July 24, 2015
Ben Neil is an Area Manager with Mission Australia working with a portfolio of social enterprises.
Ben has also worked with the Department of Human Services, is the president of SisterWorks and formally Chair of the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network.
We spent 5 minutes with Ben to ask him about his experience with social enterprises and what qualities make a successful business.
1.What is the biggest lesson you have learnt through working in social enterprise?
Wow, this is a very hard question that for me that relates to one of the biggest challenges facing social enterprises, balancing the social and enterprise outcomes.
I think the lesson is that you can’t have one without the other and that if one becomes too much of a focus your enterprise is at risk.
I’ve seen many social enterprises that have amazing social outcomes but fail dismally in generating income to sustain the business and ultimately this means there is no ongoing sustainability. Equally the challenge of a business that is so focused on finances that the social outcomes fall away means expectations of either the target of your social benefit or the providers of your income don’t get met.
In the social enterprises I am involved in we are constantly reviewing how we are tracking financially and measuring our social outcomes, it’s a balance we don’t always get right but we are trying!
2. What is the most important piece of advice you would give someone starting their own social enterprise?
This may seem simplistic but a really important piece of advice is to develop relationships in your chosen field and employ people that are experts at their jobs.
Some times in the third sector we focus on people’s ability to deliver on the social outcome over the core ability to undertake key business related tasks. This may seem brutal but will assist no end in making your enterprise sustainable in the long term. There are also some amazing unforseen outcomes can come from this.
Synergy Smash Repairs is an enterprise that I look after in North Melbourne that is a fully commercial smash repair business that offers work experience to young people that have predominantly been involved in vehicle related crime. Our trades people don’t have formal qualifications in working with young people but provide strong male role models in a focused real life working environment.
The interaction between the young people and the staff is amazing with it almost appearing easier to talk about issues they are facing when there is a relationship built around genuine mentoring as opposed to the more traditional ‘worker’ client model.
3.Who do you think is the most inspiring social entrepreneur/change maker?
As someone who has predominantly been employed by larger organisations when working on Social Enterprises I have the utmost respect for any social entrepreneur that puts in their own financial or ‘sweat’ resources in to an enterprise. I have done this (and failed) in a for profit setting and know that it takes a real sense of belief, confidence and drive to take this risk.
On a personal note I have been privileged to be involved with an organisation called SisterWorks who aim to empower women through work and am constantly inspired by our amazing Executive Officer Luz Restrepo.
Luz arrived from Columbia as a refugee and since being in Australia has worked tirelessly to improve the life of women who arrive and are suffering from disadvantage. Her leadership is built around the same lived experience and she is unrelenting in her pursuit of making our ‘Sisters’ lives better.
Plan, take risks, love what you do and enjoy every moment of the ride! – Ben Neil
More about Ben Neil:
Ben became an Area Manager with Mission Australia 12 months ago. His portfolio includes Charcoal Lane Restaurant in Fitzroy which is a social enterprise that provides training opportunities for Indigenous young people and the newly opened Synergy Auto Repair business in North Melbourne. Prior to this he spent 3 ½ years working with the Department of Human Services as the Renewal Manager in Fitzroy.