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  • ben26023

Fixing the System

I’m not one to cry poor, but there’s a huge issue that I believe needs immediate attention. Not only for the sake of the system itself, but for the future of Australia’s disability sector. And it all starts with one simple classification...

There’s no secret that a lot of organisations depend on Government funding to purely exist. This is especially true for those with philanthropic intentions – charities, Not for Profits (NFPs) and organisations who are looking to improve society as a whole. It’s no secret that is why I launched 30 Foot Drop I wanted to create positive change not only within the disability sector, but throughout the wider community. And I spend a lot – and I mean A LOT – of time curating and submitting for a variety of local, State and Federal Government grants. Currently, when applying for Government funding, organisations can be classified as one of three things:

  1. A charity

  2. A Not-for-Profit, or

  3. A commercial entity

However, I feel there is a forgotten – and importantly – fourth option that should be considered for inclusion: Social Enterprise. A Social Enterprise is an organisation that trade to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide people access to employment and training, or help the environment. Traditionally, these organisations would re-invest at least 50% of their profits back into their operations in order to continue their mission – whether that be helping homelessness, or teaching illiterate adults to read. At 30 Foot Drop, if we have a profit it goes straight back into the business so we can help grow and increase our services and, hopefully, impact on the community. The new Office of Disability (which will shortly begin operations in Perth) recently launched its Disability Plan – a strategy that outlines how the organisation hopes to change the narrative, and included information about their Innovation Fund and how they hope it will progress their ambitions. Organisations can apply to receive monies from the Innovation Fund by showcasing how they can assist in shifting the narrative around disability. Essentially, the important elements are in the name – the Office of Disability is looking for new and innovative ideas for helping drive this societal change. Herein lies the first problem. The majority of funding that is currently available (whether they be throughout Lotterywest or the Department of Communities are only open to Charities and NFPs. In addition, any other available funding opportunities open to commercial entities (businesses) put restrictions in place so that businesses can only apply for a certain percentage of their yearly turnover for the last two years. So what does this means? I fear it will mean that those big, ground-shaking ideas that the Office of Disability are calling for will be missed –because a lot of those fresh and exciting ideas will be coming from new, small up-and-coming businesses who don’t qualify for the funding, because: a) They’re a Social Enterprise, therefore don’t fit in one of the pre-determined categories, and. b) Those businesses are too small, and therefore don’t generate enough yearly turnover which allows them to apply for a decent funding amount. Ideas that are going to shift a narrative in an entire region cost millions of dollars – small businesses just don’t generate the amount of turnover to acquire grants that large. It soon becomes apparent that the only organisations who qualify are the same large organisations that have been doing the same thing for decades. Not exactly meeting the brief of ‘big, ground-shaking ideas’. How can we welcome innovation when new organisations can’t get a foot in? To me there’s a simple solution. There’s a terrific organisation based on the east coast who share my frustruations. Social Traders recognised there was a problem with the funding system and, as such, established a set of rules and conditions that qualify businesses who identify as a social enterprise. Social Traders enable social procurement contracts with both business and government members, and work with social enterprises to increase capacity and access to new opportunities. To date, they’ve facilitated more than $105 million in sales for social enterprises with business and government members. Regardless, what this shows is that there IS an ability to certify a social enterprise and I believe that opens up so many more opportunities. I would implore Government of all levels to view this example as a progressive move forward and, hopefully, help open doors to the innovative thinking we’re all calling for. -

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