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Five Minutes with Nina Yousefpour – Social Enterprise Advisor, Social Traders

Nina Yousefpour joined the Social Traders’ Social Investment Portfolio team as a Social Enterprise Advisor in 2016.

Nina has worked in the social enterprise space in varying capacities over the last seven years in both Australia and Canada, which has provided her with great perspective in new forms of capital for social enterprises, key considerations for implementation, and the use of tools like SROI to measure and communicate impact.

In her role at Social Traders, Nina provides business support and advice to social enterprises in Social Traders’ Portfolio.

Nina shares her insights on the opportunities and barriers for developing social enterprise and her top tips for building a sustainable social enterprise.

1. What are some common issues and barriers you see for enterprises who are in their early stages of development?

Access to capital is a significant one and has been highlighted in the national study Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector 2016. While some social enterprises are not ready to take on some of the new forms of capital that are currently available, I also think there is a limited appetite for risk in the supply of capital. To find a partner who is going to take the time to understand the related risks can be rare, and initially that’s what attracted me to the Social Investment Portfolio. In this work, measured risk leads to innovation.

Another one that is popping up at the moment in my work, is having the right skills at the right time in the social enterprise. As a social enterprise starts to grow, being able to time the entry of new people to a team is critical. Further to this point is recruiting the right skills, and while it will be rare to find that magic individual, roles in social enterprises often call for people that can get both money and mission – which can be a challenge.

2. Why do you think it is important for the enterprises to have an external source of expertise and support?

Social enterprise is gaining a new level of momentum in Australia. Despite it being an old model and a sector that is mature, we are seeing new types of businesses in a variety of different industries and product/service offerings. In many instances, social enterprises are treading new territory, and we can assist them through that.

Most of the time the people managing the social enterprises are the experts – we act as a sounding board, guide, and sometimes a reality check when things get really busy, to make sure they are on the best possible trajectory. This is useful to any business, and there are nuances amongst social enterprises that we are well equipped to assist with.

3. How important is it to have a balance between understanding your social cause and beneficiaries and your business fundamentals?

It’s critical. Often there is a tension between the two that social enterprise leaders manage and assess – it can be the fine art of social enterprise.

At various times in a social enterprise’s life cycle, it may emphasise one over the other, but it’s important to understand the triggers for each through a clear strategy, as well as keeping staff informed on the higher purpose behind any shifts. The social mission in many cases will struggle to be realised in absence of a viable business model.

On the other hand, there are also social enterprises that struggle to meet their social objectives, since they are focussing on maintaining viability. If social enterprises find themselves pulled in a direction of finding work for works sake, that isn’t aligned with mission, you need to come back to the question of ‘why are we doing this, what’s our purpose’. There’s a lot of discourse emphasising the former challenge around business viability, but it’s important to consider both. We focus on supporting both in the Social Investment Portfolio.

4. What do you enjoy most about working with Social Traders’ Portfolio of enterprises?

At a high level, witnessing the way social enterprises apply the mechanisms of business and capital for social progress offers a lot of hope. For me business and capital come to life and are very powerful when they are harnessed for a community cause. On a day to day level, obviously I enjoy witnessing the successes of the social enterprises that I work with, but getting through the challenges, and assisting in shaping the possibilities in response to these challenges is never dull.

5. What interests you about the future development of Australia’s social enterprise sector?

As the sector has evolved and new opportunities for capital and development have become available, I’m particularly interested in seeing more social enterprises take the leap to start or grow, but also in the availability of that capital and an understanding on the supply side, of what it really means to invest in social enterprise.


Nina’s top four fundamentals for building and growing a sustainable social enterprise
  1. Actually determining what sustainability looks like for your organisation, and continuing to revisit this – sustainability isn’t a destination
  2. Having access to the appropriate capital, and avoiding the pitfall of being undercapitalised
  3. Having the right skills in the enterprise to get the idea off the ground, and considering what skills will be needed over time. It seems obvious but sometimes recognition of this in a timely way significantly delays or fosters progress.
  4. Establishing the decision-making processes and the responsibilities between the Board and management (if this applies) through the early stages and adapting them as the enterprise moves forward – the relationship between the Board and management is critical.

Applications to join Social Traders’ Portfolio are now open. For more information, head to www.socialtraders.com.au/portfolio