What does social enterprise contribute to Australia?

Fri, 25 Nov 2022

By: Jess Moore, CEO, Social Enterprise Australia 

New research came out this week, entitled Business for good: the size and economic contribution of social enterprise in Australia. It estimates the total number of social enterprises in Australia and their shared contribution to jobs and the economy.

A social enterprise is a business, for good. They trade like any other business but exist specifically to make the world a better place.

Public and policy interest in social enterprise and its impacts are growing. But what social enterprise brings to Australia has been little known — until now.

 Social Enterprise Australia commissioned research to change this. It was done by Impact Tracks and funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

The resulting report shows that – despite limited Federal Government recognition and support – the social enterprise sector makes a significant contribution.

 Impact Tracks estimate that there are over 12,000 social enterprises in Australia. 

They estimate that the sector makes a $21 billion contribution per year to the Australian economy and accounts for 1% of GDP. This compares to a $15 billion contribution from arts and recreation services and a $51 billion contribution from agriculture, forestry and fishing.

They also estimate that social enterprise employs over 200,000 people in Australia. That’s 1 in 60 jobs in Australia or 1.6% of the Australian workforce. It’s about the same number of people as arts and recreation services or the mining industry.

The research breaks these numbers down by state and territory and benchmarks findings to other countries and industries. 

The research does not include the environmental and social impact that social enterprise creates. This is due to a lack of common data points and available.

Why is this such a big deal?

Firstly, it makes visible the value of the people and organisations that make up the social enterprise sector. They are part of our daily life and our economy. They come in all shapes and sizes – a local café training and employing refugees and asylum seekers, a super fund that only invests in things that support people and planet, or a provider of quality affordable housing. People are choosing to do business differently and there is demand for this.

Secondly, it points to the need for a census, to move beyond estimates and to measure the social and environmental impacts of social enterprise.

Thirdly, the significance of these research findings warrants greater partnership from governments. The Federal Government should work with the sector on a national strategy to unlock the full potential of social enterprise. To kick off, the Government and sector should together name where social enterprise can help tackle the big challenges facing Australia. 

This can help move Australia to an economy that puts wellbeing first. 

To find out more, download the research findings and watch a two-minute video on the estimates.