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Social enterprise

Effective social enterprise

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When you consider social enterprise and the not-for-profit sector, the first thought that often comes to mind isn’t usually of long term commercial viability and increasing surplus or profit margins. However, I believe that this is a huge misconception which continues to permeate circles of thought, despite the rise of the social economy within Australia.

For City West Housing, as a part of this growing social economy, integrating social enterprise values into our work as a not-for-profit organisation is about our focus on maximising our social impact. As an organisation we understand that to be successful in the not-for-profit sector, we must combine some aspects of commercial business practice into our charitable business method.

Personally, I have noted an increase, over the past few years, in social enterprise ventures; particularly ones that have ongoing financial viability, and I believe this is due to the rise in the social economy. As a result of this, NFPs have been required to adopt some of the values that are held by commercial organisations and match them in their competitive nature.

Social enterprise is an essential aspect of any business that wishes to make a positive contribution, not just to their area of business, but to the greater community that they serve. Social enterprise utilises the power of business and the global financial market to address issues that affect our society. As such, the values and workings of social enterprise make up a significant part of the work of NFPs.

By utilising selected commercial strategies based on the social enterprise model, not-for-profits are able to maximise the social impact they have. Social enterprise can, when utilised effectively, lift the barriers to growth that most organisations in this sector face, primarily financial barriers. This can allow them to operate self-managed or self-funded projects and also enable them to foster growth and development for the people in which it services. This means that organisations that undertake this method can maximise their results in all aspects of their business.

It is vital, in my belief, that we combine our charitable lens with an appreciation of commercial practices, particularly when dealing with an organisation’s external communications and brand awareness. All charitable organisations must understand the enormous value in building strong brand awareness and recognition, both with consumers and other commercial enterprises. This understanding permeates our work at City West Housing and our brand is extremely important to me, because it is what defines us to the outside world; it is what people recognise us for, and I want to be sure that our organisation is always thought of positively.

Having worked in the not-for-profit sector for many years, I understand that the focus is on providing a social return rather than a profitable return, even though surplus is important as it enables growth, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the importance of profits. Although we are a not-for-profit organisation, I appreciate the fact that surplus revenue equals more results for us and for our customers.

This is where I believe City West Housing differs from other not-for-profits, because we are a charitable organisation that is working within the highly commercial realm of construction. I feel that this is the way the majority of not-for-profits should be operated because it ensures that the ongoing focus is on the ‘social return’ to customers. The focus for not-for-profit organisations should always be on achieving their objectives and maximising their social impact, and if an organisation must take a slightly more commercial approach to achieve this, then this is what they should do.

In my role, our overall goal as a business is to provide affordable housing solutions to key workers and facilitate social inclusion and maximise the positive social impact that we can have – which is much the same for other not-for-profits and social enterprises operating in Sydney. This is why we, as an organisation, have adopted several aspects of social enterprise, so that we can continue to achieve and exceed our mission. We are facilitating social inclusion by providing the key workers of Sydney with reliable, effective and reasonably priced housing solutions. Because of this, they are able to maintain their jobs, provide for their family and continue to service vital roles within our city.

Over the years the social sector has evolved so much, thanks to the rise in the social economy, and we have found that a lot of enterprises are now distributing surplus funds back into social wellbeing, as they have witnessed both the social and financial returns this can reap.

I believe that the approach we have taken as a charitable organisation, in combining our charitable focus with a strong understanding of good business practices, has been at the crux of our success as an organisation. By utilising this approach over the past few years, we have been able to demonstrate the best results that have been seen in the organisation’s past 21 years, all whilst delivering on our social commitments to provide affordable and reliable housing for Sydney’s key workers.

Janelle Goulding is the CEO of affordable housing provider, City West Housing.

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1 Comment

  1. Liska Turner August 9, 2016

    As a specialist recruiter in the not for profit sector, with a birds eye view of the sector, your observation “that we combine our charitable lens with an appreciation of commercial practices” is going to be vital to the success of the sector moving forward and dependent on the ability of the sector leaders to integrate this perspective into their strategic planning and service delivery.

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