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Helping social enterprise respond to COVID-19

March 23, 2020

In the midst of the growing COVID-19 (C-19) crisis globally and here in Australia, the unique and innovative solutions of social enterprise is needed even more than ever.

Social Traders recognises that the health and economic implications associated with C-19, poses damaging flow-through effects on communities and business, including social enterprise.

Our priority focus, working with government and other partners, is to help protect and support social enterprises to survive loss of business and revenue that enables delivery of critical social, cultural and environmental outcomes during and beyond this global pandemic.

Here we provide some key issues for social enterprise to consider, some tips to work closely with your customers and some useful information and financial assistance available from Governments that we will endeavour to keep updated via the Social Traders website.

Key issues to consider

Social enterprises work across a multitude of industries and are often dealing with the most underserved areas of society and the environment. There are some obvious issues and questions to consider in this volatile and uncertain period:

  • What strategies will allow us to retain our employees and beneficiaries?
  • Already operating on slim margins, will we be able to afford these strategies?
  • Are our contracts and income streams secure?
  • What will our beneficiary (social, cultural or environmental) needs be after this crisis?
  • What will our customer needs be after the crisis, how does our business adapt?
  • Will there be additional support from government and philanthropy for social enterprises?
  • How will we raise funds to supplement diminishing trading income?
  • Will we be able to pay the rent, loan repayments and staff wages?
  • Can we get our work done remotely?
  • How do we keep staff motivated and support their mental health?
  • What if staff get sick?
  • If we stay open, will we be able to keep our bathrooms stocked with toilet paper?

One thing we do know, more than ever is the need for a social enterprise response.

Working with your customers

There will be obvious challenges during this period as the certainty of contracts or purchasing arrangements with customers might be in question as the economy contracts. Conversely, some social enterprises may experience increased demand for their products/services.

Here are a few tips on working with your customers over the next period:

  • Track the websites of key customers and have discussions with contract managers to better understand the impact C-19 will have on your business. Negotiate what can and cannot be achieved and seek to understand their needs.
  • Forecast customer needs for the next three, six and twelve months when things should be much improved.
  • Consider the gaps in the market that your social enterprises could take advantage of. Market opportunities will arise – a packaging social enterprise might consider bottling hand sanitiser; a caterer might look at home delivered meals; a labour hire business might find an opportunity where key workers are sick or unable to work.
  • Most of Social Traders Business and Government Members are in industries that will continue to operate, in many cases at current levels. Be alert to tenders and RFQ’s that will continue to go to market. We will aim to keep ST certified social enterprises updated on opportunities via our website and online events.
  • Join these online events where you can. As well as providing new insights or opportunities, at the very least, they will help you to better understand the current market.

More than ever during this time, the public is emphasising the need for good corporate citizenship. Whilst your customers may be under financial pressure themselves, we encourage you to communicate and discuss issues you may be having with them in order to look for solutions together.

Access to financial and business support

We are a resourceful sector and there is a strong ecosystem in Australia that will be working hard to find new ways to support social enterprises.

You may have completed our COVID-19 survey seeking to understand the circumstances and needs of ST certified social enterprises, which will help inform our advocacy to Government, philanthropy and others. We will share the key results of this survey across the sector, with key government policy makers, the philanthropic sector and our Government and business buyer members. We will also be looking at ways of increasing access to resources and services you may need. Your input to this survey is critical to informing how we might redirect our efforts to best assist you. If you are a social enterprise that is not yet certified, contact us at certification@socialtraders.com.au to understand more on how ST certification can benefit you. For those experiencing financial challenges, please let our staff know and we may be able to offer you an alternative to our standards fees.

Social Traders has also compiled a summary of available Commonwealth and State economic stimulus, highlighting assistance that may be accessible to social enterprises. The key thrust of government support is maintaining jobs and providing tax relief for small businesses, along with other interesting packages such as defined period, no interest or unsecured loans. Also, there are other useful non-financial forms of assistance that will be valuable to all social enterprises e.g. templates for rent relief requests and business continuation plans that we encourage social enterprises to investigate.

This information on various government assistance measures will be available and kept updated on Social Traders website. Social Traders will be advocating for more specific support for social enterprises, alongside other intermediaries.

Additionally, staying connected with, activities of your local social enterprise network (SENVIC, QSEC, SASEC, SECNA), The Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, Yunus Social Business Centre and other sector support organisations should provide other sources of support. Social Traders is collaborating with many of these organisations on cooperative sector wide initiatives, including sharing the results of our COVID-19 survey.

SE to emerge stronger post C-19

In times of crisis such as this, there is not a blueprint for us to follow. All of us – Social Traders included – are rethinking our priorities to ensure we can sustain our organisations enabling us to achieve ongoing positive impact.

While COVID-19 will heavily affect the community and the economy, both will recover in time and new opportunities will emerge. Social enterprise and social procurement stand to become more significant post C-19 as society searches for a new approach.

COVID-19 could provide impetus for social enterprise to become a much more significant part of our economy in the years ahead.

Keep abreast of our updates as Social Traders will be delivering more online resources to keep this important conversation going.

For more information or to speak with someone at Social Traders contact certification@socialtraders.com.au

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