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New Research: The Time Is Now to Step Towards an Australian Social Enterprise Strategy

Social enterprise is an idea whose time has come. Now more than ever we need blended models that build a fairer and more just Australia and are also commercially viable. A group of social enterprise sector leaders have created the beginnings of a pathway for the social enterprise sector to organise at a national level.

There are thousands of social enterprises already operating around Australia. But the sector is fragmented and underserved. What will it take to supercharge the sector’s growth?  How do we level up?

These are the questions a group of social enterprise sector leaders asked themselves last year. They got together to talk about building the structures to see the sector succeed over the long term. They formed a project advisory group and with seed funding from philanthropy we engaged The Yunus Centre, Griffith University as a research partner.

Their shared ambition was to make social enterprise business as usual to improve social and economic outcomes across Australia. The pathway they chose was a national social enterprise strategy. A strategy that would set a shared direction for the sector and improve coordination. A strategy that would increase the visibility and credibility of social enterprise. A strategy that would unlock new resources for the sector and strengthen capability.

They started by drawing on our international experience and the precedents set in other parts of the world. Scotland has a national 10 year social enterprise strategy setting a shared sector ambition. The Welsh Government has also set a 10 year vision to transform Wales through social enterprise. Europe’s Euclid network advocates for social enterprise across 21 countries.  The UK has a Social Value Act requiring government departments to report on social impact for major contracts. New Zealand has just completed a three year sector development process backed by the national Government, which is now considering next steps and a longer-term strategy.

All this showed us that Australia can do more to support its social enterprise sector, so they started to explore what it would take to create a national social enterprise strategy in the Australian context.

The Yunus Centre Griffith University conducted research across the social enterprise sector, in Australia and overseas. The research is now available in two parts, with a third part available on request:

Part one: a summary of themes, tensions & provocations, capturing the history and learning in the social enterprise sector in Australia and internationally.

Part two: a possible pathway for building the connective tissue across the Australian social enterprise sector so that collectively we can amplify our impact. It asks us to consider – what would it look like if we were to better organise at a national level?

What they’ve learnt so far is that there’s widespread support for better coordination in the social enterprise sector and a determination to grow its collective ambition and adopt shared goals. But that’s just the beginning.

It’s clear the first step needs to be setting up governance structures to take the project forward, and that’s what they’re doing at the moment. Once that’s in place we can begin wider consultation and co-create direction and strategy – they hope the whole social enterprise sector will get involved.

Levelling up the sector’s impact and developing a national strategy will take all of us – everyone who wants to see the social enterprise sector grow and thrive. Government, business and social enterprises themselves.

As Australia plans to host the 2022 Social Enterprise World Forum, the time is right for governments to improve the operating environment for social enterprise.

We all know that we can only achieve the scale of impact we all aspire to if we work more closely together. This initial research is the first step. There will be plenty of opportunities to get involved.

To hear more in the short term, join the conversation at the Social Enterprise Virtual Unconference on 21 July and stay tuned for forums to explore the path forward.

Authors: Alex Hannet, Jo McNeill, Belinda Morrissey, Tara Anderson, Matt Pfahlert, Nick Verginis, Michael Lim

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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