Discussing sustainable growth across business sector

By Ashlea Witoslawski

Social enterprises, businesses, government agencies and community organisations came together in Shepparton last week to discuss sustainable growth across all industry sectors, to ensure economic success and prosperity is a certainty in the region’s future.

Hosted by Melbourne not-for-profit organisation Social Traders, the Regional Roadshow highlighted the importance of social enterprises to enhance the local community by creating a positive social impact while tackling specific problems prevalent in the region.

According to Social Traders, social enterprises are businesses which trade to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide people access to employment and training, or help the environment.

Social enterprises are commercially viable businesses existing to benefit the public and the community, rather than shareholders.

Businesses must also use most (at least 50percent) of profits to work towards social missions.

Social Traders executive director Mark Daniels said the event was well attended by a number of different local organisations interested in increasing their social impact and learning about Victorian Government’s social procurement framework.

Social procurement involves organisations using their buying power to generate social value above and beyond the value of the goods, services or construction being procured.

‘‘We’re running these events as a way to raise awareness in regional areas,’’ Mr Daniels said.

‘‘The city gets a lot of attention on this but there are also good examples in regional areas.

‘‘We want to change the economy and give businesses and organisations the support, structure and systems they need to succeed.’’

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said the event seemed to inspire the organisations in attendance to think about their local, social impact.

‘‘Entrepreneurship and enterprise has built Shepparton and if we can make sure money is swirling around our economy then we can help others and it can have a great benefit here,’’ Mr Birrell said.

Working to develop the Greater Regional Opportunities for Work Greater Shepparton program, Mr Birrell said social procurement was an important factor for the region’s success.

‘‘I think this will be hugely positive for the region and hopefully will increase regional business and projects and create opportunities to spend more in the Goulburn Valley,’’ he said.

‘‘The State Government has invested a bit of money in region and they want to see that leveraged to have an economic impact here.’’

Mr Daniels and Mr Birrell stated high youth unemployment rates were among concerns from event attendees.

As current statistics report, youth unemployment rates in the Shepparton region sit at 17.5 per cent.

To help combat this issues, Shepparton business The Workgroup shared its stories of social procurement.

With an annual turnover of about $30million, The Workgroup is committed to growing its businesses to support 1500 young people per annum over the next five years.

The Workgroup runs two different business units — Recruitment Select and GAME Traffic and Contracting — both of which distribute profits into employment programs embedded in 17 schools in the region.

The programs are designed to help local youth remain engaged at school and create a pathway to meaningful employment or further study.

The Workgroup chief executive Craig Marshall was delighted to see many local organisations interested in adopting social procurement causes.

‘‘For us, it’s about working with as many young people as we can to drive real impact over a sustained period of time,’’ Mr Marshall said.

‘‘We’re pleased to see the Victorian Government have established a social procurement framework and it’s great to see an increased interest in this model.’’