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Social Enterprise Conference 2016

On Thursday 19 May, DUSA club SeCo (Social Enterprise Collective) hosted the third annual social enterprise conference on-campus, featuring a number of inspiring change-makers and go-getters as guest speakers. The crowd got to hear from Thankyou’s Justine Flynn, Hunter Johnson from The Man Cave and Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), Long St Coffee’s Jane Marx, and Andrew Mahar from xpand Foundation.  Through listening to each of the speakers, their stories, and their advice, it was clear that each of them represented integral aspects of social enterprises that also brought to light the things they value personally.

Perhaps best known to the crowd was Thankyou’s Cofounder and Director of Brand and People, Justine Flynn. Thankyou was created by this brilliant woman, mother, and Deakin alumni, and her husband Daniel with the aim of funding life-changing water, food, and hygiene and sanitation projects through their sales. For Justine and Daniel, it all started with bottled water, which globally we spend over $60 billion on every year. Meanwhile, a quick web-search reveals that 783 million people around the world don’t have access to safe drinking water. This was the first global problem that Thankyou aimed to alleviate, and their goals have broadened to funding other projects to help people in need since, with over $3.7 million given so far.

But the start was bumpy, from teachers discouraging the initial idea, to problems with the factory and distributor, and overall the fact that Justine and Daniel started Thankyou without really knowing what they were doing. However, there was plenty of generosity and luck, including a gift of $20,000 from a marketing teacher, and the success of the Coles and Woolworths Campaign, in which a helicopter with a banner flew around the supermarkets’ headquarters asking them to stock the Thankyou brand.

The second speaker of the evening was philanthropist and man of laughs, Hunter Johnson, Cofounder of The Man Cave and Innovation Manager at Foundation for Young Australians (FYA). Hunter started with a story about how he went from a hyper-masculine athletic upbringing to being involved with social enterprises after a horrific football injury that nearly took his life.

FYA is Australia’s largest youth foundation which teaches young people entrepreneurial skills and backs up other similar programs, extending their resources to remote and regional areas. In his role with FYA, Hunter said, ‘I literally get paid to work with young people. I work with five year olds. And I work with thirty year olds. And some thirty year olds act like five year olds.’

By cofounding The Man Cave, Hunter hopes to tackle the toxic masculine mindset that says all men must be strong, athletic, and emotionless by providing a preventative mental health and emotional intelligence program. This builds support and tools to strengthen the emotional literacy of the male population.

‘Emotional literacy, especially with young guys, is stunted,’ Hunter said.

The Man Cave deconstructs, challenges and redefines what it means to be a man. The Man Cave runs different activities such as word and image association games that encourage discussion and critical non-judgemental evaluation of the self, perpetuating a healthier discourse around men and their emotions and ideals.

Next we got to hear from Jane Marx from Long St Coffee, which started  when Jane was volunteering her time to teach English to asylum seekers and refugees in Collingwood and coming to understand the lack of work opportunities these people had available to them after fleeing their war-ravaged homelands and settling in Australia. With a strong hospitality background and a passion for human rights and change-making, Jane and her partner Francois started a series of pop-up cafes which eventually grew into the establishment which is now Long St Coffee.

Long St Coffee provides six months of training through part-time internships for refugees seeking asylum, under the age of twenty-five, with no previous hospitality experience required. They secured funding for their social enterprise through competitions, bank loans, crowdfunding, and even personal savings.

The final speaker for the night was social enterprise veteran Andrew Mahar, who has been in the change-making business for over twenty-five years. Andrew’s current work is through the xpand Foundation, which supports several initiatives in Timore Leste: InfoTimor, WithOneSeed, WithOnePlanet, and WithOneBean.

InfoTimor aims to create positive social change through the use of information communication technology. Through this initiative, people from Timore Leste were trained in order to be able to maintain the technology Andrew and the InfoTimore team set up for them. The WithOneSeed initiative led Andrew to meet Tim Flannery, with whom Andrew discussed the idea of replanting the forests in Timore Leste and creating opportunities for the communities there by paying them to care for the new trees. Timore Leste, like many other places around the world, relies heavily on fossil fuel, and the cycle of deforestation, top-soil erosion, and failing cash crops shows the impact using these non-renewable resources can have on a community. Replanting forests also takes a step towards countering the effects of fossil fuel carbon emissions.

‘4% of carbon emissions come from the technology we use,’ Andrew said.

WithOnePlanet strives towards climate change education by linking school communities from Australia and Timore Leste and challenges students to think about carbon, culture, and citizenship in line with Australian Curriculum. The initiative encourages them to think about creating an environmentally sustainable future. The last initiative that xpand Foundation supports is WithOneBean, which supports coffee farmers in Timore Leste, working to end poverty and hunger, replant the forests, promote education, and replenish the planet with its organic, ethically, socially and environmentally sourced coffee.

Through listening to the stories being told by each speaker and the impact they are making around the world, many positive characteristics shone through to embody what social enterprises are really about. Justine’s Thankyou story was one of courage and bravery, not only in facing hardships, but also in trying something new, failing, and learning. Many of the jobs we do can be broken using the 80-15-5 rule, in which 80% of what you do can be done by someone else, someone can be trained to do 15%, and only 5% is something that only really you can do—and that should be your focus and your purpose.

‘Your WHY is your biggest anchor.’

Hunter shared how he found his purpose during his recovery, when he was depressed because he wouldn’t be able to play sports again and he felt like he had lost his masculine identity. One day, his grandfather said, ‘If you were so good at sport, why couldn’t you put that energy towards something a little more meaningful?’

This imparting of wisdom helped Hunter to become aware that he’d been defined by stereotypes of masculinity when he didn’t need to be, and strive to change that within himself and the world around him. Similarly, Jane had to challenge dominant social values in order to get Long St Coffee up and running. There has been ongoing negativity around asylum seekers from many Australians who make assumptions about how and why these people are different. Jane talked about how teaching these young people employable hospitality skills and letting them serve people coffee and meals helps to normalise their presence. Long St Coffee is creating a change in the way people think about refugees and asylum seekers to encourage a more inclusive and culturally diverse Australia, which will only serve to create more opportunities for these hard-working people.

‘We were very creative about who we asked for help,’ Jane said, listing off a plumber, two property lawyers and a cobbler who helped them get started.

Jane’s conviction and creativity in making change is also embodied by Andrew, who has maintained his drive for doing good in the world for a long time and has strived to address numerous global issues in innovative ways.

Andrew defines a social enterprise as a business model which is about delivering community wealth, and this is reflected through the goals and values of each of the speakers and their social enterprises.

‘Social enterprise is about community. It’s not about one person. That’s really important,’ Andrew said.

And when questioned about their views on failure, another thing they all had in common was their ability to view bumps in the road as opportunities to learn and try again rather than reasons to give up—to be honoured rather than feared.

‘Sometimes we have to blaze trails and we have to learn as we go,’ Justine said of her experience with Thankyou.

The speakers at the Social Enterprise Conference shared inspiring stories of failing, learning, and successful change-making. But more than that, Justine, Hunter, Jane, and Andrew encouraged us to be conscious of the products we consume and how our decisions could shape the world around us. Everyone has the potential to make a difference and should strive to do so, even in small ways. That’s not to say that everyone should start their own social enterprise, but simply by thinking like a social entrepreneur and seeing what changes you could make to your lifestyle, and subsequently the world around you. If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

Words by Bonnee Crawford. 

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