Doing good while doing business: social enterprises in Melbourne


For the last five years, Melbourne has been the most liveable city in the world, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. And social enterprises may well contribute to that.

In the capital of the state of Victoria, creating a social link and meaning at the same time as managing a business is encouraged.

For eight years, Social Traders has supported social entrepreneurs and invested in their projects. Thanks to public funding from Victoria State, the organisation launched the Social Enterprise Awards in 2013 to reward Australia’s best social enterprises and to raise Australians’ awareness of this type of consumption.

Mark Hemetsberger, of the marketing department, explains: “There have always been social enterprises here. Being charitable is part of the Australian mentality. But Melbourne is interesting because it really is Australia’s progressive city and it reserves an important place for sports, for different cultures and for arts.”

“In 2010, there were around 20,000 social enterprises [in Australia] employing 300,000 people and contributing to GDP to the tune of 2 to 3 per cent. We think around 5,000 of them are based in Victoria,” says Hemetsberger.

Published on 7 June 2016, the Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector 2016 report, drawn up by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) Swinburne, in partnership with Social Traders, shows that in terms of the sectors represented, services came first by a wide margin (68 per cent), whilst in 2010 it was the education sector that was in the lead.

Kevin Louey, chair of the City of Melbourne’s economic development portfolio, adds: “Melbourne is considered to be the heart of the social enterprise scene in Australia. We are seeing these enterprises grow in number, especially in the café and restaurant trade. The City of Melbourne supports them by distributing grants every year for a total of AU$100,000.”

To qualify for a grant, businesses have to prove that they are creating employment for disadvantaged people: refugees, former-refugees, homeless people, indigenous Australians, the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities or mental illnesses.

The Social Studio sells clothes made by refugees from Burundi, South Sudan, Liberia, Eritrea and other countries.

Andrea Philippou Latino, who heads the business, explains: “We are trying to be sustainable by using fabric remnants and roll ends from local manufacturers. We also work with the local arts scene.”

For six years, refugees have been receiving free training in textile design and development. The adjoining café also provides catering and hospitality skills training.

Philippou Latino acknowledges that setting up a social enterprise in Melbourne has almost become “a fashion”.

“But it is also because our city is a multicultural place, full of creatives and foodies. Many want to do more for the community. At the Social Studio, we want to give opportunities to refugees and to make them feel safe. Even though we always struggle to pay the rent and the bills, we keep finding money thanks to grants and fundraising.”

Cédric Kadile, from France, is in charge of production at the company. He comments: “Australians are very open people. Their purchasing power is such that they can afford to support social causes of this kind.”

At STREAT, an iconic social enterprise in Melbourne, the café’s social purpose is announced in large letters on the blackboard next to the menu: to offer young people in difficulty (often homeless) training in the skills of the hospitality trade.

Thirty-one-year old Ryan McDonald has been managing this café in the Flemington district for six months. “It’s the first time I’ve worked for a social enterprise and I can really see the impact it has on these young people. Some of them are anxious and don’t like dealing with customers. We try to adapt to their needs, and we stay in touch with them after the training.”

For Mark Daniels, head of Social Traders’ marketing department, there is a very clear trend: “At the head of this sector there is a generation of under 35s who want to do business but also to do good.”

As social enterprises continue to gain credibility, Daniels adds: “I think Australians have understood that buying from a local social enterprise can have a greater impact than simply giving AU$500 (US$370) to a charity. Social enterprises really are the future.”


This story has been translated from French.