A Catalytic Moment for Social Enterprise

Just five weeks out from the long awaited Social Enterprise World Forum, our COO, and social enterprise veteran, Mark Daniels penned a brilliant piece on the state of the social enterprise sector and our potential for growth post SEWF22.

In my 20 years in the social enterprise sector, both as an active participant and an observer, there are certain moments in time I won’t forget. Catalytic moments where the sector has made a significant leap forward, taking us all to a new level of opportunity.

While the sector incrementally grows and advances every day, every now and then a range of factors coalesce that drives the next major leap forward. It feels like we are in one of those very moments right now.

We have gone from one social enterprise state representative body in 2018 to representative bodies in every state and territory in 2022. There has been collaboration amongst sector leaders around the development of a National Social Enterprise Strategy and the establishment of a national peak body for social enterprise – Social Enterprise Australia.

We have also seen the creation of new intermediary organisations, including White Box Enterprises where I work, which is helping to drive systems change and fill critical gaps for the sector. And there is a working group of marketers from across the social enterprise field collaborating to create a united voice and our first ‘social enterprise’ brand campaign (coming soon).

There is more coordination and collaboration than I’ve seen in the past. It feels like we are moving beyond individual social entrepreneurs to a cohesive social enterprise sector.

I don’t want to suggest that it’s all sunshine and roses out there. Many social enterprises are doing it tough post-Covid and I am not suggesting that life is easy, but even in these challenging times, it seems that as a sector we’re becoming more strategic so we can better advocate and drive change in more effective ways.

The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) is another critical part of the catalytic period that we are experiencing right now. If you look at the history of SEWF it has actually played a pivotal role in the evolution of the sector in many countries where it has been hosted. No better example than right here on home soil. In 2009, Melbourne played host to the second ever SEWF, in the same year Social Traders, the sector's first dedicated intermediary launched. In the ensuing period there was also greater political support and awareness that ultimately contributed to the development of the Federal Government supported Social Enterprise Development and Investment Funds (SEDIFs) which are still operated by SVA and SEFA, and the commitment of $100 million to social enterprise development as part of the Global Financial Crisis Stimulus Package.

Victoria continues to be the leading state for social enterprise in the country. One thing doesn’t lead directly to another but SEWF was part of a strong mix of social enterprise activity and change at the time.

In 2017, Christchurch hosted SEWF and they used the event as a platform to engage government and the sector which ultimately led to the development of the New Zealand Social Enterprise Sector Development Program (2018). Previously there had been no national strategy but the dialogue and engagement with government around this event was critical to the emergence of one. Wherever SEWF is hosted there is generally a legacy of advancement in the sector.

It is now our time again in Australia. The stage is set. All eyes are on us, so let’s all lean into the conversations and opportunities that will present themselves at SEWF. We have government and business at the table, all state and territory networks and Social Enterprise Australia established, and this real sense of solidarity within the sector. The establishment of a National Social Enterprise Strategy is within our reach. Let’s not miss this. Let’s make this the next catalytic period we all reflect back on in years to come.

This can also be found on Mark's LinkedIn.