Making a difference through social enterprise

Homelessness, poverty, inequality – these are just a few of today's social issues. What it takes to make a true difference is the concept of social enterprise.

social enterprise homeless man

When it comes to improving the lives of the less fortunate, innovative solutions are needed, especially from those with the power to create real change. So how do we take on these issues while also bringing about a positive and sustainable impact? The answer lies in social enterprise.

What is a social enterprise?

Social Traders, a social enterprise development organisation, defines social enterprises as “businesses that trade to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide people access to employment and training, or help the environment.” Social enterprises aim to address social issues using business strategies. Rather than gaining profit for business owners and shareholders, social enterprises benefit people and the communities around them.

There’s no formal legal structure for social enterprises in Australia, but there are three defining characteristics that differentiate them from charities, conventional businesses, and non-profit organisations:

  • Steered by a cultural, economic, environmental, or social cause
  • Generate income from trade, not donations or grants
  • Reinvest a large part of their profits in their cause.

Building a more inclusive economy

Aside from creating products and services as a response to community needs, social enterprises are essential in cultivating a more inclusive economy. These businesses employ twice the rates of Australians with disability and also employ Indigenous people and those who have been unemployed for long periods. Additionally, women are better represented — an estimated one third of board positions at social enterprises are held by women.

Social enterprises solving crucial social issues

There are around 20,000 social enterprises operating across various industries in Australia. A majority of these social enterprises, or 68 percent, are in the services sector, including healthcare and retail. Their target beneficiaries are mostly disadvantaged women, people with disabilities, and young people.

Here are seven Australian social enterprises addressing today’s pressing social issues:

  • Streat encourages conscious consumption. Food served in their different cafes are fair trade, organic, and sourced locally. Moreover, they train and employ disadvantaged youth in their cafes.
  • Soft Landing is reducing environmental impact through mattress recycling. They operate across Australia, diverting mattress waste from landfills by recovering mattress components that can be recycled. They employ people who experience barriers to entering the job market, such as those who have a disability, identify as Indigenous, or are under long-term unemployment.
  • Homie is a streetwear clothing brand in Fitzroy, Victoria that aims to provide pathways out of homelessness. Their Pathway Project includes a paid internship at the store for those who are homeless, as well as accredited training to help them complete a certificate in retail operations.
  • Thankyou creates consumer products found in outlets across the country. Profits fund food, water, health, and sanitation programs for people in need.
  • ASRC Catering is a catering company in Melbourne with a team composed of people seeking asylum. Their food reflects the rich and diverse cultures of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre members from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
  • 180 Painting Services provides cost-effective and high-quality painting services in Brisbane and Sydney. They employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth as apprentice painters.
  • Tjanpi Desert Weavers provide Aboriginal women with employment on their homelands so they can better provide for their families. These women earn their own income through fibre art.

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