This is a diary of a social entrepreneur, me, Steve Williams.
A description of social entrepreneurship from Ashoka which will help put this blog in context.
Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.
Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.
Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.
Each social entrepreneur presents ideas that are user-friendly, understandable, ethical, and engage widespread support in order to maximize the number of local people that will stand up, seize their idea, and implement with it. In other words, every leading social entrepreneur is a mass recruiter of local changemakers—a role model proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything.
A quick definition of social enterprise from the Queensland Social Enterprise Council
Social Enterprises are businesses that operate for a social / cultural / environmental purpose and are:
a. Are led by an economic, social, cultural, or environmental mission consistent with a public or community benefit;
b. Trade to fulfil their mission;
c. Derive a substantial proportion of their income from trade;
d. Reinvest the majority of their surplus in the fulfilment of their mission
(adapted from Dr Ingrid Burkett’s ‘typology’)
I decided to start a blog on my lived experience of being a social entrepreneur after taking exception to being called a social intrepreneur.
More on that term and my reaction to it later, but first a little about me and my experience of social enterprise:
I was born in the UK and emigrated to Australia just as I was turning thirty. The Sunshine State of Queensland has been my home for 12 years.
I left school with very little qualifications and eventually completed an apprenticeship in Painting and Decorating at Brighton Technical College. I struggled working in the construction industry for a few years until someone with belief in my abilities and intellect encouraged me to try out for university.
I ended up studying Social Policy at the University of Brighton graduating with a BA (Hons). I chose this field of study as I believed in policy based change as a way to address the inequalities evident in Britain during the Thatcher and Major years (and which has probably only got worse in the subsequent years).
Post Uni I worked in a range of social and community work jobs as I wanted to work on the ground with the people affected by lack of good policy; my aim was to gain experience and then get a job in government developing and writing policy. This aim was never reached however, as I discovered social enterprise and was hooked on the theory and practice.
At the time of my epiphany I was working as a community development worker at a local community centre, part of my role was to help develop a community enterprise with people who had started micro businesses in catering and cleaning. I like to tell the story that we used consensus decision making in the businesses but to be honest I think the consensus always leaned in my favour!
I love the theory of social enterprise because I believe the quickest way to lift someone out of poverty is to give them a job. But, I recognise that for many people who have been long term unemployed, or are from a disadvantaged background that is far easier said than done. To that end, social enterprise is a perfect vehicle to achieve the goal of poverty eradication – creating sustainable employment for all.
After three years of hard work and dedication to the cause at my local community centre I left to set up my own business for an environmental purpose, the Natural Painting People. Our tagline was Brisbane’s Greenest Painters, and we certainly were. There was demand for a paint contracting firm who only used non toxic, eco friendly paints, and within few months we had eight staff and started the planning for opening a retail shop to sell the paint we used in the business. The Green Paint Shop opened in 2007 and was Brisbane’s only paint shop selling exclusively eco friendly paints.
Unfortunately the Green Paint Shop failed financially for a number of reasons which I’ll save for a later post. The Natural Painting People, after some troughs and peaks came to a natural end and I transferred all the IP and equipment to an existing social enterprise hub Spiral Social Enterprise Hub in Brisbane’s West End.
With the experience I had gained over my working life in social / community work, and owning my own businesses I was offered a job leading a social enterprise, SEED PPM based in Sandgate Queensland Australia. https://www.facebook.com/SEEDPPM
We are a business for a social purpose, namely employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds such as people with disabilities – physical, intellectual, and mental; and people from a refugee background. Our business is based around Commercial Landscape Maintenance, Domestic Gardening, and Commercial Cleaning services with a range of clients including government departments, corporates, not for profits, and private customers.
In 2014 SEED were awarded the Australian Small Social Enterprise of the Year award (sponsored by PwC).
I am also the inaugural Chair of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council – the peak body for social enterprise in Queensland.
My LinkedIn profile is here, feel free to connect.
It’s time for a change in the way we do business and the changemakers are social entrepreneurs.