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Social enterprise faces The Crunch

Telstra News

Posted on February 25, 2011

7 min read

I have some very exciting news. Hold onto your hats because… It’s Crunch time! This week, nine Victorian social enterprises will pitch for a share of a $1 million investment pool from The Crunch – an initiative of the Social Traders, designed to help entrepreneurs establish a new social enterprise.

But what constitutes a social enterprise? In a nutshell, a social enterprise is an organisation with a social, economic, cultural or environmental focus that also supports the community.  For example, a group that delivers training to disadvantaged or marginalised members of the community like the long-term unemployed is considered a social enterprise.

The enterprises were given 121 days to develop a pitch – containing a rigorous and detailed business plan on their direction to establish or further develop their social enterprise. Business leaders from Telstra, Westpac, Australia Post, Transfield ServicesMelbourne Business School and Leadership Victoria worked closely with each enterprise to crunch ideas.

The CrunchThe six Telstra mentors were paired with Renew Australia and Activate Australia. They were also assisted with a series of workshops, tailored business planning resources, one-on-one time with Social Traders staff, their mentors and MBA students from the Melbourne Business School. The process was designed so that the teams rigorously test their ideas and explore options ahead of the big event.

I spoke with the leaders of each of these enterprises, the Telstra mentors and Managing Director of Social Traders, David Brookes to get a greater understanding and insight into how the program had been of benefit to not just the mentees but also the mentors too. It was a fascinating conversation – one you might be interested in reading more about below. Careful: you might just be inspired to start your own social enterprise.

I’ll be in touch to give you an update on the outcomes of the pitch and bring you news from the Telstra Foundation again soon. Thanks for listening.

Questions and answer time. Here are the participants I recently spoke with:

How does corporate support benefit social enterprise in Australia?

David: Social enterprise ideas often come from people in community and not-for-profit sectors who may lack business experience.  Harnessing the skills, networks and expertise from the corporate world can result in a greater number of robust and sustainable enterprises that deliver long-term community value.

Dan: Sharing skills, expertise, commercial nous are all important.  As we became clear in our project, Marcus had the visions and ideas, but needed to test his assumptions against the rigour in our own planning processes.  I think the corporate world’s tried and tested processes, project planning and financial assumptions are valuable to social enterprises.

How important is a program like the Crunch in supporting social enterprise?

David: Our experience has shown many great social enterprises do not succeed because they can’t get the support, both financial and professional, at the early stages of development.  The Crunch aims to maximise the likelihood of the enterprise being successful and achieving its social outcomes.

Marcus: In a variety of ways – the sharing of skills around this project has been immensely beneficial and obviously there are other companies and other social enterprises out there working together. I’m hoping that as Renew Australia progresses we will be able to coax companies into doing more though – particularly around activating their dormant assets and their empty spaces.

Kristen: Ultimately the objective is to help the social enterprise do more of what they are set up to do. In my case, I wanted to help Activate assist more kids from tough realities and business people in tough jobs recognise their potential to make the world a better place. It sounds lofty, but I truly believe that we can change the world bit by bit and organisations like Activate are vital and deserving of our support.

Looking back at your experiences, what would you say you have learned?

Nicole: The Crunch experience has taught me what it really means to blend social and business – and how powerful that combination is.  From my mentors, I witnessed and learned the power of combining heart and head, wisdom and knowledge.

Kristen: The program has shown me the importance of getting involved. There are some really interesting, passionate people out there doing great things and they need some help. The other Telstra mentors were a pleasure to work with and it was great to get to know a few more people across a large organisation. Nicole from Activate is such an inspirational person and I’ve learnt about passion, integrity, fortitude and openness from her.

Jane: How amazing Nicole Endacott is – it is really nice to be working with people who truly care about people… Also I’ve had to stop myself charging in and driving the outcomes. Kristen is also amazing – I love some of the advice and guidance she has offered Nicole (…she’s one smart cookie).

Marcus: I think it’s certainly helped enhance my business skills – which were never my strong point prior to this. It’s helped me with practical skills like planning, budgeting, and making a business case – as opposed to simply pitching an idea. Most importantly it helped me broaden my perspectives – my team of mentors have a range of experience and expertise that has been very valuable.

What do you value most about your Crunch experience?

Nicole: Having the support of a brilliant Crunch Team bought to life what has been in my heart and head for some time.  Their knowledge and experience enabled me to apply business principles to understand our market and build a sustainable business model for our social enterprise, Springboard.  This is so valuable to us, because through our social enterprise, we want to ensure Activate’s long-term sustainability so that we can provide young people from “tough realities,’ with more opportunities in leadership, education, employment and community connections.

Kristen: The chance to give back.  Telstra is a great company with amazing people in it and it was so nice to be able to share some of what we have with a truly deserving organisation such as Activate.

Bill: The opportunity to gain a valuable insight into where social enterprises fit in Australia’s response to social need.

Dan: Working on the project was really interesting, challenging and fun!  The flow on benefits of their activities opened my eyes to other ways of doing business and ways Telstra makes a contribution to the community.

Would you recommend the experience?

Dan: Absolutely, it’s risky and takes time and commitment but is worth it! I think it’s important to take advantage of these types of opportunities and contribute to the success of an important project.

David: At the outset, the mentees held so much optimism and passion for their ideas without really having an appreciation for what was involved to get it off the ground. They now say that had they received funding prior to The Crunch, that they doubt they would have been successful. The mentors have also developed their understanding but in a different way – they now have a deeper appreciation of the social issues facing our community and how complex they are to solve.

For more information visit: www.socialtraders.com.au and stay tuned for a report from the  Pitch and find out how the million dollars is divided amongst the enterprises.