Social enterprise: More than a marketing angle

I first learned of the social enterprise movement in Australia around 2008. It was a time of experimentation in the way Government and business viewed (and funded) the not for profit sector beating a new drum “find a way to be sustainable”.

For many of my not for profit colleagues this was a nightmare on legs reading – less funding, sector rationalisation and a reduction of grassroots services. And in some cases they were right. However, I saw something different in the movement, and that was an opportunity to not only find new ways to sustain social change, but also to move from a paradigm of need and crisis, to one of self-efficacy and agency not only for the services, but also for not for profit staff and more importantly the end users.

Sadly, social enterprise became a somewhat sullied word in those earlier days as big not for profits used funding to create social projects that would never have legs as an enterprise, the ney sayers (and there were plenty) got to say it didn’t work and everyone went back to their corners.

Scroll forward to 2021, past the shocks of the droughts, bushfires and Covid finally, finally we starting to admit that the old models aren’t working anymore. The need is just too great.

This emerging social change model is hitched to the wagon of an emerging start-up culture, the movement took the form of concepts, structures and buzz words including B-Corps, social impact investment, investing for purpose, public-private investment. And as ‘good’ became commodified the social entrepreneur badge shifted from something that was light and fuzzy, to something with a bankable meaning.

And so it should.

“That’s not new” I can hear you say.

If you’re saying that, believe me, you’ve had the privilege of immersion that mainstream communities, regional communities and communities that are otherwise welded to their former mindsets have not as yet been even slightly exposed to.

Poverty, disadvantage and tragedy will always be a facet of every community. Why? Because every time a problem is ‘fixed’ there’s a new set of problems waiting in the queue to emerge. Life’s just like that and that’s why news sells.

But. When we all – and I mean ALL start to play a role in taking the focus away from what harms us, and start to focus instead on what promotes wellness across our homes, our communities and our globe – THAT is when change will really begin.

Social enterprise – building a sustainable business with a social purpose is core to this movement.

In the following weeks I’ll be showcasing some stories about the social changemakers who are grasping their business models and giving them a good ruffing up in the name of real, sustainable social change. Watch this space (and if you are a social changemaker with a successful business model behind you please give me a hoy).

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