Social Enterprise Gaining Momentum

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Social Enterprise Gaining Momentum

Written by Kevin Robbie, Managing Director | 4th October 2022

The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF22) in Brisbane last week was an awesome event. It brought together 1,500 people in person with up to another 1,500 joining online. Many people re-connecting in person after the past few years created an incredible buzz.

In reflecting on my key takeaways from the event I’m aware that I only made it to a small number of the wide array of sessions on offer and others may reflect differently. Interestingly the highlight for me was a session that had almost nothing to do with social enterprise. Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott AO was the presenter for one of the ‘fireside chats’ and riffed about his experience living with a disability and what was needed to change perceptions around people with a disability in Australia (and worldwide). I said in a separate Linkedin post that it is a session that everyone should watch. I’ve worked in or around social enterprises that provide employment for people with disabilities for over a decade and it still challenged some of my thoughts and assumptions.

Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott AO SEWF2022

Image: Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott AO, Fireside chat session SEWF2022

In the run up to SEWF22 I wrote an article for Pro Bono on one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw in terms of social enterprises influencing the policy agenda (click here to read the article). SEWF22 confirmed for me that the social enterprise movement has moved on significantly since the initial Social Enterprise World Forum in Australia back in 2009. It wasn’t just the sheer number of people there but the quality of the sessions or conversations that delegates were having on how to shift the dial in terms of social enterprise. There was a definite sense of the social enterprise movement gaining momentum.

My top five takeaways from SEWF22 were:

  • The energy of the social enterprise movement – there are a vast array of different types of social enterprises operating in vastly different markets and at different stages of scale and development and the energy around movement building is palpable. What was particularly heartening was seeing the vast number of young people coming into the movement and the sense of a new generation that is gearing up to take the lead.
  • The role of Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISE) – whilst not the only type of social enterprise, it is clear that WISEs will have a clear role in opening up political interest in the movement. The changing nature of the challenges around employment in Australia means that WISEs are being looked at in a fresh way in terms of tackling employment exclusion and the issue of how the country creates jobs in disadvantaged communities. For the social enterprise movement to be able to communicate the impact and value of WISEs is critical to turning the heads of political leaders. WISEs can be the vanguard for other areas of the movement.
  • Social procurement – the time for social procurement is now. It is the policy leaver that various state governments or federal departments have pulled. In many areas the door is open for social enterprises and if they can’t prove they can deliver then this door will slam shut. I had the sense that social procurement will either be mainstreamed in the next five years or be passed over as the previous policy fad.
  • Philanthropic influence – it was great to see so many philanthropic foundations at SEWF22, and not just there because of a vague interest but because they are actively working with social enterprises to assist them to grow and scale their impact. My sense was that philanthropy could have a critical role for the movement over the next five years not only in assisting the movement to prove its impact but through collectively using their influence as allies of the movement to open the ear of government.
  • Patchwork of intermediary support – whilst there are more social enterprise intermediaries and they are doing great work to support the movement, one of the things that was apparent was the patchwork of support that exists across the country. Depending on where you are in the country, social enterprises at different stages of development (start-up, growth, scaling, etc.) have access to different opportunities for development. One of the challenges of the next five years is to ensure more consistency in this intermediary through deeper engagement with state and local governments. Alongside opening up social procurement opportunities, this in my view is where these levels of government can have the greatest impact on the social enterprise movement development.
Luke Terry, White Box Enterprises SEWF2022

Image: Luke Terry, White Box Enterprises closing session SEWF2022

In closing off SEWF22, Luke Terry from White Box Enterprises issued a call to action around what participants are going to do to build the movement over the next 100 days. With 1,500 people at the event, and close to that number joining virtually here is hoping that lots of individual actions culminate in collective action to help to strengthen the momentum in the movement nationally (and internationally). With the newly formed peak – Social Enterprise Australia – and the strong coalition of state networks the social enterprise movement is in a far stronger position to drive the policy agenda than ever before. It certainly is exciting times ahead for the social enterprise movement in Australia.

Kevin Robbie is the Managing Director at Think Impact with over 25 years experience working in the for-purpose sector. Kevin leads Think Impact’s work in impact-led design, assisting government, philanthropy and for-purpose organisations to design better services or approaches. He has extensive experience running social enterprises for a decade in the UK and as an advisor to their growth whilst at SVA. Kevin has also been an advisor to the UK Government on the role of social enterprises in tackling long-term employment exclusion.

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