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ICYMI: The Biggest Social Enterprise Stories of 2023

At the end of each year it has become a tradition at Social Change Central to pull together the most important social enterprise stories from the past twelve months. 

While crises dominated daily headlines, there were tons of impactful developments and major milestones in the social enterprise sector, many of which are likely to reverberate into 2024 and beyond. In fact, we may look back on 2023 as a watershed year that launched social enterprise towards business as usual.

If there’s something important we missed, let us know! Leave a comment or email us at

A Historic Milestone: UN Resolution on Social Enterprises

2023 marked a ‘‘historic moment’ for social enterprise as the United Nations adopted its first-ever resolution on the social and solidarity economy. The resolution, Promoting the Social and Solidarity Economy for Sustainable Development, provides a definition for the social and solidarity economy and recognises the role that it can play in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It encourages the UN’s 193 member states to introduce policies and legislation to promote and support the work of social enterprises, cooperatives and others to achieve sustainable development. Supporters predict it will lead to global recognition of the role of social enterprises, cooperatives and others in building sustainable economies.

Breakfast of Champions: Social Enterprise Gets a Seat at the Table

2023 saw significant progress in engaging the Government to advance the social enterprise sector. This progress was evident during a breakfast event organised by Social Enterprise Australia and Social Traders and hosted at Parliament House, where meetings with MPs, advisors, and public servants took place. The event’s key messages, based on the sector’s pre-budget submission, were echoed by various voices within the social enterprise sector. These conversations resulted in positive responses and suggestions for new paths forward from Federal MPs and public servants. A significant outcome of these efforts was the inclusion of social enterprise in the 2023/2024 Federal Budget (see story below), which reflects the hard work and advocacy of many individuals and organisations within the social enterprise sector over many years.

NSW’s First Social Enterprise Festival

Organised by the SECNA (Social Enterprise Council NSW/ACT), the inaugural Social Enterprise Festival was an inclusive and engaging event for all those interested in social entrepreneurship. Throughout the festival, the almost 1,000 attendees had the chance to connect with fellow social entrepreneurs, learn from experts in the field, and explore innovative solutions to pressing social and environmental issues. The buzzing atmosphere was one of collaboration and support as guests shared their passion for creating positive change through business and innovation. Supported by the City of Sydney, UTS, Westpac Foundation and Leaders for IMPACT, the event showcased over 70 wonderfully innovative social enterprises making a difference in society. These social enterprises exhibited their products and services, allowing festival attendees to discover new and sustainable solutions that positively impact the environment and society while maintaining high quality.

Celebrating a Decade of Social Impact: QSEC’s 10th Anniversary

Back in May, the Queensland Social Enterprise Council (QSEC) celebrated its 10th anniversary, marking a decade of driving social impact within Queensland, and what a celebration it was! The celebratory dinner served as a grand reunion for past and current QSEC members and the wider Queensland social enterprise community. It was a night filled with reflection, nostalgia, and countless tales of impact. Everyone took a moment to reflect on their shared history and collectively envisage a future where social enterprises continuously shape a more equitable and sustainable world. With every seat filled and an emotional mix of tears, laughter, and heartfelt conversations, it was a night for the 155 attendees to remember.

New Alliance to Help Drive More Impact Investing in Australia

An alliance of some of Australia’s largest philanthropic foundations was launched to grow impact investing in Australia, enable partnerships, and unlock its potential to help tackle social and environmental challenges. The founding group – which includes the Paul Ramsay Foundation, the Macquarie Group Foundation, the Westpac Foundation, UBS Optimus Foundation Australia, Minderoo Foundation, Hand Heart Pocket, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the English Family Foundation and the Snow Foundation – has come together to establish a new partnership to support foundations interested in starting or currently undertaking impact investing. The Foundations Group for Impact Investing (FGII) will help bring foundations together to share practices around impact investing, as well as streamline the process for social enterprises and other for-purpose organisations seeking investment finance.

Social Impact Gets a Boost in 2023/2024 Federal Budget

The 2023-24 Budget unveiled a whopping $199.8 million commitment over six years for various social impact strategies to confront entrenched community disadvantages. This includes an impressive $100 million to kickstart a pioneering social impact investment Outcomes Fund, as well as $11.6 million over three years for a Social Enterprise Development Initiative to provide capacity-building grants, online education and mentoring so social enterprises can better participate in the social impact investing market and support improved social outcomes.

NSW Government Renewed Partnership a Boost for Social Enterprise

The NSW Government affirmed its commitment to boosting social enterprises by signing an agreement with social traders to buy goods and services from certified social enterprises. NSW Government spending with social enterprises was $34 million in 2021-22. “Social Traders are excited to start our fourth year of partnership with NSW Government. Thanks to their forward-thinking approach, together we’re creating the opportunity for hundreds of government buyers to unlock impact with their everyday spending,” said Social Traders’ CEO Tara Anderson. “As Australia’s largest state government, there is a huge opportunity to scale this work and enable more certified social enterprises to increase their impact for the most disadvantaged in our communities.”

Government Acknowledges Social Enterprise in Addressing Underemployment and Under-utilisation

The federal government unveiled ‘Working Future’, the third employment-focused White Paper since Federation. This landmark document shines a spotlight on social enterprise – including explicit mention of social enterprise in point 9 of the comprehensive 10-point plan – recognising its crucial role in shaping a fair and inclusive economy for future generations. At the heart of ‘Working Future’ is the commitment to full employment, acknowledging the pressing issues of underemployment, under-utilisation, and their detrimental effects on communities. As a result, the Government announced it would work with the social enterprise sector to boost labour force participation and economic development in some of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities. The vision is for a dynamic and inclusive labour market where everyone has the opportunity for secure, fairly paid work and where communities can thrive. In recognition of the role social enterprises can play in lifting communities, the Government will engage with the social enterprise sector to identify ways to provide more employment and training opportunities for disadvantaged Australians. 

People + Planet First’: A New Brand to Unite Social Enterprises Around the World

A new brand and verification process to unite the social enterprise movement worldwide was launched at the 2023 Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in the Netherlands. Announcing the new Social Enterprise Verification mark, Helene Malandain, SEWF chair, said that while SEWF and others used the term ‘social enterprise’, others, including indigenous communities, also ran businesses focused on purpose – and had been doing so for thousands of years. The new Verification mark aims to overcome cultural and language differences, to provide clear identity for businesses focused on positive purpose. “Beyond terminology, what brings us together is our values and principles,” she said. “An opportunity arose to create a common identity that brings us together under these shared goals.” Building on a verification process that SEWF had already been running for social enterprises, the new logo, highlighting ‘people + planet first’, is awarded to enterprises that meet SEWF’s verification standards.

Payment By Outcomes Trial Exceeds Expectations

White Box Enterprises released an independent evaluation of the Federal Government Payment By Outcomes (PBO) trial and its first-year results. The PBO trial for social enterprise is the first federal government-funded trial of its kind in Australia, where jobs-focused social enterprises are paid for employment outcomes they create. CSI Swinburne’s findings complement the first-year results of the trial, with participant retention rates of 86.3% (vs the predicted rate of 62) and 98% of people participating, saying their lives are better now.

Australia’s First Social Enterprise Precinct Opens

Victoria’s growing social enterprise sector received a major boost with the expansion of Australia’s first dedicated social enterprise precinct at the Queen Victoria Market. The new shopping destination features 100 local social enterprises selling homewares, clothing, food and gifts, giving Victorians a fresh opportunity to shop local and #Switch2Good. Developed by leading Victorian social enterprises Good Cycles and STREAT, supported by the Social Enterprise Network of Victoria (SENVIC), and backed by the Allan Labor Government, the new socially-conscious shopping destination will bring more visitors to the market and create 75 local jobs for Victorians that have faced challenges finding a job.

A New Framework for Estimating Impact Costs: Empowering Work Integration Social Enterprises

With the growing focus on outcomes funding from government, philanthropy, and impact investment, understanding the nature of the Impact Costs that WISEs face has become increasingly important. Commissioned by Social Enterprise Australia and funded by the Westpac Foundation, Centre for Social Impact (CSI) Swinburne launched research on Understanding the Impact Costs of Work Integration Social Enterprises, which explores these WISE ‘Impact Costs’ and provides a framework so that all WISEs can estimate their Impact Costs.

The $12 Million Triumph: Impact Investors Get Behind White Box Enterprises

Social enterprise incubator White Box Enterprises secured $12 million from impact investors and philanthropists to develop startups helping disadvantaged people in regional communities. The raise was a two-year labour of love for White Box CEO, Luke Terry, who set a $13 million goal. Most of the capital, 75%, came from 13 impact investors, including former JB Hi-Fi CEO Richard Uechtritz and the Ian and Shirley Norman Foundation, which contributed $1.6 million, alongside a $750,000 federal government grant and Bryan Family Foundation. 

Social Enterprise Mentioned 190 Times in Landmark Report

Another significant development in the social enterprise sector was the release of a comprehensive report on Australia’s employment services system. This report sent shockwaves through the industry, not just for those involved in employment services, but also for the social enterprise community. The extensive 650-page document mentioned “social enterprise” an impressive 190 times. It painted a picture of a disjointed and inefficient outsourced social security compliance management system, which only occasionally succeeded in securing employment for individuals. The report powerfully advocated for a complete overhaul of the system, including re-establishing a commonwealth job agency and revamping mutual obligations. It proposed a whopping 75 specific recommendations, several of which were directly relevant to social enterprises. Key recommendations included developing and implementing a Commonwealth Social Enterprise Strategy and a Commonwealth Social Procurement Framework. The report also suggested providing direct funding to social enterprises, even advocating for the trial of complementary funding measures. This pivotal report thus marked a crucial chapter in the narrative of social enterprise stories in 2023. The recommendations, if implemented, could bring about substantial changes in the landscape of social enterprises in Australia.

Philanthropic Foundations Collaborate to Fund Work Integration Social Enterprises

Fourteen organisations from around Australia will receive grant funding totalling more than $4.7 million as part of the pioneering Work Integration Social Enterprise (WISE) Grant program managed by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation as part of an innovative collaboration. The successful enterprises were selected for their work in tackling complex barriers to work with groups including young people, women experiencing disadvantage, refugees and asylum seekers, First Nations people and people living with disability or mental health challenges. The WISE grants are a Giving Account of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation supported by a coalition of philanthropic foundations including, English Family Foundation, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Macquarie Group, Minderoo Foundation, Paul Ramsay Foundation, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and Westpac Foundation. 

A Blueprint for Accelerating the Social Impact Investing Market

To round out a big year, in mid-December, the Australian government unveiled an optimistic roadmap for the growth of the social impact investing market through the release of the Social Impact Investing Taskforce Report. The report proposed that the government implement a Commonwealth Social Impact Investing Strategy to develop a mature and self-sustaining Australian social impact investing market, with targeted contributions from the private sector and philanthropy. The Report outlines how this can be achieved through six key market-building initiatives, including the establishment of a Commonwealth Office of Social Impact to monitor strategy success, guidelines to encourage social procurement across the government, and clarification of the Sole Purpose Test to enable superannuation funds to engage in social impact investing. This marked one of the biggest social enterprise stories of 2023, indicating a promising future for impact investing in Australia.

While not comprehensive, this summary highlights many of the notable sector developments, movements and activities of 2023. The information included is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of 21 December 2023. If there’s something important we missed, let us know! Leave a comment or email us at

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Jay Boolkin
Jay Boolkin

I'm passionate about positive social change and the power of social entrepreneurship to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. I believe that for-purpose business models can become part of the mainstream and I am enthusiastic about advocating for business models that are genuinely built around a social or environmental mission.

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