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Social Enterprise CAT Central Australia, from RIG News #8

2010 August 1
by Webmaster

Susan Dow, Centre for Appropriate Technology, Alice Springs

Social Enterprise – emerging opportunities in remote Australia

Introduction and acknowledgement

Local food production such as market gardens, food services, and possible value adding activities in communities all need an organisational plan and structure appropriate for their context. Work being done by the Desert People’s Centre, Alice Springs, is looking at ways to help build sustainable social enterprises in remote areas. The following piece is drawn from an article written by Susan Dow, the Centre for Appropriate Technology for their publication Our Place Magazine Number 37. We acknowledge and thank them for permission to reproduce this material.

Growing the Social Enterprise Sector in Desert Australia – An initiative of the Desert Peoples Centre.
The Desert Peoples Centre (DPC), Alice Springs, is partnering with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) to explore ways of growing the social enterprise sector in Desert Australia to provide a pathway for Aboriginal people into mainstream employment.

The Desert Peoples Centre is currently undertaking business planning to support the development of a Social Enterprise Hub. The Hub would broker a range of business and human resource support services for prospective social enterprises to ensure they can achieve both their social and financial objectives. The DPC is also looking at avenues for social enterprise to access start-up and capital grants or loans.

Over the next few years the DPC together with other partners will be working to increase its understanding of the contribution that social enterprise can make to reducing Indigenous employment disadvantage through setting up
and supporting social enterprise in the centre and by

What is social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business that trades to fulfil a social mission. Social enterprises have explicit social aims and socially inclusive values but also a commercial orientation so that profits can be created and used for community benefit.
Social enterprises are businesses with a double or triple bottom line. They must deliver: financial outcomes, social outcomes, environmental outcomes.

Social enterprises have been called the fourth sector or for-benefit sector to distinguish it from (1) the public sector or government, (2) the private sector, and (3) the charity, non-government and not for profit sectors.

Why social enterprise?

There are three principal motivations for developing a social enterprise:

-    Income generation
-    Service delivery – to create or retain services needed in communities
-    Employment and engagement of marginalized groups – often regarded as a principal motivation for social enterprise. One type of social enterprise that has employment outcomes as its social purpose is an Intermediate Labour Market Model.

Intermediate Labour Market social enterprises

An Intermediate Labour Enterprise employs long- term unemployed people for a fixed period of time in a real business with real wages and expectations of productivity and then supports them to move into mainstream employment.
The objective of an ILM enterprise is to provide short to medium term employment in a ‘real’ work environment as well as providing skills development support to help employees transition into mainstream employment.

Social Enterprise in remote contexts

Social enterprise in remote communities is not new. Many Aboriginal corporations have set up enterprises explicitly to achieve social rather than financial goals – income for charitable purposes, service delivery or employment – but do not necessarily identify themselves as social enterprises. However the sustainability of a social enterprise to achieve its goals depends on financial viability. In remote locations with small and dispersed local markets, where the local economy is dominated by a government service provision and skilled personnel are difficult to obtain and retain, financial viability is not easy to achieve.

Opportunities and challenges

Policy reforms affecting remote communities has changed the rules for success for many Indigenous corporations. For example, in the Northern Territory the Intervention, local government reforms, CDEP reform, a move from community controlled housing to public housing and NT Growth Towns policy all since June 2007 have reduced the role of local community organizations and called into question the viability of businesses based on CDEP employment.

However this new policy environment provides both opportunities and challenges for the development and growth of social enterprises. There are opportunities for social enterprises to secure procurement contracts from government (local or State/Territory) to ensure financial viability necessary to pursue employment related growth goals.


Successful social enterprises are increasingly being evaluated and the lessons learnt documented. Social enterprise in remote Australia which draws on successful experiences of social enterprises elsewhere in Australia as well as an understanding of the specific context of remote Australia can deliver social benefits to Indigenous people, particularly employment outcomes, through a business that is financially viable.

Additional information can be found at: Social Traders, Brotherhood of St Laurence, The Aspen Institute

Acknowledgements: Excerpted from and reproduced with permission: Author Susan Dow, Our Place Magazine Number 37, Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT), copyright CAT.


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