australia has never been a better place to solve complex social problems using social enterprise as a tool, and I think for me, for someone that's been working in this space for the last 20 years in both UK and Australia, it's really starting to kick.

We've got universities working together, we've got social enterprise councils across the country starting to really flow, being led by what QSEC did and examples around that.

And you're seeing people and sectors and all the right things that happen when a movement really starts to grow. All that forming and storming stuff is really starting to kick off. What I think is really exciting at the moment as well, is governments are starting to put their money where their mouth is. In Queensland alone, we've just seen, (it's not a huge amount of money, but it's an amazing step forward) $1 million to the social enterprise sector. And the seeding of some really key programs like the Social Enterprise World Forum bid, like the White Box Enterprises proposal, which we're involved in with QUT, and things like most importantly supporting the sector and putting some resources behind that with QSEC.

It's about how we leverage different resources. I'm involved with a project called White Box Enterprises, where we're looking at old disused education facilities and how we can refurbish them to house employment focused social enterprises, to create jobs for Queensland's most vulnerable. So whilst we've got all this exciting movement, there is probably more momentum then there's ever been, which means that there's less risk of it falling off and we're seeing all the right clusters come together to form the parts of a whole that we need to make this thing really kick. And when I say this thing, it's a better world, and that's what we can really do. I'm really excited about the state of social enterprise in not just Queensland but across the whole country at the moment and I think we can do a lot, but the small risks that we have at the moment is specifically around what we do to support young leaders to move into this space at an early age and build a sector. What do we do around the missing middle of capital at the moment? What's that gap between equity impact, investment and grants? There's got to be something in the middle and I think we're seeing lots of small pilots in this area at the moment and there's never been a better time to get your whole organisations and movements into social enterprise in Australia.

Dr. Narayan Gopalkrishnan, Chair, Social Enterprise Network for the Tropics & Lecturer, JCU.

In terms of the current state of the social enterprise sector in Australia, I think we have got to a stage of maturity where it is much more inclusive and much more distributed and that's really important in terms of addressing issues of equity and in terms of developing projects that actually address social justice and equity in society. The movement from metropolitan towns like Brisbane and Sydney, into the smaller regional areas, into the most scattered communities is very important, because those are the areas where there are significant social issues, there are significant ecological issues. There are significant cultural issues which need to be tackled. And often with many of these kinds of projects they tend to be where the markets are. So it's really good that many of these projects are starting to spread out much more into the regional areas, which will then make for differences that will impact on these scattered communities.

The best part of that, is now government is also coming on board, so we actually have strategies being presented within Queensland, within Victoria, within New South Wales, all of which are addressing some of the social, ecological and cultural issues while working for business with purpose. So there's much more support at government levels.

From our point of view, I think, personally, social enterprise organisations and networks need to focus much more on collaboration.

They need to work much more on working together beyond the traditional hierarchical models, go back to community development groups. Let's start thinking about a common mission, a common purpose that goes beyond the individual projects, individual organisations, individual addressing a particular problem in society. Let's try and work towards a broader paradigm that is about a more sustainable world, and within that we can do our little bit to make a difference.

The 2018 Sunshine Coast Social Enterprise Forum.

The 2018 Sunshine Coast Social Enterprise Forum.

Lisa Siganto, Chair, QUT Bluebox ImpaQt and White Box Enterprises

The current state of the social enterprise sector has really matured and is in a great place versus when I first came into it 17 years ago, when I was helping Social Ventures Australia work out what they wanted to do. I think what you see is that this has become very mainstream and it's gaining great interest in the general population and great motivation, and we see that at universities where the Generation Zs are coming through and they're saying, "I only want to work for full purpose organisations." We're also seeing it with the alumni or other people who are coming back to do executive MBA's and they’re saying, "I want to have experience in a for-purpose organisation."

I see it with my kids who are telling me about all sorts of fantastic social enterprises and even my middle aged stodgy old friends who are starting to tell me about it, which is pretty interesting, 17 years later. And someone just knocked on my office door who's consulting to government businesses and thinks that justice and police and forensic, have got all sorts of opportunities for social enterprise.

I'm a doer and I like seeing real things happen and I like to help businesses and there's some really fantastic businesses that we have today. And I think that's one of the things that I would recommend for the future in how do we create further momentum, is providing tools and beacons and showing examples and helping each other on that.

To develop the ecosystem, I think it's really about not necessarily the fabulous solutions, because there's lots of those, and there's lots of them in the world to follow, but it's how do we do this together?

And homelessness is a great one. There actually are solutions from that that we can pick off from around the world. But we don't know how to work together in doing and solving that. And I think on the role of government, we shouldn't look at them to solve everything. We should invite them to come along on our journey. So it's a great time to be in this space and I'm very excited about it.

Laura Reed, Head of Social Impact Partnerships, Seventh Street VC

My name's Laura Reed, I work with Seventh Street Ventures, a private venture business with a PAF that invests in social enterprise. We focus on education, entrepreneurship and employment focused social enterprises, and we also invest in the ecosystem that sits around social enterprise. What's my current view on social enterprise in Australia? Well, from a funding perspective, on the one hand it's a really exciting time. More and more social enterprises are appearing and those that have been around for a while are growing. But on the other hand, it's disappointing that many funders are still firmly focused on charities and chasing a DGR1, when social enterprises offer an avenue to solve our most pressing social and environmental challenges in a more sustainable way.

There's not enough risk or innovation capital available to social enterprise, especially for those past the startup stage, but not looking to become huge, and I don't think there's enough funding available for ecosystem initiatives.

For example, advocacy and awareness initiatives and social enterprise opportunities for social enterprises to connect with each other and across the sector. And investing in some of the less sexy stuff like legal models and governance. So how do we create momentum to further develop social enterprise? For funders to create momentum, I think we really need to be willing to take more risks and be more creative in how we fund. Seek to look at ways we can create the most leverage with what we have to give or invest. We also need to be willing to share our successes and failures and work at encouraging others and more traditional philanthropists to try social enterprise. And personally, I'd really like to see more funding into the ecosystem around social enterprise, particularly opportunities for social enterprises to connect and network with each other and across sectors.

Sabrina Chakori, Founder, Brisbane Tool Library

The social enterprise sector in Australia is definitely gaining momentum.

And this is really important because bringing the attention to the sector, doesn't showcase just the different organisations, but it shows that we have to tackle some social and environmental challenges. Once we are aware of those challenges, then we can open the conversation and discuss how can we act on these problems. So it's definitely an important point to have, that social media and media attention in the public. However, if we are really serious about building a stable, thriving sector, I think that we still lack three main things. The first one being resources, resources in term of co-working spaces for social entrepreneurs, affordable ones and resources in terms of funding. While we can see that tech startups are offered a lot of accelerators, a lot of funding and investment, social entrepreneurs don't have the same opportunities. So that's definitely something we need.

Secondly, I think there's a lot of focus on helping new social enterprises to start. And that's great and that's important because we know that starting a new venture is always a critical point. However, we need to develop, also support existing organisations. Organisations that may be more in that second stage, willing to develop, to grow. So I think that part of a social entrepreneurs life is not well supported yet. And finally we need to decide which metrics would suit better to measure those impacts. Because there are a lot of amazing organisations out there, doing great job, achieving great social and ecological results, but without this data, we can't give them the visibility that they deserve.

Sabrina Chakori sharing insights on the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour.

Sabrina Chakori sharing insights on the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour.

Belinda Morrissey, CEO, English Family Foundation

I'm super excited about the current momentum within the social enterprise sector in Australia. And I think social enterprise is a business model whose time has really come. The social economy is changing in Australia and how we fund and deliver social outcomes is changing. The social enterprise momentum has multiple components, at a state base level, we're seeing incredible momentum with social entrepreneurs coming together to self organise and really own the space in a way we haven't seen before. On the supply side, governments are finally coming to the table, talking about social enterprise strategies and the drive by governments and philanthropy for payment by outcomes, and social procurement opportunities across Australia, are all creating a sweet spot for social enterprises to thrive.

But it's becoming increasingly clear that to build on this momentum we have to drive deeper cross-sectoral collaborations. No single sector can solve the wicked, social and environmental issues facing us today. It's time for us to all really embrace this concept and put egos and competition aside and to come together to the table and to listen and to collaborate.

This is happening particularly within the social enterprise sector, but it's not happening enough more broadly across Australia. We simply are running out of time. We have so many of the solutions already. We just need to use them and we need to bring mainstream Australia with us. We also must further develop and fund the social enterprise ecosystem to enable these collaborations and social entrepreneurs to really thrive and to scale. And again, this has to be a cross sectorial solution. Incredible initiatives like bringing the Social Enterprise World Forum to Australia are going a long way to create awareness of and excitement within this sector, which is awesome.

In my version of an equitable and sustainable future world, the term social enterprise would simply not exist, as all enterprises would be social. That's my north star.

The 2019  Elevate+  Accelerator cohort: 15 social enterprises, all delivering impact.

The 2019 Elevate+ Accelerator cohort: 15 social enterprises, all delivering impact.

Tom Allen presents at a sold-out Elevate+ Showcase event at The Triffid, Brisbane which brought together 300 people from around Australia to celebrate social enterprise.

Tom Allen presents at a sold-out Elevate+ Showcase event at The Triffid, Brisbane which brought together 300 people from around Australia to celebrate social enterprise.

David Brookes, Managing Director, Social Traders

The state of social enterprise in Australia in 2019 is looking pretty good. At least it's heading in the right direction, from my perspective. The ecosystem here in Australia is far less developed compared with some other countries such as Scotland and Canada, but developments over the last one or two years, are positive. There is greater interest and understanding of social enterprise by government, at state and local levels. After many years of cajoling, governments are recognising that social enterprise is an important contributor to our economies and communities and it needs to be supported. Victoria leads the way and several local councils in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales have social enterprise strategies in place. And we expect to see a new social enterprise strategy in Queensland by the end of this year.

A more positive policy environment is emerging, but in many respects is still ad hoc and limited to some parts of the country.

Social Trader's certification has also helped bring greater identification and visibility to social enterprise, making it easier for government and businesses to buy products and services from social enterprise suppliers. I'm really pleased and excited by the emergence of new market opportunities opening up for social enterprise, due to realisation by governments and businesses that significant social value and social impact can be generated through their procurement policies and practises.

The social enterprise sector in Australia is now not only more visible but more organised. We are seeing the emergence of self forming, practitioner led groups being established to represent the interests of their members. And we can point to the valuable role of QSEC in Queensland, SENVIC in Victoria and similar networks forming in South Australia, New South Wales and ACT.

More needs to be done at state and federal levels to recognise social enterprise and provide a conducive long-term policy environment to support the development and growth of social enterprise in Australia.

I can see the various states banding together over the next 12 to 18 months to build the case for a national social enterprise strategy. But more immediately, I'm looking forward to the upcoming Social Traders National Conference on 20 and 21st of August in Melbourne, which will provide the platform for learning, sharing and networking amongst practitioners and supporters across the social enterprise sector.

Tom Dawkins, CEO, StartSomeGood

What's the current state of the social enterprise sector in Australia? I think we're seeing incredible momentum at the moment, which is really positive and really exciting. We're seeing more and more support from State Governments in particular and some engagement from the Federal Government as well as more foundations and city governments getting involved in supporting the social enterprise ecosystem.

I even think we're seeing a little bit of healthy competition state by state around who can build the most vibrant and impactful social enterprise community and sector, which is wonderful because that's all for the positive.

If it drives us all to do more and to find the right ways to support these enterprises, it'll be to all of our benefits. However, I think the gap still exists around risk tolerant capital at the early stages. If you look at the commercial startup investment ecosystem, you see essentially two main classes of investors. Angel investors making high risk bets primarily with their own money and venture capitalists making lower risk bets with other people's money.

The current impact investment ecosystem built around social enterprises, is a world of all VC's and no angels. And so I think for us to take the next step, we need to cultivate and find that community of impact angels who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, at an earlier and riskier stage in order to find the truly transformative and scalable ideas. At the moment we are a little bit limited to essentially good ideas. And what I mean by good ideas is ideas that we can all see and recognise as being pretty much a good idea. It's sensible, it fits with the status quo, but it advances a little bit in a positive direction. So we see kind of versions of commercial companies, but with a profit redistribution model or we see kind of little spins. We see cafes and ticketing platforms and the like, but we don't have the equivalent of the truly, what's the impact version of Facebook, the impact version of Uber, the impact version of Space X, Tesla, Airbnb? Social enterprises that are able to genuinely reshape an industry and create extraordinary impact for millions of people.

Those kinds of companies are not good ideas, they're great ideas. But the thing about great ideas is they're disguised as bad ideas and that's because they don't fit with the status quo. They're not sensible. They're a long shot. They break the status quo in some way. They violate our normal assumptions. And they probably won't work. But within that category of ideas, are the truly great ideas and the only way to differentiate the great ones from the genuinely not going to work ones, is to try more stuff, is to run experiments, is to invest in more early stage enterprises. And I hope that's where we can go next in the social enterprise sector in Australia.

Just to add a final thought, I'm guessing that you're going to get quite a few people saying that they think we need a social enterprise legal structure in Australia. I actually don't think that's what we need and I don't think it's going to be as helpful as people think. That would be beneficial if it came with specific tax benefits. But I believe what's likely at the moment, is simply something that speaks to an intention or an aspiration of the company, to consider social impacts alongside financial outcomes. Equivalent to the B Corp legal structure in the US, I simply don't think that's helpful. That's yet another structure which fails to capture the entirety of the sector, creates confusion with existing certifications, maybe existing third party B Corp model and doesn't predict or guarantee any particular impacts or behaviours in the future and therefore can't be used as an analogue for tax deductibility or other sorts of commitments made by not for profits, from a tax and compliance point of view.

So I think that would be just another thing to muddy the waters to be honest. What we need is simply to scale more social enterprises to the point where they're making a truly mainstream difference and are being seen by the wider community as making that difference. And that's ultimately what will educate the community and raise the profile of social enterprise.

Davinia Nieper, Founder, #Makingithappen

Social enterprise promises a solution for our most wicked, social and environmental problems. By using an ethical marketing approach we can bring about change and create better opportunities for all. Social enterprise is growing organically, independently across Australia, but it needs a cohesive voice and federal acknowledgement to allow for social businesses to try and access the new recognition. Working collectively within a nation, one strategy can harness the grassroots momentum to achieve scale and impacts on the benefits of social enterprise.

Emma-Kate Rose, Chair, Queensland Social Enterprise Council and Managing Director, Food Connect.

The current state of the social enterprise sector in Australia is pretty exciting. As Chair of QSEC at the moment, in my last two years, I've really seen a huge uptake in people wanting to be involved. The corporate sector is really taking an interest. We've got a lot of state based networks of social entrepreneurs and impact businesses starting to organise at the grassroots level and we're also starting to see a discussion taking place around a national strategy for social enterprise. So with all of this momentum, we're seeing governments taking the sector much more seriously at all levels from local, state, through to federal. We're seeing impact investors mobilised. We're seeing a new form of venture philanthropy growing and that's particularly coming out of the family offices around Australia. And the sector itself is currently reorganising so that we can respond much better to these new demands and the renewed interest.

It's just so exciting to be on this ride at the moment and to be in social enterprise at this current point in time.

And while we're all forming a strategy nationally as well as statewide, I think we just need to be really mindful that we don't see social enterprise or one type of social enterprise to be the answer to our current social and environmental problems that pretty much belong to the current economic paradigm.

I think we need to be looking at how we can transition our current economy as a whole, from an extractive one, to one that's regenerative, and the way to do that is to embrace impact businesses and organisations and not for profits and social enterprises and entrepreneurs.

Embrace them all so that we can either take the mainstream with us or allow the mainstream to be hospiced into oblivion while this new system gets built.

Yarraka Bayles sharing First Nations knowledge at Food Connect during the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour.

Yarraka Bayles sharing First Nations knowledge at Food Connect during the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour.

Matt Pfahlert, CEO, Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship

I think we're on the right track in terms of the practitioners getting together to support each other as evidenced by the three networks that are either up and running or getting moving in the form of far what's been happening with the Queensland Social Enterprise Council but also SENVIC in Victoria and also Social Enterprise Adelaide.

What the practitioners are doing on the ground to mobilise their skills and know-how and commitment to growing the momentum of the movement is nothing short of fantastic.

I think more broadly that we experience a really fragmented sector at the moment with government effort in terms of supporting social enterprise more broadly, being a little bit ad hoc. The commitment comes and goes a little bit from some of our local state and particularly our federal government.

I think Victoria has done a really good job of having sustained support of organisations like Social Traders over the past few years to support the sector. But I think a lot more can be done.

I think the work done around the social procurement framework in Victoria, and soon to be in Queensland, is excellent around supporting job development at a high level, but I think the on-the-ground support for practitioners could be far greater.

Philanthropy has played a really strong role in supporting early stage social enterprises and quite frankly I think they're looking for some leadership as well around how organisations can be supported, to support those in the sector.

From a finance and capital point of view, there's still very, very few opportunities for early stage patient and risk tolerant capital and I think it's a massive issue for our sector.

Overall, I'm very, very optimistic about the movement that we are currently building.

I hope that we can use the potential of a bid for the Social Enterprise World Forum in Brisbane as a catalyst for a national approach and a national network and a national strategy and some real effort in terms of resources from government to support all of those communities out there doing this work so tirelessly.

Tony Sharp, Director, Substation33 and Chair, Social Enterprise Network Logan.

I am so pleased to be involved in the social enterprise sector at this time.

I truly believe that in Australia we're about to begin the the next important phase of social enterprise development.

It is so great to see some of the significant changes that are happening and happening at such a great fast pace. I'm talking about Social Traders of course, who are not only building significantly in the other states, but are now in Queensland and giving a hand up here. I'm talking about the reformation of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council. I'm talking of course about our beloved Social Enterprise Network of Logan and how that is being moved and changed and duplicated in other regions around this great state. I'm also talking about the significant work that’s been done by many universities in Queensland to help this sector grow and develop. I cannot wait for the next five years. Bring it on I say.

Visiting Substation33 during the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour.

Visiting Substation33 during the Brisbane Social Enterprise Tour.

Jan Owen, CEO, Foundation for Young Australians

I think that there are incredible points of light all across Australia. There is incredible passion and commitment for social enterprise and new ways of doing business which is more inclusive and more equitable, also with really tangible outcomes in terms of products, services and employment.

However, our infrastructure, like a lot of infrastructure in Australia, is underwhelming and needs a huge amount of work.

We’ve got very few accelerators and we don’t have the pipeline to really drive the innovation and opportunities that we could engage in.

Secondly, I think the infrastructure and then what follows it, is the funding and support and development. The biggest thing that’s happened in Australia that’s phenomenal is of course the Indigenous Procurement Policy federally, and the Social Enterprise Procurement Policy in Victoria. If every single State Government did that, that would also help drive an entirely new system. But there is so much hope and so much optimism, and so many great things could happen if we could build the ecosystem effectively and consistently.

Cinnamon Evans, CEO, CERES and Chair, SENVIC

Scientists and activists are warning us that we now have less than a decade to take action to prevent an irreversible climate and ecological crisis.

We urgently need to transition from an industrial growth economy to a life sustaining economy that has social and environmental values at heart.

Social enterprise plays an important role in this transition.

Individual social enterprises intentionally address social problems, improve communities and benefit our environment. But collectively, social enterprises are a movement for a transition to a more just, inclusive and sustainable society.

Trading with purpose, in the interests of people and the planet often comes with additional complexity and cost. A well developed social enterprise sector in Australia will have an ecosystem of support services to help with all aspects of business operations at all stages of the business development cycle. Social enterprise leaders will have opportunities to connect and share through active networks at the local, state and national levels. And all of this will occur in the context of strong, enduring social enterprise strategies at all levels of government to help advance the sector and the business models of the future.

Gaala Watson, Founder, Bimbi Love and Humanise Media.

I think it’s both a very exciting and complex time for the social enterprise sector in Australia, meaning that we have a lot of people getting it right and doing meaningful work but we also have a lot to learn as a sector.

As an Aboriginal woman in business, I believe that it’s crucial for the wider social enterprise community to engage more meaningfully with marginalised communities.

People need to ensure their business model is promoting autonomy and not contributing to further disenfranchisement. It’s essentially about empowering people through their processes. Every Aboriginal business or organisation I have ever come across automatically operates on the principles of social entrepreneurship. So this idea of operating social or environmental issues is not new to us. People could really learn a lot from our knowledge.

Lastly, another lesson I’ve learnt from my community is that we don’t let money stop us. If we want to make change, we will find a way.

Helen Andrew, Founder, Spare Harvest

I feel that social enterprise is actually on the cusp of thriving. You can feel the energy growing as more people start to understand what social enterprise is. And how we are making a difference in solving some of those social, environmental and economic challenges that we’re all facing.

To build on this energy and momentum and to truly build a thriving ecosystem I think we need everyone to come to the party. All levels of government, the private sector and the financial sector need to actually help us increase the capacity so that we can grow and thrive.

Collaboration. You can’t underestimate how valuable it is for social enterprises. Engaging the private sector through social procurement is an amazing way of actually increasing our capacity and ecosystem. But we also need to celebrate how social enterprises are delivering value and showcase many ways they are making an impact.

There’s a lot of focus on the social impact, but there are many enterprises out there doing amazing work in the environmental space and I think we need to give them a little bit more air time. But to sum it all up, it’s an exciting time to be a social enterprise. I am so blessed to be part of this journey and I love the fact that we are growing an ecosystem from the grassroots up and building foundations that will hold us in good stead for many years to come.

Jay Boolkin, Co Founder, Social Change Central

My view on the current state of social enterprise in Australia is that while the sector's still young, there's a lot of momentum and there's a lot of excitement, from growing early-stage support to greater public awareness of full purpose businesses. I think things are looking really good. That being said, despite feeling that social entrepreneurship is on the rise, I think the ecosystem that supports social enterprise is still fragmented. For example, finding support and funding and even connecting to other entrepreneurs, it's still very much a challenge.

When it comes to the government, there's a need for greater buy-in and support for social enterprise development.

The good news is that there are several state-based councils and networks that are formed like QSEC in Queensland and SENVIC in Victoria, and there's a similar organisation that's currently being established in New South Wales and the ACT. So I guess looking forward, it's my hope that these state-based networks or councils will be the catalyst to a national social enterprise strategy and agenda. And I think once this happens, we can all truly say with confidence that social entrepreneurship and enterprise would have well and truly entered the mainstream.


It’s important to note that there are many other key impact-led leaders who are actively contributing to development of the sector and we aim to project their voices in another article in the near future. In the meantime, make sure your voice is heard by adding your thoughts to the comments below.


Find interviews with Australian social entrepreneurs.