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Give not take: A look at social entrepreneurship

Morris Kaplan
Smarter Writer

Morris Kaplan is a former finance and venture capitalist who writes for entrepreneurs and professional services firms

Morris Kaplan
Smarter Writer

Morris Kaplan is a former finance and venture capitalist who writes for entrepreneurs and professional services firms

Social responsibility: Why doing your bit for the community can do wonders for your small business.

Earlier this month Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac, announced that the group had launched a $100 million fund to offer 100 educational scholarships and awards each year. The initiative is hoping to address a lack of females in the IT industry, and has set a new high for doing good by the private sector.

There will be many smaller businesses that would be interested in doing the same, but few have the funds of this magnitude to give away. Yet, there are SMEs that are out there doing well, and like Westpac, they’re probably going to see bottom line benefits of giving back to the community in the long run.

But for small and medium businesses, this doesn’t need to involve meeting international sustainability standards or producing big, glossy reports on their social impact. Rather, it needs to be about delivering help where it is most needed – at a grass-roots level. 

This might consist of volunteering at a local homeless shelter or aged care facility, or it might be donating money to a local sports team. 

3 people exchanging food donations over a box labelled "food donations"

See good, do good

Intrepid Travel was established in 1989 as tour provider for adventure trips to Thailand. The business now encompasses a range of social enterprises. 

Through the Intrepid Foundation the business supports a range of community-based projects in developing countries. The company works to enrol its customers in its social enterprises. It says, “All of these projects need and welcome your support. Learning about and fundraising for their activities in the weeks prior to your trip can bring an added positive dimension to your pre-trip preparation.” 

Their strategy is simple, inclusive and passes on the feelgood factor to their customers Intrepid Travel matches fundraising efforts by Intrepid Foundation dollar for dollar – up to $5,000 per donor and a total of $300,000 for all donors in each financial year.

The group philosophy is that “Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment.”

Be socially active

A social entrepreneur is someone who recognises a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organise, create and manage a venture to make social change. A social entrepreneur assesses success in terms of the impact she has on society as well as in sustainability. 

While social entrepreneurship in Australia – while not on the scale of philanthropy in the USA – it is on the rise, says Professor Jock Collins of School of Finance and Economics at University of Technology, Sydney.

“Its definitive feature is where there is a commitment to a social benefit. We’ve a history of this particularly amongst immigrant groups. In the 1950s you had the Italians, as a case in point, where well-established immigrants would support (other Italian) new migrants with advice. This still goes on today.”

Tips to take control of your social responsibility

  1. Communicate your good work: “Many businesses hide their achievements thinking it will be perceived as boasting or ‘cleansing’ their conscience. Yet the efforts are real and keeping quiet about something that can help you grow your business, and position it above your competitors' businesses, makes no sense.”
  2. A big spend isn’t necessarily required: “SMEs can make a real difference in their community without having to spend huge amounts of money. For example, a waste recycling business that hires long-term unemployed people and directs its profit to a variety of charities combines can be an effective social enterprise.”
  3. But be warned: “If the market is simply too competitive, efforts can be short-lived or largely ineffective, it's important that you develop a strong business plan and come up with specific, achievable goals.”

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