Yoga in the social enterprise workplace

I’m currently managing a social enterprise created to employ young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as apprentice painters. We have given 12 young people their start in the industry. This is head, heart and hand work for me. However for the teams of painters that I manage in Brisbane and Sydney it’s mostly simply a job that pays money and is hard graft; and it can be stressful trying to finish jobs to deadline.

Today I took our team of 6 in Brisbane through a yoga breathing exercise. We sat, closed our eyes, and I talked them through conscious breathing. None of them had ever done this before (being mostly ‘tough’ construction workers); but I sensed the energy of the room slow down, deepen. We connected to mind, body, breath. I told them they are valued not just for their labour, but here, they are valued as human beings.

I have recently finished a yoga teacher training course; this exercise we went through today is how I live yoga everyday.

Posted in A Social Entrepreneurs Diary | Leave a comment

Pitching our Social Enterprise

This week I had the honor, and the downright fun role of pitching our social enterprise startup Welcome 360 at the Brisbane Powerhouse. The event was a celebration of the end of the Elevate+ Accelerator program.

Co-founders Amanda Alexander, Steve Williams, Jogen Phang

Welcome 360 helps refugees and new migrants overcome the challenges of settling in to life in a new city; daily life challenges, such as using banks, libraries, or accessing health care services. We partner with organisations and government departments, and film 360 training videos to do this.

When we formed at the 2017 Techfugees Hackathon, we found that that there was one humanitarian caseworker for 60 clients. In Sydney we understand this number has ballooned in some non-profits to 1 – 110. Organisations are struggling to give new migrants the help and support they need. Our research suggests that migrants benefit from developing life skills and confidence by repeating training scenarios. When organisations buy videos from Welcome 360 it frees up caseworkers time to serve people in a deeper, more connected way.

The Elevate+ event was attended by the Lord Mayor of Brisbane Graham Quirk and a host of investors, entrepreneurs, and potential customers; we decided to ensure our message came across that using VR and 360 is a proven way to build empathy and embed learning.

Lord Mayor of Brisbane Graham Quirk checking out a Welcome 360 video 


As the pitch was a strict 3 minutes, we had to nail the message and the ask; partner with us to create welcome for Brisbane’s newest residents.

I have a long history in social enterprise, am a graduate of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, and have attended lots of hackathons, pitch nights and startup events; this one was undoubtedly the best because Elevate+ founder Tom Allen got the right people in the room, trained the cohort with skill and kindness, and showcased the best new social businesses in Brisbane.

It proved to me once again that social + business is the key to creating change and addressing the balance of greed, environmental waste and economic disparity across the world.

Thanks to Tom for a great Accelerator program and event; and also to the friends, family, and even some strangers who listened to me practicing my pitch over the last couple of weeks – from an 87 year old philosopher, to my 15 year daughter, to the local florist, the board of the Food Connect Foundation and even the Director of Strategy & Partnerships at Go1! Thank you all.

Posted in A Social Entrepreneurs Diary | Leave a comment

Social Enterprise IS Social Change

I was struck by the recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review claiming that Social Enterprise is Not Social Change . I believe social enterprise absolutely is a tool for social change. When a social entrepreneur has a big picture overview of society and the economy, including a power analysis, and is willing to work collectively across sectors then they can begin to create systemic structural change.

For the Australia reader the issue with the SSIR article,  is that it’s USA centric and takes no account of how SOCENT operates around the world. America is doomed due to its obsession with capitalism, evidenced by the apparent use free market methodology (not leveraging the power of markets, but blindly following its neo-liberal agenda) to create social change. I don’t believe this correlates with our local Australian experience and I briefly outline why below. Note – the authors use SEE for social enterprise and social entrepreneurship; I use SOCENT as the popular tag for social enterprise. 

“SEE is founded on neoliberal ideology: a belief that markets, not government, produce the best social and economic outcomes. SEE advocates construct social problems as knowledge problems that can be solved by technical innovation driven by competition among individual social entrepreneurs, operating through for-profit, nonprofit, or hybrid enterprises. “

This sentence couldn’t be further from the truth of the Queensland SOCENT sector that I know and work in. Queensland has a long history of cooperative models, and is the only state in Australia to have a peak body run by and for members. The Queensland Social Enterprise Council (QSEC) grew out of the New Mutualism group; which in itself was a small gathering of social and community workers engaged in social enterprise in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s in Brisbane. This group claimed the notions of reciprocity and mutuality to be of upmost importance in doing business.

So, the Brisbane scene at least was not built  on neoliberal ideology: a belief that markets, not government, produce the best social and economic outcomes. And certainly not on competition among individual social entrepreneurs. We have long advocated for collaboration over competition and an acknowledgement that the government, private, and community sectors should work in collaboration to achieve social impact.

“SEE’s incompatibility with collective, democratic political action is clear in the way its proponents frame their approach. First, they claim that “heroic” individuals are the key to broad social change.”

The above paragraph is why QSEC was formed, as a way for collective, democratic political action (and as support for colleagues). This has been a success in the way the organisation has helped change social procurement policy at a local and state level; which is a very real and tangible social change.

“Third, SEE promoters seek to minimize government. John Whitehead, a former Goldman Sachs chairman who funded Harvard’s Social Enterprise Initiative, was explicit: “I’m always looking for opportunities to expand the nonprofit sector of our economy to have nonprofits take over functions that are now performed by the government… In the work of public schools, charter schools are an example of how the private sector can do it better, or nonprofits can do it better.”

Again, I argue this has little relevance to Australia. However, of course in some cases non profits can do better than governments and vice versa. I would be wary though of promoting purely profit seeking private firms as a way to create social change.

There are some great points the authors make about Reclaiming public voice; how In a democracy, creating social change requires sustained interaction between the state and a vigorous civil society. 

I argue that we are each creating our own contributions to social change and civil society, and that in an Australian context SOCENT can and does play a healthy part in that narrative.

Posted in A Social Entrepreneurs Diary | Leave a comment

Activating System Change: Cross Sectoral Ideas To Tackle Complex Community Issues

Last week I was fortunate to be invited to speak on a panel at 1 William Street hosted by Impact Boom and the Queensland Public Service Commission.
My fellow panelists included Belinda Drew, Prof. Brad Jackson, and Helen Sharpley. We discussed systems change, how cross sectoral ideas can tackle complex community issues. The event, on a hot and sticky early Brisbane morning was sold out, with views from the top floor of the new government building across this glorious city.


A week on and I reflect that the changes needed to tackle complex social problems are both micro and macro. There’s not a singular approach, no magic wand. We need, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, heart to heart change to happen at an inter-personal level; compassionate understanding and love of our fellow beings. And at a macro level a change in the greed based economics of neo-liberalism. In between, the sector I work in, the social-business sector, continues to demonstrate the possibility of a fairer distribution of profits and working conditions which can, and is assisting the change we want to see.

You can listen to a podcast of the event here, and hear me talk more about micro and macro issues, referencing Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Thich Nhat Hanh’s heart to heart change, and the work of Marist180’s social enterprise.

Posted in A Social Entrepreneurs Diary | Leave a comment

Learnings from the Social Enterprise World Forum 2017 #SEWF2017

Last week, along with 1,600 other delegates I attended the 9th annual Social Enterprise World Forum, which this year was held in Christchurch, New Zealand, proudly declared by the City’s Mayor as “the people’s republic of Christchurch”.

It’s a city rebuilding after two terrible earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 which decimated much of the city centre killing 185 people and injuring several thousand. According to today’s edition of the local paper The Press, 1 in 6 Christchurch residents have sought mental health assistance since 2011 as a result of trauma and loss associated with the earthquakes.

Here’s a summary of what I learned from SEWF2017 hosted in a city still rebuilding, and activating amazing community development, social enterprise, and environmental innovation. As expected SEWF2017 had high level international speakers and fellow delegates including Royston Braganza CEO of Grameen Capital; Andrea Chen ED of Propeller, New Orleans; Dr Mairi Mackay Head of the British Council’s Global Social Enterprise Council, and Australia’s very own fabulous Professor Jo Barraket of the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University.

At the opening ceremony I was not the only Australian thoroughly moved by hearing each and every opening address using Maori language and embracing culture. Maori culture was interwoven throughout the forum and was integral to its success. I was personally shamed by the way many non indigenous Australians treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Even the theme for SEWF 2017, “Ka koroki te manu – Creating our tomorrow”, references Maori language and culture in the belief that the first birdsong of the day welcomes the potential of tomorrow.


Much of what I heard over the last three days echoed my own thoughts, which I have laid out before in this blog, however it’s good to know that I’m not alone and that there are many with shared views about power and competition.

A feature of one main plenary session was a call for collaboration over competition, and the recognition that neo liberals espouse competition along with privatisation as a golden ticket to better service at a better price. However experience has not borne this out, and we in the social economy need not copy the dominant economic paradigm in a misguided effort to gain approval from mainstream corporations and consultants. Collaboration and by extension collectivisim are hallmarks of a progressive way forward in business and towards a better world.

MJ Kaplan of Loomio reminded the forum that as a practitioner/social entrepreneur you must have a power analysis, and seek to address structural inequalities. According to the Hon. Alfred Ngaro the Minister for Pacific Peoples (and apparently the George Clooney of the Pacific – for he is handsome!), who opened the forum, social enterprise in New Zealand is about ‘putting power into the hands of the people’.

Practicing social enterprise after all is a political act. An act which should put people at the centre of power. There are many people doing great work in the sector, who are doing this work because they want to help people. But unless we bring an awareness of power, structural inequalities and racism; and how people at the top use power in insidious ways to keep the status quo operating in their favour we will never create lasting change.

David Le Page, a legend of the world social enterprise movement asked the forum to remember where we have come from, acknowledge and learn from our heritage of cooperatives and mutualism.

Mark Latham in kinder times wrote about mutualism and reciprocity as part of the much vaunted 1990’s ‘third way’. He talked about flatter structures and the need for dispersal of power: “Hierarchies concentrate knowledge and authority at the top of the administrative pecking order. Know-how only ever passes downwards. Networks by contrast flatten out this pecking order and establish mutual relationships of trust, negotiation, and reciprocity.”

When we launched Australia’s only peak body in the sector, the Queensland Social Enterprise Council (QSEC) in 2012, we did so with a power analysis front and centre; with reciprocity and mutualism as a guiding force. We wanted to take back the social enterprise narrative from intermediaries who were not representative of the hundreds of emerging social enterprises in Queensland; and we wanted to, as a new Maori friend at the forum told me his people have always done, ‘put people at the centre of decision making’. QSEC has a democratically board of social entrepreneurs, and is a member driven network of over 100 social enterprises, which seeks to do just that.

The forum made me reflect on what it means to be ethical not only in your business practice, but in all parts of life, and the difficulty of the path we follow. Tom Dawkins of Start Some Good, the Australian crowdfunding platform , caused some ripples with comments on the SEWF chat app about plastic bottle use during Thank You Water’s presentation highlighting the paradox of positively contributing to a social problem while negatively contributing to an environmental one.

On environmental care its good to note that the recycling and upcycling at the event was fantastic, for example even the drinks tokens given to delegates were simply offcuts of rubber used in a manufacturing process. And, the whole event was designed to be carbon positive.

Finally, Royston Braganza from Grameen Capital urged us to ‘drop the ego’. Our sector is no different to other sectors, ego is a human condition and there will always be some people who seek to undermine others and movements in a quest for their own power. I think its also important to talk about being compassionate to yourself and others here. We too often are critical of others efforts and as Peter Holbrook reminded us “small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world”.


To sum up, SEWF 2017 confirmed my love of social enterprise and validated my beliefs that essentially we need to develop better analyses of power, address structural inequality and racism, put people at the centre of decision making, and for all of us to drop our egos.

I was at the forum courtesy of my employer Marist180, a non-profit working in Western Sydney and with offices in Brisbane and Melbourne, for whom I manage Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Marist180 were contributors to the bursary fund which enabled 63 Australians to attend who may not otherwise have had the opportunity.


Posted in A Social Entrepreneurs Diary | 5 Comments

Social Enterprise of the Year – a reflection

It was 2 years ago this week that the social enterprise I was Director of, SEED, won the small Social Enterprise of the Year award. It was a mighty achievement for a community based enterprise to win this national award alongside some wonderful colleagues making a difference through business such as Thank You Group, 40K, and Cleanforce.

The award gave SEED a lot of media coverage (I swooned quietly while beinginterviewed by Natasha Mitchell on Radio National’s Life Matters), and t gave SEED a position as leaders in Australian social enterprise, however as with any business venture there’s a rollercoaster ride of winning and losing major contracts. The award, prestigious as it is, did not guarantee an income stream or buffer the enterprise from the forces of the market.

I’m reminded with two years hindsight that the journey to 2014 was a long one, driven by SANDBAG, SEED’s parent NFP, and starting with building micro enterprises using community development frameworks; listening deeply to people experiencing disadvantage and long term unemployment, and working with them, not for them, to create businesses that could start to address some of their self identified problems.

The ten plus years journey to SEED winning the national award was filled with teamwork, collaboration, and support. Over those years, SANDBAG was led by Susan Black, and then Maggie Shambrook, both of whom supported my role building the enterprise as a functional business, while driving home the importance of grassroots, participatory work. At least 70 staff worked for SEED, with some still there after many years, and many going on to other employment.

We were fortunate to be supported by the wonderful Westpac Foundation, Ian Potter,SVA via the Federal Government’s Job Fund, and Qld State Government’s Department of Communities.

Those ten years also saw the sector in Queensland develop and mature, with the Queensland Social Enterprise Council becoming the only peak for the sector in Australia. And, a special mention to David Brookes and Mark Daniels at Social Traders for the vision of a National Social Enterprise Awards and their incredible work and tenacity in social procurement development, which undoubtedly helped SEED win contracts with Brisbane City Council, and the State Government’s Economic Development Queensland who instinctively ‘got’ that by buying services from a social enterprise they would also be contributing to a better society.

I have since moved on from SEED and am using the failures and learnings (aka flearnings) gained over five + years running a social enterprise to develop innovative solutions to social problems with Marist Youth Care. Some of our innovations include creating employment for disadvantaged youth via a traditional start-up social enterprise in the trades; and a suite of innovation and entrepreneurship programs.

I can’t wait to see who wins the 2016 awards and I’m sure I’ll be there in Melbourne at the ceremony celebrating doing business with a difference and cheering on the finalists!

Posted in A Social Entrepreneurs Diary | Leave a comment

A return to Mutualism for Social Enterprise

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Social entrepreneurs have traditionally worked like this, creating mutual networks, using open source models, and working together collectively when called for. This is why and how NMG was formed, and then morphed into QSEC. Continue reading

Gallery | Leave a comment