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Road to SEWF2022: The Social Enterprise Unconference

Image credit: Devon Bunce/Digital Storytellers

In case you missed it, the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) is coming to Brisbane, Australia in 2022!

SEWF is an opportunity for social enterprise leaders and practitioners from around the world to network and exchange ideas. The multi-day event of roundtables, panels and open forums will discuss issues relevant to running a social enterprise, measuring impact and navigating the ecosystem. Last week’s Social Enterprise Unconference was the first initiative in a series of ongoing activities designed to unite the sector in Australia in preparation for the event (along with the National Social Enterprise Strategy).

Hosted by Digital Storytellers, the Unconference was an opportunity to co-design the message that Australia presents to the global social enterprise community. In the Unconference format, no central figure wrote the agenda. Instead, the agenda was developed based on sessions attendees requested to run. Essentially, participants chose what conversations they wanted to create or participate in.

The event garnered 641 registrations, 562 attendees, 19 sessions, and one little Zoom link. What’s crazy about this is that the Unconference had no social channels. There was no one business or organisation publicly leading it from a comms perspective. The turnout, engagement and enthusiasm is testament to the strength of the social enterprise network and the partners involved in making this event happen is strong. The sector is hungry to form a more cohesive ecosystem and is willing to come together to do the work for it. For those who attended, be sure to share your thoughts if you haven’t already. If you want to share your learnings about the event on socials, here is a link to a Google Drive folder with some assets (including the amazing illustration that captures the day below!).

Social Enterprise Unconference Debrief

It is important SEWF 2022 reflects what the Australian sector wants, not just the handful of people organising it. This is a lived value practised by SEWF each year in the lead-up to the World Forum. Every year SEWF work with the co-host and working groups/social enterprises in that country to ensure it reflects the issues, needs, key themes for that country. Here’s the inspiring Social Enterprise World Forum video that was shared to get everyone in the mood and on the same page.

The Unconference was a fantastic way to kick this off and we’re looking forward to how this feeds into co-design and programming. Sign up to the Unconference mailing list to be kept up to date on all the important activities and resources leading up to SEWF 2022. When everyone was asked for a word that best encapsulates the sector, ‘emerging‘ was the most common.

The rest of the day involved a huge number of really important conversations around systems change, WISE, certification, the intersection of Indigenous enterprise and social enterprise, and more. Over 491 changemakers spent more than 20 minutes in a session throughout the day, which defies industry stats on the registrations/attendees ratio. The Unconference was an overwhelming success. But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what others had to say about the event…

“It was wonderful to participate in an exciting national Digital Unconference event to start co-creating the Social Enterprise World Forum which will be held in Brisbane next year. It was so inspiring to get together with around 500 other social enterprises, to hear and learn from each other and plan a collaborative future – it really does feel like a great big family.”
– Theresa Brown | Founder at Play it On

Such exciting times ahead for the social enterprise sector in Australia!!”
– Dr Sharon Zivkovic | Co-founder at Wicked Lab

“The Unconference yesterday was only the beginning of what will be a series of ongoing activities designed to unite the sector in Australia in preparation for the road to SEWF 2022.”
– Byron Preston | Events Manager at Whitebox Enterprises

“I came away motivated and stimulated – the sector is maturing, collaborating and taking responsibility for its own development. The focus on ‘how to’ wasn’t at the expense of the substantive issues that most of the attending individuals and organisations face every day – challenges of poverty, exclusion, and environmental degradation, to name but a few. Rather, for me, it was an unsaid (collective) recognition that efforts will continue to be mismatched to the size, complexity and urgency of these challenges, unless the sector grows in its sophistication, scale (albeit distributed), and connectivity. We need to get serious about ‘the how’, if we are to make a difference on ‘the what’, and work meaningfully towards ‘the why’.”
– Alex Hannant | Co-Director of the Yunus Centre at Griffith University (check out Alex’s key takeaways here)

“We loved hosting and listening during yesterday’s social enterprise unconference! In one of our sessions we explored the challenges faced by Indigenous entrepreneurs entering the social enterprise space. It triggered those in the room to reflect on whether Indigenous community representation is already a strength of the social enterprise sector, or whether that is aspirational.”
– Alexie Sellers | Convener at Impact North

“The Social Enterprise Unconference yesterday was most definitely inspiring, but so much more: it was galvanising. It was the culmination of our collective desire to help the most disadvantaged and hardest-hit by COVID.”
– Cameron Price | Founder at Social Enterprise Community

“Spending the day at Unconference 2021, with like minded people, reminded me of why I chose to become a social entrepreneur. Although the SE sector in Australia is emerging, the level of expertise, innovation and passion is so very exciting and inspiring. Being surrounded by others, whose purpose is also to change the world for better, gives me the resolve and strength to continue my work even in these challenging times.”
– Lisa Hill | Board Member at SASEC

“It was inspiring to see the breadth, depth and passion of Australia’s social enterprise community today at the second annual SE Unconference. We are blessed with many generous and humble social innovators and the big ideas explored today strengthen our resolve and resilience at this challenging time.”
– Nicholas Verginis | CEO at SENVIC

A big thank you to the following organisations for making the Unconference the success that it was: The Victoria Government, White Box Enterprises, Social Enterprise World ForumSocial Traders, the Alliance of Social Enterprise Networks Australia (ASENA) and Incredible Communications. If you have any questions about the lead-up to SEWF 2022, feel free to email Dom at

What’s next?

The next episode of Season 2 of Enterprising Stories is coming up and will involve an Unconference debrief for those who have more thoughts to share. Be sure to register here, and more information will be sent in the coming weeks!

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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