How philanthropy can work with social enterprises for meaningful change

By: Nicholas Verginis   |   CEO, Social Enterprise Network Victoria   |

The pandemic has changed everything and nothing. The perennial challenges of poverty, inequality, homelessness, marginalisation, intergenerational injustice and the spectre of ecological catastrophe - they all remain. The underlying causes have not budged, they have gotten worse, as leaders and markets flail or exacerbate systemic problems.

Today is different. The time for real change has arrived.

This month’s launch of the Victorian Social Enterprise Strategy 2021-25 is as timely as it is a beacon of hope.

The Victorian Government’s new strategy is unequivocal in its commitment to not just ‘build back better’ but a compelling and inclusive vision that is strongly aligned with the philanthropic sector - to create an inclusive, fair and sustainable society.

Over 450 people attended the launch of Victoria’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2021-25 last week (it’s ok, you can watch the launch here).

It points to a collaborative, inclusive and community-led recovery, where we can take bigger steps towards our shared goal of an inclusive, fair and sustainable society.

What is the change? First, it’s a change of mindset.

  • Social enterprise is not new. It is woven into our nation’s history.
  • Our First People were trading to practice culture and then to preserve it, to express self-determination and independence from colonial forces for generations. See Black Duck Foods and Clothing the Gaps today.
  • Regional communities harnessed social capital to establish or maintain services or share economic opportunities in the absence of government support or market failure. See Yackandandah CDCo, Charlton Cinema, Nandaly Hotel and Hepburn Wind today.
  • New migrants (like my own family) found social, cultural and economic autonomy and security in community-led businesses. See your local culture club or The Social Studio, Free to Feed and Paw Po today.
  • Many inclusive, mission-locked NFPs are successfully disguised as competitive businesses. See Game, CERES Fair Food and Good Cycles.

Social enterprise is everywhere. There are over 20,000 nationally, employing 60,000 people in Victoria alone.

Philanthropy has been partnering with them for years. Many social enterprises are charities, and many charities are using social enterprise models to build financial sustainability and independence.

We have solid connections to build upon. When the Victorian Government launched its public consultation on the strategy in 2020, Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation, Westpac Foundation and the English Family Foundation met with the us (Social Enterprise Network Victoria or SENVIC) to compare notes on what Victoria’s second social enterprise strategy should say. SENVIC is an independent network for social enterprise practitioners and enablers, collectively emerging as the lead voice for Victoria’s social enterprise community. Earlier this week, the Paul Ramsay Foundation launched a landmark report that clarifies our unique role.

How might philanthropy adapt post-pandemic?

If you are starting out:

Find a social enterprise aligned with your interest areas - check-out the ones listed above, search the Social Traders finder or contact us at SENVIC.
Connect with philanthropists already supporting social enterprise (you’ll find many from arts and culture funds to those creating inclusive employment opportunities through the Philanthropy Australia Jobs and Skills Funders Network).

For those already working with social enterprise, the Strategy includes four key themes and 14 action areas to create new opportunities for inclusive and sustainable economic recovery and transform the way the government tackles complex systemic problems.

At a glance, philanthropy has a potential role in four action areas - all applicable nation-wide:

  • 1.2 - Measuring impact in a meaningful way is crucial. Everyone benefits with improved and consistent impact measures.
  • 2.2 - Stronger collaboration, partnerships and strategic approaches to funding will maximise efficiency and effectiveness of investments in social enterprise.
  • 3.4 - Partnering with SENVIC and social enterprise leaders to drive innovation and collaboration that addresses pressing social, environmental and economic problems. Partnering will enable innovative collaborations such as Moving Feast to be prototyped, and will increase coordination in philanthropic support, improve equity, reduce duplication and improve policy and program alignment.
  • 4.5 - Strengthen national collaboration by partnering with SENVIC and interstate networks to support greater alignment of policies and initiatives.

Social enterprise networks hold a unique place by connecting key cross-sector actors. To achieve deep, systemic and lasting change, we need to take a holistic view and share the load. We can’t make a lasting difference alone - it requires sharing, coordination and partnership.

Philanthropy has played a leadership role in the creation of an inclusive, fair and sustainable society. The Victorian Government has embraced this vision and will work with our independent entrepreneurial network to bring cross-sector partners together for social innovation.

Who are we?

Social Enterprise Network Victoria (SENVIC) is a community of over 300 social enterprises across Victoria with over 700 people either in social enterprise or supporters and enablers. We’ve made quite an impact in a short time.

We exist to build a connected community of social enterprises, facilitate access to learning and development opportunities, and increase the voice and influence of social enterprise across Victoria.

We share our members’ vision for a just, inclusive and sustainable society and believe that social enterprise is a means to get us there. We create a space for social enterprise from which to connect, grow and shape the world around us. All like-minded people are welcome to join us.

We now have a strong pathway forward to create lasting change. We can only do it together. Join us to be part of the journey ahead.

Oct. 28, 2021

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