A dedicated social enterprise opportunities portal, which plans to connect entrepreneurs with millions of dollars in funding, will launch on Wednesday.
Social Change Central, created by Myer Foundation Fellow Jay Boolkin and former corporate lawyer Anne Lennon, is designed to address the problem of Australia’s “fragmented social enterprise ecosystem”.
It aims to offer the support and resources necessary to start and grow a successful social enterprise.
The 2016 Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector research found the number of young social enterprises was surging. Overall, Australia’s 20,000 social enterprises contribute between 2 per cent and 3 per cent of GDP and employ more than 300,000 people.
But Lennon told Pro Bono Australia News the level of strategic support for the sector, which lags behind countries such as the UK, was insufficient to back up the growth.
She said this left the sector underdeveloped and disorganised, and social entrepreneurs pushing uphill.
“One of the reasons is at the moment changemakers are very much focused on setting up their own social enterprises, as opposed to working on the ecosystem that supports social enterprises,” Lennon said.
“So it’s an interesting phase that we’re in.
“There’s a lot of intermediaries coming into the space, but the ecosystem is still patchy, and that’s where we saw a gap, a real need in the market for Social Change Central that would bring the growing number of intermediaries together and the growing number of social entrepreneurs together.”
She said Social Change Central, a 2016 ANZ Nexus Innovator Award finalist, was the first dedicated online portal for social enterprises.
It aggregates social enterprise opportunities both in Australia and internationally, from funding to awards to programs.
“Essentially it’s a one-stop shop for social entrepreneurs,” Lennon said.
“The idea is that we do the legwork bringing the opportunities to social entrepreneurs so they have more time to focus on their core mission.”
She said the platform already had $320 million in funding opportunities listed for social entrepreneurs.
“Before launch we wanted to ensure that we had as many funding and other opportunities listed on the site,” she said.
“And as well as funding there’s lots of other opportunities as well, there’s programs and awards and competitions.
“So that’s the beauty of Social Change Central in that it’s a one-stop shop for changemakers, they can log in, they set up their own personal profile, and it also features a customised opportunity tracker so they can track opportunities relevant to them and ensure that they don’t miss deadlines.”
The platform works on a three-tier membership model, open to any individual or organisation “passionate about social progress”.
The basic, free membership offers a fortnightly newsletter and limited access to search opportunities. Premium, for $50 a year, includes unlimited access to search opportunities, the opportunity tracker and a “social change champion” website badge. The gold membership, for $120 a year, further includes VIP support and exclusive offers.
Social Change Central has also committed to contributing 15 per cent of its profits to an annual funding competition, open to premium and gold members.
Lennon said she and Boolkin were looking to collaborate with intermediaries who run incubator programs.
“We’ve had a number of discussions with different intermediaries,” she said.
“We’re very much interested in collaborating with other intermediaries already in the space because there’s a lot of organisations doing great work and what we want to do is bring all of these organisations together onto the one platform so that we can connect our changemakers with the support that they need to convert their passions for social change into real social impact.”
Michelle Goldman,CEO of School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia, which recently announced it was closing its doors, welcomed the portal’s launch.
“Social enterprises offer a new approach to tackle some of our most entrenched social issues,” Goldman said.
“Social Change Central will provide an invaluable resource for connecting social enterprises with the support they need, significantly increasing the chance of them successfully achieving their mission, and thereby adding value to the social fabric of our communities.”
Lennon also said the platform would play an advocacy role in raising awareness of the sector.
“By bringing all the changemakers and the growing number of intermediaries together we’re shining a spotlight on social enterprise in Australia,” she said.
“At the moment it’s quite difficult to get a handle on the size of the sector and its full potential in that organisations are doing some great work but they’re not collaborating as well as they could together.
“And so by bringing together both the changemakers and the intermediaries we hope to foster collaboration and also to educate and build awareness of social enterprises and their work.”
Ellie Cooper | Journalist | @ProBonoNews
Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.