I’m not the type that does New Year resolutions, but if I was going to focus on something for 2016, it would be to support social enterprise at every possible opportunity. If you don’t know much about what social enterprise even means, please read on.
There are a few definitions of social enterprise. Essentially, it is an organisation that exists to foster positive social impact (both human and environmental), as opposed to lining the pockets of its shareholders. Or, as Social Traders puts it:
“Social enterprises use the power of the market place to solve the most pressing societal problems. They are businesses that exist primarily to benefit the public and the community, rather than their shareholders and owners. Social enterprises are commercially viable businesses with a purpose of generating social impact”.
Generally, this means that a social enterprise will use the majority, or all of its profits to work towards a social cause and derive its income from trade, not from donations. It could also be set up to benefit an environmental, cultural or economic cause. There are various forms that this can take, and as I am discovering on an almost daily basis, there are a growing number of businesses that subscribe to this inspiring model.
My first exposure to the concept of social enterprise was from purchasing a humble muesli bar. This bar from a company based here in Melbourne called Thank You has started me on a journey of discovery. Not only do they make these delicious muesli bars (I like the cranberry & coconut variety pictured below), but they also sell bottled water, breakfast cereals, as well as hand and body care products. The best part of Thank You’s offering is that each purchase goes directly to impacting social change. For example, purchasing one pack of their cereal provides one week’s access to food aid for someone in need. Or, purchasing a bottle of their water provides access to safe drinking water to someone who doesn’t otherwise have this. Even better, they provide a tracking ID number on each package so you can go to their website and see the direct impact that your purchase is making. A local business working to make change on a global scale is definitely something I can get behind, especially when it’s as simple as buying a pack of cereal.
Another local example of social enterprise is a cafe at Melbourne Central called Streat. It turns out that this cafe is only one part of their package, as they also run a catering company and a coffee roastery. What better way to get Melburnians’ attention than to serve great coffee? The Streat cafe works to stop youth homelessness and disadvantage. A simple yet critical mission. Not only do they have a loyalty program that provides a free coffee to someone experiencing homelessness, instead of you receiving your tenth coffee free, they also provide employment and training opportunities to youth in need of a helping hand. This (from their website) sums it up:
“We’re determined that our young people should gain the transferable employability skills that will stand them in good stead in any industry…but of even greater importance to us, is that our young people learn how deeply we care for them, and how much they really matter to us. We want them to know that not just our cafe doors – but also our hearts – will forever remain open to them, no matter what”.
That might sound a little over the top, but it goes to the heart of what social enterprise is all about (pun intended). It really is about community benefit by helping those that need it and those that do not have what we are lucky enough to have (and let’s face it, most of us are just so incredibly lucky in this country). Sounds like a simple way to make a difference too – simply change some of your current purchasing methods and your money will go to assisting positive social change, as opposed to even greater profits to the many multinational organisations in business (who incidentally don’t appear to be paying their fair share of tax either, but that’s another story).
As The Guardian reported back in July, the social enterprise cafe model is growing strongly in Australia, particularly here in Melbourne. There are currently 13 cafes, with more in the pipeline. There’s the well known Feast of Merit in Richmond, run by YGAP, where profits fund youth education and youth leadership projects in Australia and in parts of Asia and Africa. There’s the Fitzroy cafe, Charcoal Lane, that provides hospitality training for Indigenous students, as well as the Social Studio in Collingwood, which offers disadvantaged youth opportunities to work (as Streat does). One particular cafe in Richmond also extends their support to newly arrived refugees (who have been granted asylum, as those on temporary visas are forbidden to work). Long Street Coffee in Richmond has partnered with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to offer employment opportunities to our new members of the community, as they struggle to find that initial chance to get into the workforce and make their contribution. What a novel concept – actually trying to help refugees, rather than imprison or dehumanise them.
These all appear to be very straight forward ways of making a positive impact to someone who could use some help. As the festive season approaches, it is often a time of reflection of the year gone by and what we aspire to be in the new year. It seems a perfect time to consider how a small change for you might just make a significant change for someone in need.
Seasons Greetings and thanks for reading. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and look forward to positive change in 2016. Peace.