Social Change Champions: Elise & Lara Stephenson
Social Good Outpost is a graphic and web design company led by changemakers Lara and Elise Stephenson. These women are driven to empower clients and community through social good, and we had the privilege to sit down with them and hear more about their business and what they’re passionate about.
What is your social enterprise elevator pitch?
Lara: At Social Good Outpost, we do graphic and web design for organisations, focusing on women’s and other marginalised groups, so that they look as good as all the work they do, and can attract customers, supporters and funding.
Elise: I’d add to that to say that we know that women-owned business are under-funded by approximately $1.5 trillion globally. We also know that good design increases profitability by up to 200% and improves reliability, credibility and trust. We’re a graphic and web design company that is passionate about gender equality and creating good designs for good causes. For every 10 hours of full-cost design services we provide, we donate one hour of pro bo no or low cost design to fledgling community organisations for whom design is the next key step in achieving their goals. This allows us to support enterprises, non-profits, and community groups working for the empowerment of women and marginalised groups in particular, that are lacking resources, but making an impact in the community. We like to think of this as a ‘feminist’ approach to design – it is transformative, positive, and empowering!
What are your biggest personal and/or professional challenges as a social entrepreneur in Australia?
Elise: A key challenge facing social enterprise in Australia is the issue of procurement. Social procurement practices are not fully integrated in government, nor are they widely supported in the corporate and business worlds. However, as a women-owned social enterprise, supporting organisations like ours does twice as good: supporting social enterprise generates wider social impact; plus, supporting women-owned business supports gender equality. We know that women entrepreneurs face lower levels of investment and are often marginalised in start-up and business spaces. However, even despite the funding gaps, women-owned start-ups often perform better over the long term, generating 10% more revenue over a five-year period. Tackling this issue of funding and procurement is an important professional (and personal!) challenge that we face that must be addressed by business and government.
Lara: And on a personal note, for a long time, it was knowing how to charge for our services so that we could balance what we provide at full cost and pro bono for our clients. It has been a bit of a journey – but we are feeling really good that we can offer accessible and quality services now, that both values the work we do and the community!
What’s the best piece of advice you have received so far since starting your own social enterprise?
Lara: In relation to how to best run a social enterprise – “we’re all just working it out”.
Elise: Social enterprise doesn’t have to look like what the next person, or the next person, is doing. Be creative and inventive. Don’t get stuck on definitions, get stuck into making an impact.
If you were to start over, is there anything you would do differently?
Lara: I’d be more vocal about my advantages and disadvantages in society, strengths, and ask for mentoring that listened to me, plus support to get above the minimum earnings.
Elise: I would seek advice early around financials and legal structures, and ask all the ‘dumb’ questions. You may be an expert in your field, but you don’t have to be an expert in every field, so I would make sure I got better input on that, earlier!
Where do you see the future of social enterprise in Australia?
Lara: I think the definition of social enterprise will grow and grow and be done in lots of different ways – direct help to people within the business, funding outside projects, spin-off creations that help communities from the main business, and potentially filling a new legal structure between ‘business’ and ‘non-profit’.
Elise: I think social enterprise must also be the future of business in Australia. Not to be defeatist, but we have too many problems *not* to all be social entrepreneurs. I think this is therefore a really exciting space. We have enormous potential to lead our region and the world – getting involved in social enterprise now is the smartest investment!
What appeals to you most about Social Change Central?
Lara: It’s a place where I can find a lot of information relevant to social enterprises, and also support and a listening ear to connect us to like-minded people.
Elise: Plus, what drew me to Social Change Central was the network of changemakers that it inspires and connects. There are many opportunities out there, but without a good portal, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate!
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?
Lara: We are currently looking to fund our Design Workshops with migrant, refugee and otherwise-marginalised women in Australia. Partnering with Global Sisters, we have run a pilot, and want to expand this in 2019-20 and onwards. Please visit and support us if you can, at https://socialgoodoutpost.com/report-design-program-for-women-in-business/
Elise: Further, we are always looking to work with incredible organisations whose values align with ours. We’d love to establish a few more partnerships that help us to deliver our social value, and if you have an organisation that needs ongoing design work or has a cool one-off project, then we’d love to work with you too!
Lara: And, if you are needing experience in the sector, we could always use the help of some go-ahead changemakers to intern with us.
And finally, what would you do if you found a lottery ticket that ended up winning $10 million?
Lara: I would buy myself some nature-land in Victoria, build a tiny home, help my parents pay off their home, invest in my business, and then see where I could do many micro-loans to help lots of women and LGBT-led enterprises take off.
Elise: I think this question shows how alike Lara and I are! Even though we answered this question separately, our answers are almost the same – for me, it would to be buy a large chunk of land, let native animals and plants thrive, and happily run our social enterprise from the middle of the woods! We love the work we do – and everything is improved by being outdoors, we think!