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What is a social enterprise?

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Social enterprise - a catalyst for public good

In Australia, and in many places around the world, the buying power of our hard earned income has taken a hit with the rising cost of living. But did you know that your money gives you a power that can't be taken away with the next interest rate hike?

In this Helping Hands panel discussion, Jess Moore, CEO of Social Enterprise Australia; Adam McCurdie, founder of Humanitix; and Prof. Kristy Muir, CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation; discuss social enterprise, and explain why this business model has the potential for positive impact both in our local communities and in the lives of the less fortunate.

“Social enterprise is a business for good,” explains Jess. “They trade like any other business but exist specifically to make the world a better place. Two things about them are essential; they put people and planet first and they trade to do this.”

There are approximately 12,000 social enterprises in Australia across a wide range of industries. While their business models are like any other business in the sense that they must make a profit to sustain and grow their own activities, social enterprises take their profits and use them solely for social good.

Social good, Jess shares, takes many forms. At a high level, it means profits fund individuals, projects and organisations who “create jobs for people most shut out of work, they provide environmental care, they provide people-centred services … Collectively, they combine the power of business to test new ideas with a compass of public good.”

Adam adds that as a social enterprise, Humanitix provides benefits on several levels. Consumers buying tickets to events through the Humanitix platform have the power to transform the fee – a commonly resented aspect of purchasing – into a feel-good investment in projects centred on education, better health outcomes and, in the future, the environment.

The success of Humanitix also challenges other commonly held assumptions of big business.

“My passion is to find out better ways that businesses can structure themselves; that questions why the shareholder of businesses is the top priority of any company," says Adam.

"The point is to question whether that hierarchy of priority is the right hierarchy … (For) Humanitix, there are no shareholders, so who gets our profits? Not the shareholders, it’s some of the world’s best charities.”

Social enterprises don’t receive backing from start-up investors because they can’t promise a cut of the profits or a stake in the business. The biggest challenge for a new social enterprise is, therefore, simply to get off the ground.

Currently, social enterprises depend heavily on philanthropic contributions from organisations like the Paul Ramsay Foundation. When asked why, Kristy says the answer is simple:

“Philanthropy is about the love of humanity … People think about philanthropy mostly in a giving context, in terms of giving money … but giving can extend beyond that … For us, it’s really important to be able to support individuals, organisations, communities that are trying to do good around people and planet.”

So how can we use our buying power and the money that we have for good?

“Buy from them (a social enterprise). Work for one. Start one,” says Jess. “And have an out-loud expectation that governments create a more enabling environment for them."


See the WHAT IS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE? discussion and the full catalogue of Helping Hands panels at Catch up on full episodes of Helping Hands on 9NOW.

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