From an illiterate student to cow milker to photographer to artist to mentor and now social enterprise tech startup. Seems like a pretty natural career trajectory right? Well, it actually is.
If you want to help people, live in the country, are under 30-years-old, love using technology and have a vagina, then the world of social enterprise is a gold mine more valuable than than any coal mine ever was. What’s better, it turns out there’s more money to be made in ‘giving’ rather than ‘taking’. We live in a time of seemingly endless choice; where people won’t wipe their ass unless they know their toilet paper is going to change the world—you know they’re researching it on their phone as they crap too.
What is a social enterprise, you ask? Isn’t this an art column? Well, I only learnt about social enterprises about six months ago. And arts is closely related to tech, as creative thinkers are apparently in high demand in the ‘startup’ world. Consider social enterprise to be the love child of charity and business, where you make money by giving, doing, building or being something that helps solves long-entrenched social and environmental problems. It’s a company structure that values purpose over profit… but still likes the idea of profit because being broke sucks and doesn’t help anyone.
Why is this a ‘thing’? One word: LaunchVic.
The Victorian Government has committed $60 million over the next four years to create tomorrow’s growth and prosperity, today, by accelerating connections between people and ideas across business and society, to create the innovations, technologies, goods, services and jobs of tomorrow. (Laughs) There’s also a ton of old people who are going to die over the next 15 years, many with loads of money and they want it to go to a good use. Of course, there’s a cheeky tax receipt available for BIG companies who donate to not-for-profits with DGR (deductible gift recipient) status. To sum up, there’s a lot of money available and it needs to be given away, which means jobs.
If there’s money, why isn’t everyone doing it? Because it’s actually a really, really hard business model and the fact that it’s a new frontier is literally in the name:
Social = Relating to society or its organisation.
Enterprise = A project or undertaking, especially a bold or complex one.
The problem with social enterprise is that frequently the people who care about improving ‘long-entrenched social and environmental problems’—a.k.a me—are really good at giving money and resources, but not so great at making money or managing resources. To many business people, social enterprise seems counterintuitive and high risk. Our society and culture are built on profit, growth and job security. Do a good job, you make more money, so you get more money to take home. So why isn’t the aforementioned concept not working well anymore? Because our world‘s changing and it’s changing fast.
Our world isn’t as predictable as it once was, there are problems that we can’t ignore anymore and we need creative solutions to fix them. An artist can imagine and survive no matter the circumstances as in many ways the world seems like chaos to us, so more chaos and unpredictability is just more of the same. Often the harder the circumstances, the more we create to escape them. Imagining and creating the impossible is what we do and we do it with very little money. It’s not really hard, what is hard is bringing that idea from the metaphysical to the physical, constantly and reliably, and in a clear, focused way that’s essential to good business.
Why aren’t more super awesome businesspeople jumping on social enterprises? Well, it’s complicated. In social enterprise, your customers, investors, employee and volunteers aren’t motivated or impressed by profit or efficiency. Instead, they want the warm fuzzy feeling created by the easing of guilt, knowing that their money and time is not destroying the planet or someone’s life. Could you start the next Who Gives A Crap, Thank You! or even Gippslandia? You have access to positive global ideas and you can start redefining what it means to come from Gippsland.
Social enterprises are generally born when seeking a solution to a problem that keeps you up at night. My social enterprise, Soul Goal, is probably more like art therapy at this point. I created its predecessor TOPshelf to help give free education to artists who had no other options. I did it because I couldn’t handle the fact that today, in one of the most privileged countries in the world, an 18-year-old, crazy talented artist couldn’t get the education or the job they needed because they didn’t live within a 100km radius of a major city and were killing themselves. So my social enterprise is in the business of accessible education. I believe that if you want to learn you, should be able to, no matter where you live or how you learn.
Believe it or not, there are social enterprises to help social enterprises (which I’m now apparently becoming), these not-for-profits know just how bloody hard it is to get a social enterprise off the ground and to not blow all your money in poor business decisions.
They also know just how much it can really change the world and the really, really good social enterprise ‘accelerators’ can find people like me, who have no idea what they’re doing is a ‘thing’, let alone a potential business model. LaunchVic is funding a lot of great accelerators, meaning many are free! They’ll assist me in developing my Soul Goal app, business plan and my pitch that I’ll deliver to people with lots of money, who want to spend on positive projects that have a solid foundation and the support to handle turning an idea into reality.
Social Enterprise = (Impact + Sustainability) x Brand % Ethics
? = (! + $) x # % <3
Social Enterprise = What is the problem you’re solving (?)
Impact = How good you are at helping (!)
Sustainability = How efficiently you are helping ($)
Brand = How sexy do you look doing it (#)
Ethics = Not too sexy… because that's wasting money that should be going to help people (<3)
In stepping into the domain of social enterprise and tech, I’ve learnt that:
01 If you really care about something you’re capable of anything.
02 You don’t have to know everything. No one expects you to.
03 Good business can be learnt by doing.
04 There are hundreds of people who want to teach you.
05 There is nothing to risk, everything to be gained.
06 Be clear about your expectations with your volunteers.
07 Be transparent with your employees.
08 If you are kind, money will amplify compassion not destroy it.
09 Ethics become clearer through learning experiences.
10 This really is a ‘thing’ in Melbourne.
11 If you can’t do a task or be something, find someone who is and inspire them.
12 It feels good to help. Really good.
13 Create it for yourself and be willing to change the world.