Last week I attended a powerful discussion at the Brisbane Powerhouse “social enterprise a hand up not a hand out, is social enterprise the answer” hosted by Queensland Social Enterprise Council and New Farm Neighborhood Centre. The turbine Hall of the Powerhouse was full, and people heard divergent (but not too divergent!) views from Professor Robert Lonne, Head of Social Work, QUT; Danny Thomas, Member of Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative; Robert Pekin, Executive Director, FoodConnect; and Amelia Salmon, Vice Chair of QSEC and Managing Director of SPIRAL Community Hub. The evenign was expertly moderator by Kent Maddock, Chair of the New Farm Neighbourhood Centre.
The only real thread in the negative came from Professor Bob Lonne who postulated there is a danger social enterprise would be providing social service type activities at the expense of other NFP organisations, bringing competition to where it is not wanted or warranted. This of course is a long held criticism of social enterprise, and the sector should be careful not to be sucked in by a right wing ideology that would like this to happen. Social enterprise in my view is about using innovative means to address social, environmental and cultural problems; not letting the state abrogate its social service responsibilities. Sure, if agencies can be run more efficiently as they undoubtedly could be in some cases thats a good thing, but wholesale sell off of services to entrepreneurs to make a buck and label them social enterprise is another.