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Building Better Social Enterprises: A Journey Through Social Traders’ Crunch

Alison Rowe, CEO of Moreland Energy Foundation Limited (MEFL) along with project mentors Tyson Busch from Australia Post and Ameya Khandekar from PwC share the journey they’ve taken through Social Traders’ Crunch Accelerator program to develop their idea to establish the Energy Foundation Australia (EFA).

How did the idea for the Energy Foundation Australia (EFA) come about?

AR: EFA was really customer demand driven. We had some community energy groups and the Yarra Energy Foundation approach us and ask us how we could collaborate to help provide services, which led to me putting my thinking cap on about what that model would look like. Through the ST Crunch process the idea has changed quite a lot, but basically the concept is that we’re an enabler, supporting others to deliver impact in regards to renewable energy and the environment. That’s the premise it started with and we’re really excited about where it’s going.

How will it work?

AR: We’ve been able to determine that we have two different target customer markets with different service offerings which has been really helpful for us. One of those is community energy groups who raise money for local energy projects. They do great work and they’re typically run by volunteers, for example, Hepburn Wind which is a community owned wind farm.

Our role there would not be to interfere with that local activity, but actually to be an accelerator for them, to provide shared services and do what we term the “unsexy” work behind the scenes to help them do more good work. The other customer group is community energy foundations that are a little bit like MEFL, we can collaborate across our sector and share our services so that more funding is going into delivering impact.

What made you look to an accelerator program to help develop your idea?

AR: I was fortunate to know about Social Traders as we had one of MEFL’s other social enterprises, Positive Charge, go through the Crunch Accelerator program a few years ago, which has been a hugely successful part of our business. We’re just about to expand Positive Charge into NSW in year four of its existence which is really exciting.

Alison Rowe (left) taking part in Social Traders' Crunch accelerator program.

Alison Rowe (left) taking part in Social Traders’ Crunch accelerator program.

What insights have you been able to bring as a mentor?

TB: My role is quite multi-disciplinary, it’s operationally based, financially based, I work at headquarters and out at facilities, so I get to see a lot of perspectives. That’s what I bring to my mentorship – trying to see things from other points of view.

AK: For me, the first thing to call out is understanding what the structure is and if are we looking at the right approach to make sure it’s sustainable and is going to work well once it gets off the ground.  In my daily role, I also interact a lot with senior leaders within large corporates and there were some synergies in me providing some advice on how to interact with the board and look at what areas the board might be interested in.

What’s been the most challenging and the most valuable thing you’ve had to work through as part of the program?   

AR: The challenge has been getting a detailed understanding of the specific services for the two target markets and understanding the nuances between that. In fact the target market has flipped for us in terms of where we thought we would be working first. So we are going to be working in more of a higher volume area with all these community energy projects which we didn’t expect at the start and really getting to understand what jobs they need done and how we can benefit them.

What advice would you have for other organisations looking to start working on a social enterprise?

AR: Don’t be tied to the solution from the start and understand that the solution might change. Commit the resources, you need to commit to the whole program and sometimes that can get really hard with capacity issues but it has to be a commitment by the organisation to see it through. You may not be at the level you expected to be at the start, and that’s actually ok, that just means you might need to do more market testing or you might need to pivot from your original idea. The thing is to be open and not to be prescriptive, but dedicated and committed to going on the journey. And actually starting, not just putting in on a piece of paper but actually getting out there and starting something and really having an acceptance of failure.

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Energy Foundation Australia took part in Social Traders’ Crunch Start-Up Accelerator in 2017.