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Social enterprise proving resilient but right policy and support needed

3 min read
social enterprise

The Australian social enterprise sector has proven to be highly resilient in the face of COVID-19 but increased support from Governments and private business is critical if the industry is to continue to deliver life-changing social impact, new research has found.

A survey of social enterprises conducted by Social Traders reveals that while 57% of social enterprises have experienced significant or drastic revenue declines since March, 96% continue to trade.

Many social enterprises have been forced to reshape their business models and ‘pivot’ to offer new services in order to keep their doors open, indicative of the innovative and agile nature of the sector.

There is also a strong appetite to grow, with 75% of social enterprises suggesting that they have the capacity to increase their social impact footprint – but that growth is only realistic with the right policy setting and support, such as Government-mandated procurement targets and grants to grow or adapt their businesses.

The social enterprise sector was a ready-made solution to getting the most vulnerable people in our communities back into jobs and so mechanisms to support growth were critical in the recovery from COVID-19.

In two years prior to the pandemic, the Social Traders marketplace enabled the creation of more than 700 jobs for people from disadvantaged communities, through $105 million worth of trade with private business and Government agencies.

So we know that social procurement works – embedding social enterprise into supply chains is a proven solution to long-term unemployment that uses sustainable market activity and frees up Government resources that are needed elsewhere.

The estimated value of Australia’s infrastructure pipeline for the coming five years is $265 billion. Our modelling shows that if just 1% of this was spent with social enterprises, it could create over 9,000 jobs for the most vulnerable people at risk of long-term unemployment.

Committing a portion of Government procurement spending will supercharge social enterprises to create the right jobs for the most at-risk.

Buying from social enterprise is a double-value spend – government and businesses buy goods or services they need, and they’re also buying priceless social impact at the same time.

CASE STUDIES – social enterprises that ‘pivoted’ to keep delivering community impact during COVID-19

Hotel Housekeeping and Spring Services

Brisbane-based Hotel Housekeeping delivers housekeeping services to hotels across Australia while providing employment opportunities for disadvantaged Australians.

“Things were looking up for 2020, particularly as we came back from Christmas. We had big plans as most businesses did. Then COVID-19 struck and threw all our plans out the door – our operations virtually ceased as COVID shut down tourism and business travel,” said GM Shannon Price.

“We thought to ourselves, we have 20 cleaning staff ready to work so how can we adapt to offer our services? In the current climate, commercial cleaning was in super high demand – that’s how Spring Services Group was founded, a business delivering commercial cleaning and disinfection services,” she said. “It has its own name, brand and business separate to our hotel housekeeping services, but it’s a neat sidestep with similar capability requirements to what our team already has.”

Within only weeks of establishing Spring Service Group, they had already secured commercial cleaning and disinfection services to three of Lendlease’s retirement villages.

Sonan, 38, was struggling to find employment having emigrated from Bhutan, before an opportunity with Hotel Housekeeping arose in November 2019.

Now a supervisor with Spring Services, Sonan says that social enterprise changed his life.

“As a supervisor I have been provided with the opportunity to undergo training programs to expand my skill set. I have learnt skills needed to manage and coordinate a large number of employees while also encouraging teamwork to ensure we get the job done to a high standard,” Sonan said. “This opportunity has given me the confidence and reassurance to know that nothing is too big to handle. The work-life balance this job has provided me is amazing. I can do my job while looking after my family. I am very happy with how this opportunity has worked out”

Local Transit

Local Transit is a Melbourne based social enterprise that provided personalised transport and taxi services for clients, including people living with a disability. It employs a network of close to 70 people, most of them migrants who have struggled to find work in Australia.

The pandemic all but wiped out Local Transit’s existing revenue stream, given the stay-at-home orders throughout April and May. So the business changed direction and has begun to operate courier services through a major contract with CPB Contractors.

Managing Director Ali Warsame says that several further contracts are in the pipeline that could make a fundamental difference to the lives of many people facing employment challenges following the pandemic.

Mohamud, 49, was a taxi driver in Melbourne for 20 years before the introduction of Uber and other disruptive technology left him out of a job and looking for work.

Through a connection with Ali, he was employed by Local Transit at inception, and is now a senior driver for CPD during the pandemic.

He said while work was slower, Local Transit had made a fundamental difference to him and his family through consistent work and steady income.

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David brings extensive experience leading strategic business-community partnerships at Rio Tinto, Toyota and Amcor; as well as industry and government policy development and key stakeholder engagement experience.

Appointed Managing Director of Social Traders in 2009, David is an Executive Director on Social Traders’ Board and has responsibility for development and implementation of the organisation’s strategy, staff recruitment and engagement with key government, philanthropic, business and research partners.


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