There is a growing recognition that the old way of doing business needs to change if we are going to address the burning social and environmental issues of our time.
This has been reflected most pointedly in the recent political upheaval we have seen in Europe and the US.
Investing in social enterprises makes so much sense to me as a way of instigating that change. Rather than simply writing a cheque, philanthropists now have a way of ensuring that their money is generating a measurable social or environmental impact via a sustainable model by supporting the rapidly expanding social enterprise sector in Australia.
That’s what I did for STREAT, the social enterprise that provides youth at risk with the life skills, work experience and the counselling they require to help them get back on track and build resilience. Then, hopefully, they can commence a career in the hospitality industry.
STREAT also produces 70 per cent of current income from its business activities and its goal is to be 100 per cent financially sustainable within three years. Crucially, the young people also gain invaluable work experience and a sense of belonging when working in the businesses.
So often the taxpayer becomes responsible for these kids who stay on the welfare treadmill forever. Under our model they are hopefully stable on their feet, happy and productive and paying their own taxes after 12 months. And that’s what attracted me to impact investing.
For me, buying STREAT’s premises in Collingwood for $2.5 million and leasing it back to the organisation at $5 a year for 50 years has provided the stability and scalability that has allowed STREAT to already create so many success stories. This was the perfect example of philanthropy and private enterprise coming together that our country must now purposefully encourage.
The Victorian Government has recently shown encouraging signs of support with the launch of its Social Enterprise Strategy, aimed at positioning the state as a leader in driving employment participation and inclusive economic growth through social enterprise.
Yet, while there are an estimated 5,000 social enterprises employing more than 75,000 people in Victoria alone, Australia still lags behind many other parts of the world in the development of this sector. And one of the key reasons for this is that little is known about social enterprise in Australia outside of the sector itself.
That’s why I am backing a new book project called Dollars & Sense and have put my money where my mouth is by turning the venture into a social enterprise.
Many of Melbourne’s most successful and innovative social enterprises will be featured in the book, with a focus on the people who have benefited from their work, as well as the different business models used. There will be a healthy mix of opinion and strategy, but the real emphasis will be on the uplifting stories that social enterprise inevitably creates.
The book’s print run of around 10,000 copies will be funded by sponsorship from those corporations, organisations, businesses and philanthropists who have a desire to promote their existing involvement in the social enterprise space or an enthusiasm to show support for the growth of this sector.
Books will also be made available to participating social enterprises at a significant discount so that they have the chance to create a new revenue stream while promoting their stories throughout Australia.
The initial feedback is extremely encouraging. There is a consensus that the time is right to start shouting about social enterprise from the rooftops and already we have plans to roll-out the book to different parts of the country.
But the real impact we will create is by channelling proceeds back into the sector through grants to social enterprises featured in Dollars & Sense.
So every sponsor will be showing tangible financial support for the sector and we are expecting good media interest around the award of the grants through this innovative publishing model.
This is a project that has captured my passion for social change and I am very hopeful that we will receive the support we need to make meaningful impact.
To find out more about Dollars & Sense, contact co-author Neil Bramwell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Geoff Harris was a founding partner of Flight Centre, now with 20,000 staff in 14 countries, and a major start-up shareholder in Boost Juice. He served nine years as vice-president of Hawthorn FC and is a respected philanthropist and supporter of youth causes in Victoria.