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Everyone’s business: the world of social enterprise

social enterprise

What is a social enterprise, and why are they important for achieving positive change? Social Traders, a specialist social enterprise development organisation that also host the  Social Enterprise Awards, sent their project manager Mindy Leow to explain.

As the Australian social enterprise sector grows, it’s easier for consumers and organisations to deliver social impact through their spending. Social enterprises are businesses that sell goods and services into the marketplace in order to deliver community benefit. The motivations driving social enterprises usually fall into one of three categories:

• creating jobs for marginalised or disadvantaged job-seekers,
• developing services in response to a need not currently being met by the market,
• redistribution of profits to community programs.

In Australia, approximately $22 billion, or 39% of all income in the not-for-profit sector, is generated through trading activity, equating to 2 to 3% of the Australia’s GDP. There are over 20,000 social enterprises, operating across every industry in the country. What this means for Australian consumers and organisations is that the power of purchasing is becoming one of the most effective ways that both organisations and individuals can achieve social change.

The recent Social Enterprise Awards run by Social Traders highlighted a number of national social enterprises offering everyday consumers products that we can easily get on board with:

• The winner of the Social Innovation Award, Thankyou, is a social enterprise that now offers food and body care products that can be purchased from 7-Evelen, Coles, Woolworths, and other retailers. All profits from sales go towards funding high quality development projects around the world. Since starting up, Thankyou has distributed over $1 million to charities.
• Who Gives A Crap is an eco-friendly, 100% recycled toilet paper, delivered directly to your home or business. WGAC donates 50% of its profits to international charity WaterAid. Each roll sold gives someone access to a toilet for approximately one week.

The beauty of these social enterprises is that we can make a difference by simply choosing these products that we already use daily (bottled water, food, body care, and toilet paper). Talk about more power back to the consumer! In Australia, the majority of products and services offered by social enterprises target procurement professionals and other organisational buyers, giving them a greater strategic impact from their spending than ever before.


A number of other exemplary social enterprises making a difference in their communities were also recognised at the Social Enterprise Awards, including:

• SEED Parks and Property Maintenance employs previously long-term unemployed people in North Brisbane to deliver commercial landscape maintenance, residential gardening and commercial cleaning.
• Nundah Community Enterprises Co-operative operates a café and park and maintenance business to provide over 5,000 hours of supportive part-time employment annually to members who all have a disability.
• SORT Recycling recycles computers to people in need. The recycling enterprise collects unwanted computers and through this process provides training and employment opportunities to those with mental health issues through a range of enterprises.
• Ability Enterprises operates council gatehouses at waste facilities in the Toowoomba region to create employment opportunities for people living with a disability or those long-term unemployed.


Equally as important as the social enterprises delivering good are the organisations that purchase from social enterprises. The recent Social Enterprise Awards recognised City of Gold Coast as winner of the Buy Social Award. Gold Coast initiated its social procurement policy in February 2013 with the goal of reducing unemployment and increasing economic activity. As a result, over $5m in spending has created 76 jobs for Gold Coast residents who are long term unemployed, including a high number of people with disabilities.

To make it easier for consumers and procurement officers to find social enterprises in Australia, Social Traders has developed an online directory called the Social Enterprise Finder, where over 5,000 social enterprises are listed. Here you can locate social enterprises operating near you, and vote for social change every time you reach for the wallet.

 Image Credit
jairoagua, Networking (CC)
Courtesy of Who Gives A Crap
Courtesy of Nundah Community Enterprises Co-Operative
Richard Thomas, Fairtrade Fortnight (CC)

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