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Social Change Champion: Vanessa Cullen

Vanessa Cullen is the Managing Director of Forward Thinking Design, a 15 year old Certified B Corp company and one of Australia’s most awarded brand strategy and built environment design studios. Vanessa is a trauma and chronic illness survivor, vegan, minimalist and health/wellbeing, environmental and ethical business advocate. She is a current ultra-marathon trail runner, charity ambassador and is a past Australian representative age group triathlete. As an expert communicator and multi-award winning business leader, Vanessa has been profiled in several business books, national print media, on radio, on the Profitable Hospitality, Pioneers of Good and The Entrepreneur Way podcasts and on ABC News 24. We sat down with Vanessa to find out more about what she does and what she’s learn along the way.

What is your social enterprise elevator pitch?

Forward Thinking Design is one of the most awarded branding, user experience, fit-out design and project management studios in Australia. We provide compelling and cost effective strategic solutions to the following clientele: restaurants and hospitality, retail, services, health and fitness, sporting clubs and community organisations, government, public and entertainment venues.

What are your biggest personal and/or professional challenges as a social entrepreneur in Australia?

Trying to educate other social enterprises and ethical organisations that ethical procurement doesn’t just end with buying fair trade and recycled consumables but also extends to services procurement. An organisation might look for an ethical bank but they never seem to think about looking for a socially responsible retail fit-out or community kitchen or office design company etc. So we’re working on telling our story and educating the market so that they know that we exist, and that by doing business with us they help to fund the pro bono and reduced fee work we do with charities. We’re working at gaining enough recognition and preferred supplier status to be able to really fulfil our impact potential.

What’s the best piece of advice you have received so far since starting your own social enterprise?

Don’t wait to make it perfect, just do it and then perfect it as you go.

Where do you see the future of social enterprise in Australia?

Growing with public and organisational awareness hopefully. To the point where we swamp out our non-social enterprise competitors or force every organisation to become more responsible!

What appeals most to you about Social Change Central?

Opportunities for greater giving, networking, recognition and growth to enhance our social impact and the impact of those we serve.

The Social Change Central changemaker community is growing at a fast rate. How can our members learn more about you and help support your organisation (e.g. are you looking for funding, PR, marketing support, volunteers, interns)?

We need more social impact minded organisations to engage us so we can create more case study stories showing how good design and strategy can multiply the impact of any project investment. The more work we do, the more direct impact we can have, and the more reduced fee and pro bono work we can then also afford to do.

Recipient NFP’s rarely have access to our professional skill-set so bringing this to the table helps them create better outcomes from their projects. Funding bodies also then see higher social impact returns on their investments, as a result of us having been involved.

Anyone can engage us directly for their own projects OR you can buy a package of our services to donate to your chosen organisation or cause. This can multiply the impact of donor $$$, compared to direct philanthropic donation of funds where the recipient does not necessarily have the expertise (or access) to most effectively and efficiently utilise the funds. We bridge the gap by providing our services and leveraging our networks, especially in technical projects such as branding, strategy and fit-out, to get more bang for the funders buck.

And finally, what would you do if you found a lottery ticket that ended up winning $10 million?

Pay off the little left on our mortgage so we’re secure and then volunteer our professional services full time to social impact projects.

Are you a Social Change Champion? Want to be interviewed? Join as a Gold Member.

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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