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.
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!