Contact Us | Login

Social Enterprise Inspiration

This is an archived page View our new offerings

Stage 2: Social Enterprise in Australia

Outcome at the end of this stage: An understanding of what makes social enterprise in Australia

Audience: Those wanting to know about social enterprises in Australia and self-assess capability to start-up

Expected time commitment: 1–2 days

Throughout this guide, you will learn from a number of people who have shared their stories about starting and running a social enterprise in Australia. This section introduces you to these six social enterprises. You will hear more from each throughout the guide.


CERES (the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies) is a community environment park on the banks of the Merri Creek in Brunswick East, eight kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD. In the late 1970s, a time of widespread unemployment in Brunswick (once the heart of the city’s manufacturing industry), the local community came together to try to counter long-term structural unemployment.

Twenty-five years later, CERES is a thriving social enterprise with a hub of profitable businesses and programs that form a model of environmental sustainability for communities worldwide. It is a great example of how a social enterprise is built upon the values of the organisation. Today, the projects and businesses at CERES include a cafe, biodynamic farm, plant nursery, market, event facilities, research on renewable energy, and environment education for a range of audiences.

All income from the centre goes towards the operation of the park and further development of community programs, making CERES an exemplar of how an organisation can promote and deliver its social outcomes and achieve financial sustainability. In 2009, CERES employed approximately 200 people and turned over $8 million. 

Resource Work Co-operative

Resource Work Co-operative (RWC) is a not-for-profit, self-funding worker cooperative formed in 1993 with the purpose of reducing waste, creating jobs, and educating the public about living sustainably.

RWC employs 24 people in Tasmania and has never relied on any government subsidies. RWC generates the large part of its income from the sale of reusable goods salvaged through two outlets: the Resource Tip Shop in South Hobart and the Resource Collectables in the Hobart CBD.

After paying wages and operating expenses of the cooperative, profits generated at RWC are reinvested to grow the business organically and to fund educational programs. RWC is another good example of how an organisation can promote and deliver its social outcomes through its operations while achieving financial sustainability.

At the beginning of 2010, RWC developed another income source – deconstruction. The deconstruction work performed by RWC involves pulling apart buildings slowly and by hand so that materials can be sorted for recycling or reusing.  Current industry practice is to demolish the building and transport the rubble to landfill, with the cost of disposal passed on to the end user. This not only reduces the waste going into landfill, encourages re-use of materials and reduces the need for new materials, but also creates jobs. This creates more value than the conventional approach.

This idea had been floating around for some time, but it was the Jobs Fund Grant in 2009 that prompted the organisation to development a business plan.  Although RWC did not win the Jobs Fund bid, the business plan was able to be implemented through a timely connection with a local architect. Through this partnership, RWC brought the business to life through the deconstruction of two government buildings. As a result, the organisation received awards at the Tasmanian Awards for Environmental Excellence 2010.

Green Collect

Husband and wife team Darren Andrews and Sally Quinn had often talked about combining their training in social work and the environmental field to create a ‘green’ business that could offer employment and a supportive work community. In 2002, they got the opportunity to work with BP Australia to test the feasibility of a triple bottom line cork collection business. They later received funding to start Green Collect.

Green Collect combines social and environmental innovation, promoting recycling and re-use while creating supportive, flexible and meaningful work for people and communities who experience barriers to employment.

Today, Green Collect’s operations fall into three areas: collections, shops and enterprise development. Through Collection Services, the organisation collects office waste from 200 businesses in Melbourne’s CBD, diverting a wide range of items from landfill so that they can be reused, recycled and remade. Green Collective Shops promote the sustainable use of resources and stock a range of recycled, fair-trade, eco-friendly and locally made goods, including recycled items and materials gathered through the collection service. Green Collect’s latest enterprise development initiative is working with women from refugee backgrounds and indigenous young people to start new business enterprises using recycled materials.

As of end of 2010, the company employs 30 staff and is financially sustainable with an annual turnover of approximately $500,000.

MadCap cafe

MadCap is a social enterprise offering work opportunities for people recovering from mental illness by providing a welcoming place in the community and opening doors to a better life.  Operating at locations in two busy suburban shopping malls near Melbourne (Dandenong Plaza and Westfield Fountain Gate), MadCap is a safe, flexible and understanding work environment in which people can take a risk, and even stumble. MadCap also has a very public face in the community, where it is changing attitudes and behaviours, and breaking down stigmas attached to mental illness.

The idea was born when Anthony Cheeseman, a cafe owner, and Peter Waters, from ERMHA (Eastern Regions Mental Health Association), met to find a way to combine a for-profit company and not-for-profit organisation to help people recovering from mental illness get back into mainstream employment. Anthony is passionate about the cause, having witnessed his sister’s struggles with mental illness from a young age.

In 2010, MadCap had two locations employing 45 people, including 13 with a mental illness, two with an intellectual disability and two who are deaf. Forty eight people commenced traineeships, 20 of these, people with a mental illness. ERMHA MadCap Trainees have moved into open employment and begun further education. MadCap also operates a coffee training centre, which in an 18 month period sees more than 200 people complete four-day barista courses, three-hour coffee courses and other hospitality courses.

MadCap’s goal is to have 30 to 40 cafes in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia. As they say at MadCap, ‘We don’t employ people to make coffee. We make coffee to employ people.’

Stirling Skills Training

Stirling Skills Training, formerly known as Jobs West, began in 1974 as a youth development agency known as ‘The Place’, founded by Thelma Gorton at Scarborough in Western Australia. In the past 30 years, Stirling Skills Training has evolved into a reputable, quality provider of innovative training programs and traineeships to more than 3000 people a year.

While maintaining the original ethos of service provision, Stirling continues to capitalise on state of the art, ‘in situ’ adult training strategies, adult learning techniques, and the latest research. As a registered training organisation (RTO), Stirling provides vocational skills to help people get jobs or get into better jobs.

Stirling operates in the same marketplace as commercial training organisations, and receives the same funding as any other commercial RTO. The difference lies in its policy of focusing services in areas where there is a particular community need, with an emphasis on the basic skills needed to get people into jobs. For example, if Stirling were to offer a business training package, rather than target corporate high flyers, they would prefer to work with indigenous community organisations or other not-for-profit organisations in remote or regional areas, and address the particular needs within those communities.

What’s your social enterprise purpose?

Having looked at some of the challenges and rewards of starting an enterprise, let’s begin to explore your social enterprise idea. The following exercise will help you to understand and explain why you want to start a social enterprise.

Download the Purpose Statement worksheet below, and take time to reflect on the purpose of your enterprise as you complete the worksheet.

Download 2-1: Purpose Statement

This is an archive page

Social Traders established Australia’s first online tool for social enterprises in 2012. The Builder provided assistance to social enterprises in assessing their readiness before entering an Accelerator program. Between 2012 and 2017 The Builder was accessed approximately 100,000 times.

Continue Reading