Image: Participants debate their plans with mentors at Social Startup 48 Brisbane. Credit: Steven Riggall

What’s the best way to address social problems?

It’s a question that has vexed people for years, but a group of passionate Brisbanites think they have got it worked out.

They have decided the traditional methods of trying to get philanthropists and/or governments to fund their projects aren’t working out and they’re looking to the business world for inspiration.

With the drive and shrewdness of the business entrepreneur, these social impresarios are striking out to create businesses that aim to meaningfully address social disadvantage and need.

A group of these eager social business managers-to-be recently bunkered down at the Rabbit Hole in Fortitude Valley over a weekend to channel their energies into coming up with constructive startup plans.

They were given 48 hours to perfect their plans with help from mentors and present them to a panel of judges for scrutiny.

Aptly named Social Startup 48 (SS48) Brisbane, the event’s main coordinator and co-founder Trevor Lu said inspiration for the occasion came from ‘hackathons’ – grueling coding marathons where tech-geeks come together for a weekend to make apps and other software.

Social Startup 48 Co-Founder Trevor Lu at the Rabbit Hole in Brisbane. Credit: Steven Riggall

Social Startup 48 Co-Founder Trevor Lu at the Rabbit Hole in Brisbane. Credit: Steven Riggall

Lu said the point of SS48 is not to create new businesses in 48 hours, but to challenge oneself to get all of the bright ideas out of one’s head and structure them in a meaningful way.

“We’re quite realistic in that you’re not going to create social change and you’re not going to build a business in 48 hours. A lot of it is really about the process and allowing people to go through the process of ideation and the validation of ideas and really connecting with people and learning new skills,” he said.

“For a lot of people they might have those ideas in their heads but they don’t know how to start or what to do and sitting down with other people who think in a similar way, they have a much better idea so that in the future, if they want to build another venture they have a lot more confidence to do so.”

Katie Fedosenko and Melissa Smrecnik take a breather at Social Startup 48 Brisbane. Credit: Steven Riggall

Left to Right: Melissa Smrecnik and Katie Fedosenko take a breather at Social Startup 48 Brisbane. Credit: Steven Riggall

That was the experience of participants Katie Fedosenko and Melissa Smrecnik, who started the weekend with an idea for a green guide app. After that fell through, they modified their plan to focus on connecting builders with used materials.

It’s a venture that builds on their skills and connections, while addressing their mutual concern for sustainability.

 

The appeal of Social Enterprise

But all of this seems to beg the question of why one would go to the trouble of setting up a business to help people and not try to exploit opportunities already in existence through government grants and charitable donations.

Co-coordinator of Social Startup 48 Brisbane Tiah Goldstein believes the appeal of social enterprise is growing as people involved in the not-for-profit sector tire of spending increasing amounts of time managing grant applications, while governments privatise services and slash social spending.

Social Startup Coordinator Tiah Goldstein at the Rabbit Hole Ideation Cafe. Credit: Steven Riggall

Social Startup Coordinator Tiah Goldstein at the Rabbit Hole Ideation Cafe. Credit: Steven Riggall

Ms Goldstein said non-profits often come “from a place of the heart” and want to mend what they see as social injustices, but often undervalue what they do as organisations and inadvertently create an “economy of poverty” in the sector by competing for small amounts of funding on offer.

She said social enterprises are able to operate outside of “the circle of the government and funding” by melding business logic with the principles of social justice.

That’s the aim of Spur Projects, a national foundation focused on combating suicide among young males.

Only recently established and still trying to find its feet, the organisation has come out guns blazing with a provocative campaign entitled ‘Soften the F*ck Up’.

Spur’s Creative Director Lee Crockford said while Spur currently exists as a charity, both he and his colleagues have no desire to remain in that position and are planning a transition to becoming a social enterprise in the coming years.

Tiah Goldstein believes enthusiasm for social enterprise is growing because people are becoming more aware of social problems in the world.

“There’s a lot more awareness with people saying ‘well wait a minute this is actually not okay anymore, measuring success only by money’ and you can see it by obesity rates you can see it by food issues, you can see it by poverty, it’s no longer so much distant from us,” she said.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.

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