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Social Enterprise Funding to Support Refugee Employment

Image credit: Ada Jusic

Off the back of extensive talks and broad consultation with the social enterprise sector, the Federal Government has announced trailblazing funding to support refugee employment. It is a $24.6 million four-year grant program with the Department of Home Affairs.

It will fund evidence-based initiatives to create opportunities for employment, including self-employment, for refugee and humanitarian entrants. It will help the sector to maximise the critical role it can play in this space. It will show how government and social enterprise can together unlock greater economic inclusion.

On Friday, December 17, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced $37.3 million investment in new measures to drive settlement and integration outcomes for refugees and humanitarian entrants. These measures were designed to improve economic, social and language learning outcomes for refugees. Funding includes the $24.6 million social enterprise grant program.

Refugees experience higher rates of unemployment than the wider population. The unemployment rate of refugees after one year in Australia is about 77%. After three years this drops to 38% and after 10 years it drops to 22%.

The announcement of new settlement support funding can help address and reverse this.

The announcement follows work conducted by the Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services, Alison Larkins, to understand the nature of the challenge of refugee unemployment and what works to drive better outcomes. Larkins met with people across the social enterprise sector to understand work integration social enterprises (WISEs), what they do to support refugee employment and what they need to do this best.

It also follows ongoing sector-wide efforts to secure federal funding for work integration social enterprises more broadly.

WISEs directly address unemployment for disadvantaged job seekers. They are a proven way to unlock sustainable employment outcomes for the most disadvantaged people, groups and places. They also develop people for industry.

While the government pays service providers and employers for their role in tackling unemployment, as these supports involve costs, this funding has largely not been available to WISEs. This lack has created a gap in WISE business models: WISEs provide a service for which they are not sufficiently compensated. This hampers their ability to sustain operations, secure investment, scale and maximise the critical role they play.

People across the sector have come together to change this; most recently by setting up a national collaboration called the WISE Hub. The group formed as, for some time, a number of people and organisations had been working independently to grow WISE sector knowledge, funding and investment, but not together.

The WISE Hub’s purpose is to strengthen the enabling environment for the WISE sector so that it can grow and unlock greater economic inclusion. Short term, it seeks to bring sustainable government funding to WISEs, relative to the public value they create, and sufficient that they can sustain and grow.

Sally McGeoch, Luke Terry, Jo Barraket, Cindy Mitchell, Cindy Carpenter and Jess Moore – all working toward this purpose already – came together to kick off the collaboration. SECNA is providing backbone support. The Westpac Foundation has committed funding support.

The key work the WISE Hub team plans over the next 18 months is to:

  • Bring together key sector stakeholders to collaborate, learn and coordinate around purpose
  • Aggregate what is known about WISEs, and identify and address research and data gaps; specifically WISE cost structures, the design features make WISEs work and the payment milestones and amounts are needed to adequately support WISE cost structures relative to savings to government
  • Build business case/s matched to government and investor needs and opportunities
  • Undertake targeted communications and advocacy
  • Work with governments to co-design funding mechanisms that recognise and sustain the public value WISEs create

In this context, the commitment from the Department of Home Affairs is a landmark announcement for the sector. Not only will it enable greater support for refugee employment and settlement, it will show how government and social enterprise can together unlock greater economic inclusion for the most disadvantaged job seekers.

Ongoing discussions with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, and by Whitebox Enterprises with the Department of Social Services, seek to secure further funding for WISEs so that more people can access decent and meaningful work.

The Australian Government is now seeking applications via an open competitive process for the Economic Pathways to Refugee Integration (EPRI) program Grants to Social Enterprises grant opportunity. More information here.

Written by Jess Moore and Cindy Carpenter
Social Change Central
Social Change Central


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