Fantastic two days of study visits. Spent some time yesterday morning at a Bonsai tree nursery on the outskirts of Melbourne. Really interesting social firm – operating a well organised commercial wholesale operation that provides employment for a large group of people, with over half people with mental illness and/or learning disabilities.
The scale of the operation was amazing – with large orders of a wide range of plants going out to garden centres across western Australia.
Clear learning point for me is how important it is to get the skills balance right in the leaders of a social enterprise. For a ‘more than profit’ organisation to fulfil its mission it needs highly skilled and experienced commercial managers – experts in their field and managers who understand the challenges and opportunities of working with a mixed ability workforce.
We then went on to visit the Prehran Mission in the centre of Melbourne. Here we found a long established ‘not for profit’ organisation developing a ‘more than profit’ strand of activity. It was an insight in to the challenges of organisational cultural change required to make a move from one way of working to another. The honesty and openness of our hosts was hugely valuable. The organisation provides employment for disadvantaged groups along with a range of support services to help people into employment – particularly those people with mental health illness. They run a soup kitchen and second-hand clothing project from their premises. The plan is to develop a chain of five stores that provide employment for their target group and a surplus for the organisation. The leadership of the organisation expressed the need to get the culture right from the outset – for all to understand that the work the outlets do both provides supported employment and income for the charity. If the outlet isn’t commercially viable, then they will close. Buy in from all staff with all the varying needs was vital to make the shift from ‘not for profit’ to ‘more than profit’.
My favourite part of this visit was the clearly communicated message that all staff have special needs – not just those that we traditionally identify. The basic message being that all staff need flexability to some extent. For example some might be studying, might have young families or elderly parents, they might have a mental illness or physical disability or all of the above. As an organisation they let all their staff know that everybody has special needs and so there is a no them and us culture.
If was then time for lunch at Tjanabi run by the Boonwurrung Foundation – this was fine dining with Australian native produce and game, run as social enterprise that provides employment and training for aboriginal young people. The food was outstanding but the magic was in the introductions about what we were eating. Aunty Carolyn Briggs the founder of the enterprise and respected Elder of Boonwurrung spoke passionately and spiritually about our connection with food, the earth and place. She was inspiring and moving. I had smoked eel and crocodile followed by Kangaroo.
We then had a brief tour by the Koorie Heritage Trust – providing an insight in to the back-story to Melbourne city and its people.
The combination of the last two visits of the day gave me a real sense of how much impact white settlers can have in just 160 years on a nation of people that had lived on and understood their lands for some 40,000 years. The indigenous population have a deep understanding and respect for the earth. The heath and wellbeing of the environment is recognised as vital for the health and wellbeing of people. The world can learn a lot from the traditions and knowledge they hold.
That brought an end to another day at the World Social Enterprise Forum. I along with five others of Scottish delegation got wind of what promised to be a great football match that was kicking off in town. Sidney v Melbourne – a grudge match that had the added spice of Sidney being at the top of the league and Melbourne second. So off we went to Melbourne stadium along with over 30,000 other people. Sadly, Sidney got three goals in the first ten minutes. Having chosen to support the home team we found ourselves among very down hearted bunch of people. The final score was 3-0. It was one of the worst football matches I have ever seen. We hopped on a tram and headed back to our hotel celebrating the quality of Scottish football.
Next on the menu is a bit of bush walking before heading over to Broome. A seven hour flight away and a 20 degree rise in temperature! There is an intensive programme of visits – many small creative industries including a community radio and TV station. I am really looking forward to this part of the trip.
We’ve been warned to stay away from ponds and creeks due crocodiles in the Broome area. I’m hoping they can’t smell the fact that I have eaten one of their kind. So just in case I have decided to adopt a strategy of always being near someone smaller or slower than me – even better I might find someone who is both.
More news from Broom and the Kimberly region in coming days subject to access to the net.
Have a look at Jacqui Watt's Blog for another insight on the Australain social enterprise study trip. Jacqui is the Cheif Excecutive of the Scottish Federarion of Housing Associations SFHA's and a Shetlander to boot.