My time as a founding board member of the Social Enterprise Council of NSW & ACT (SECNA) comes to an end at our next AGM on 9 May – when I reach the end of my max term. It’s been a privilege to work with so many awesome people over the past four years – making the decision that it was time, getting it off the ground during challenging times, and now a time of building and sustaining the momentum.
You might’ve noticed I pay attention to dates and the passing of time. I use these temporal landmarks to reflect, celebrate wins, learn, and make plans. This is a moment for me to reflect on what’s happened during the four years, what I’ve learnt, and what’s next.
This reflection is an unofficial history of SECNA (to date), with some of what’s gone into bringing together the member-led peak body for social enterprise in NSW & ACT. I’ve fact checked my memory with my emails, docs, and meeting minutes… but please let me know if I need to correct anything.
Key Dates, People & Organisations
I want to acknowledge that plenty of people were working to build, connect, and advocate for the social enterprise ecosystem before we started SECNA – and we’ve built on those foundations. Thanks to all of those people and organisations and many others who I don’t mention by name.
14 March 2019. Getting Started
Social Enterprise Exchange was an adhoc meetup organised by Hannah Miller, Marg O’Brien, Jay Boolkin, and Hanna Ebeling. We were going to have a picnic lunch in the park, but it was storming, so we moved inside to muru-D where. There were a few more there but I remember Marg, Jay, Laura Reed, and Asha Murphy. This was the moment we made the decision to start work on creating “a centralised body that will create a platform to advocate for and represent the social enterprise sector”.
Laura, Jay, and Marg were all involved with Seventh Street Ventures (SSV) at the time and based in their office. SSV provided some seed funding/paid time to allow Laura and Jay to do the initial research and landscape scan. They did an awesome job of this, interviewing social enterprise peak bodies from around the country and internationally to synthesise key lessons and principles.
The next key step was Laura and Jay created an expression of interest for founding members with an invite to come along to the catalysing meeting. There was a lot of interest… over 200 responses.
30 July 2019. NSW & ACT Social Enterprise Council/Network Catalysing Meeting
Laura and Jay convened the catalysing meeting at Digital Storyteller’s Impact Story Lab – an interactive hybrid session facilitated by Laura Hamilton-O’Hara with over 80 people. The write up from the session was published in August and reported back the results from the group on what the organisation should do, what makes a great founding member and partner, and the ideal characteristics of the founding board.
SSV provided a $10k seed funding grant auspiced through Sefa Partnerships. This enabled Mikey Leung to be hired as the part-time coordinator to help mobilise and get things moving.
September 2019-March 2020. Formation
I officially joined the founding/interim SECNA board as a volunteer along with Cindy Mitchell, Kylie Flament, Laura O’Reilly, Lee Cooper, Marg O’Brien, Tess Ariotti, Tom Dawkins, and Adele Johns (until March 2020). Laura and Jay weren’t on the board but continued supporting the formation process. This was an intense period of formation and building the foundations.
We had to work out what to call the organisation – with an acronym that wasn’t already taken. Jay did a lot of work setting up our initial brand, website, and social channels. Katie Yang and Mira Gaponova were another couple of the earliest volunteers.
A critical thing we needed to agree was who the organisation is representing and what our purpose is. This included how we’d define “social enterprise”. We decided it was important to be broad and inclusive – supporting people and organisations on their social enterprise journey rather than unnecessarily excluding them. We don’t do certification – that’s Social Traders. Where we landed is completely aligned with the headline message Social Enterprise Australia launched in 2022 to help demystify what social enterprise is… “a business, for good”.
The definition we included in our constitution is… “Social Enterprise means an entity that:
- is, or is working towards, sourcing a majority of its revenue through trade of socially and/or environmentally sustainable products and services, rather than through grants, donations or gifts; AND
- has a mission to directly address social, cultural and/or environmental needs through the trade of its product and services, rather than indirectly through socially responsible business practices such as corporate philanthropy, equitable wages and environmentally friendly operations.”
A key priority during this time was working on our constitution, policies (including diversity/representation, continuity/max terms, and skills matrix), and code of conduct with MinterEllison – who generously provided this work probono. Queensland Social Enterprise Council (QSEC) had already been around for about four years but was also in the process of incorporating as a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG) with the support of MinterEllison, so we were able to align and piggyback on some of their work. Tess did an awesome job leading this and I ended up focusing on this a lot too.
We setup subcommittees to focus on the key elements of our constitution and strategy – which were guided by the outputs of the catalysing meeting:
- Raise social enterprise awareness and understanding
- Build a connected social enterprise ecosystem
- Advocate to government
18 March 2020. Our official launch event was the first week of the covid lockdown. We’d planned for it to be a hybrid event but now it was online only. Still a moment to celebrate all of the work that had gone into getting to this point – but now we were heading into an extremely uncertain and challenging time for everyone – especially for social enterprise.
31 March 2020. Our incorporation as a Company Limited by Guarantee was confirmed and our official registration date is 31 March 2020. We’re registered and regulated by ACNC as a charity without DGR.
Things were starting to really build around Australia. QSEC was the most established (2013) and was changing its structure to a CLG, Social Enterprise Network of Victoria (SENVIC) (2018), and SECNA (2019). The Social Enterprise National Strategy (SENS) work was happening and the South Australia Social Enterprise Council (SASEC) was starting its formation phase too.
The Alliance of Social Enterprise Networks Australia (ASENA) also started forming around May 2020, as a forum for all of these bodies to share information and collaborate at a national level. By 2022, all of Australia’s states and territories had a member-led social enterprise peak body, and Social Enterprise Australia (SEA) as the national body.
June 2020. First Revenue (Paying Members & Grants) & SECNA Officers
A key month where we made our first revenue with paying members, a paid $20k research project with icare, and $15k funding from NSW Treasury Office of Social Impact Investment (OSII) to support the establishment of SECNA and membership drive.
Dynamic4 was the second paid SECNA industry member.
23 June 2020. The board decided it was time to officially appoint key officers. Cindy Mitchell became SECNA’s first chair, Tom Dawkins the deputy chair, Laura O’Reilly the secretary, Mikey Leung as the public officer, and I took on the treasurer role.
We were heading into our first full financial year as a legal entity with $25k in the bank and the first of our paying members coming onboard. We were still in the most uncertain part of the pandemic and a very challenging environment, especially being completely run by volunteers. We were all trying to navigate what it meant for us personally, for our own social enterprise businesses, and for SECNA.
We’d invested a lot of time and effort over the 15 months to get to this point. It was now time to enter a new phase… and I can pick up the pace now.
These are just some of the key activities and moments (mostly what I personally worked on directly) and there have been plenty more initiatives, workshops, and events that we’ve run during this time as a small team of volunteers, including the work of the other subcommittees.
1 July 2020-30 June 2021 (FY21)
Some key events during FY21:
- Refined our governance with financial and operational processes/controls. Insurances
- Generated $23k earnt income
- Received City of Sydney $25,750 grant for Social Enterprise Event Series 2020-2021
- Delivered and acquitted the icare Social Enterprise Engagement and OSII projects
- August 2020. Tess resigned from the board
- January 2021. Samara James hired as the (part-time) SECNA Operations Manager – our first paid hire. Recruitment led by Kylie with support from Mikey and I. Samara was amazing to work with and really helped us make a lot of progress
- 10 February 2021. Our first AGM. Kylie Flament and Laura O’Reilly resigned from the board. Christina Chun, Greg Hodkinson & Jay Boolkin elected to the board
- March 2021. Marg resigned from the board
- April 2021. New brand designed by Jules Zogbi from Candor Co (SECNA member)
- 27 April 2021. Social Enterprise Bus Tour
- 25 May 2021. Jess Moore and Marcella Lazarus were casually appointed as directors. Christine was appointed co-chair with Cindy. Our new board became Cindy Mitchell (co-chair), Christina Chun (co-chair), Jess Moore (secretary), Tom Dawkins, Lee Cooper, Greg Hodgkinson, Jay Boolkin, Marcella Lazarus, and I stayed on in the treasurer role
- 23 June 2021. Mikey Leung resigned as the public officer, and Samara was appointed to the role
- 30 June 2021. Ended the financial year with $11k in the bank
1 July 2021-30 June 2022 (FY22)
Some key events during FY22:
- More refinement of our governance with financial and operational processes/controls
- Generated $27k earnt income
- Received City of Sydney $47k grant for three projects
- Received OSII $15k grant
- Received English Family Foundation $14k grant
- Received NSW Government Micro-Business grant (covid support)
- 15 July 2021. Strategy day facilitated by Gavin Heaton from Disruptors Co (SECNA member)
- 25 August 2021. Selena Choo was appointed as our non-director secretary
- September 2021. Accounting for Good (SECNA member) prepared and lodged our first Annual Information Statement (AIS) with the ACNC. Reported a $7,256 net surplus for our first financial period (15 months. 31 March 2020-30 June 2021)
- 25 September 2021. Governance & values board workshop facilitated by Pink Sparrow
- November 2021. Bridget Gunn hired as the (part-time) communications contractor
- December 2021. Submitted the Social Enterprise Hub proposal in the South Eveleigh Precinct to CBA
- February 2022. Collaborated to co-design the SENS to vision, mission, values, and principles as a critical layer to how we will work together as state/territories and at a national level
- February 2022. Mayra Escobedo hired as the (part-time) ACT Community Hub Lead
- 1 April 2022. Our second AGM. Tom and Lee resigned. Andrew Marselos and David Burns were elected to the board
- May 2022. I advised the board I would be resigning at the end of my max term at the next AGM (May 2023) and the need for a succession plan for the treasurer role
- 30 June. Ended the financial year with $23k in the bank (excluding $77k we held for WISE Hub)
1 July 2022-9 May 2023 (FY23)
Some key events during FY23:
- More refinement of our governance with financial and operational processes/controls
- Generated $33k earnt income
- Received English Family Foundation $14k grant
- Received NSW Small Business Month $5k grant
- 14 July 2022. Social Enterprise Australia officially launched as the new peak body for social enterprise in Australia at the national level – the body to take the national strategy forward. Jess Moore is the CEO and Christina Chun the COO. Great to see a couple of the SECNA board playing key roles at the national level
- August 2022. The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) was hosted in Brisbane. It was a highlight to see Cindy on stage as SECNA co-chair, all of the other state/territory bodies represented, and Jess Moore as SEA CEO – with the session facilitated by Mikey
- 1 September 2022. The start of our ongoing monthly meetup series, SECNA Meetup #1: Celebrating Friendship Month
- September 2022. Change the Game campaign launched to profile and promote the value of social enterprise. The campaign was led by the Brand Social Enterprise working group, resourced by Social Enterprise Australia and White Box Enterprises. The unifying message: “A social enterprise is a business, for good. They trade like any other business, but exist specifically to make the world a better place”
- 2 November 2022. Risk & conflicts board workshop facilitated by Jenni Harding from Greatest Good (SECNA member)
- 3 November 2022. Kylie Flament hired (part-time) as the first SECNA CEO. Announced at SECNA Meetup #3: Demystifying Business for Good in collaboration with B Local Sydney and Fair Trade Association of Australia & NZ – as part of the NSW Small Business Month
- 24 November 2022. SEA launched the Business for Good: The Size and Economic Contribution of Social Enterprise in Australia report launched
- December 2022. Cindy resigned from the board. Christina stayed in the role of chair, and Andrew was appointed as deputy chair
- 8 December 2022. Celebrated the soft launch of the Social Enterprise Hub in partnership with 107 Projects at SECNA Meetup #4: Celebrating Business for Good
- March 2023. A delegation including the state/territories peak bodies, SEA, Social Traders, and other key social enterprise stakeholders met with the federal government at Parliament House in Canberra to discuss how we can partner and contribute to the wellbeing economy
- April 2023. Secured $240k funding for FY24 to deliver on our mission to connect the sector, advocate for policy change, and sustain ourselves
- 18 April 2023. The United Nations General Assembly agreed its first ever resolution on the social and solidarity economy. The resolution encourages member states and financial institutions to promote and support the work of social enterprises, cooperatives and others to achieve sustainable development
- 9 May 2023. The Australian Federal budget is announced with $200m funding for Targeting Entrenched Community Disadvantage which includes key work done by social enterprises
- 9 May 2023. Our third AGM… and my final as the last of the founding board members
So much has happened and there have been so many highlights over the past four years but I’ll focus on a couple…
A Genuinely Member-Led Organisation
The human-centred design approach to founding SECNA has been very collaborative and inclusive. There are always things that can be done better or differently, but we’ve kept the founding principle of being a member-led organisation at the core of what we do – it’s all about engaging and representing our members.
Most of this work has happened during extremely challenging times. The results of this work? SECNA has:
- 247 members (151 industry and 96 associate) who are very engaged and supportive of each other… there are also many other members of the community who come along to our monthly meetup and other events
- A great CEO in Kylie – who also did a lot of the heavy lifting during formation
- A physical home at the South Eveleigh Precinct on Gadigal Country
- The best financial position we’ve had with the most certainty
- A strong board to provide governance and leadership through the next phase
- Committed volunteers who contribute so much to SECNA – including the board
Social Enterprise Representation Across Australia
It was symbolic, but one of my highlights from SEWF was the moment when all seven of the Australian state and territory networks, plus Social Enterprise Australia for the national level, were represented on stage. This was a huge moment for the social enterprise movement in Australia. Getting to this point has been a massive effort for so many of us in the ecosystem, and SEWF played a catalytic role in bringing focus and urgency to making sure we have community representation and focal points for the ecosystem throughout Australia.
The SENS is another key part of this and the vision, mission, values, and principles for SENS/SEA was co-designed in a deeply collaborative way, and SECNA members were very well represented in that process.
It’s been an amazing four years but there have definitely been challenges, and there still are. Most of the story of SECNA has been during the pandemic and lockdown years, which has taken its toll on all of us… and also exacerbated inequalities in the communities we all work with.
These two challenges aren’t unique to SECNA but they’re real and ongoing…
There are many dimensions to diverse representation… and they’re all important. Diversity of thought and lived experience are critical to any board or team, but especially when representing people in the community. This means genuinely valuing the perspectives and experience people bring and the skills they have, rather than being tokenistic. I’m confident in saying every SECNA board member (past and present) does value diversity, but the challenge is in ensuring this is reflected in the make up of the board.
We’ve had a clear policy on diverse representation, skills matrix, and continuity since founding. Some of the gaps are a function of time and priority and another key factor is the mechanics of voting.
Without getting into all the mechanics and options now, voting for all open board roles at the same time and treating the roles as generic without specific requirements – and in the context of the diversity/representation and skills needed by the board as a group – means the desired outcomes aren’t ensured. This version of democracy while well intended just doesn’t work.
We’ve tried to provide very direct guidance on some of these considerations, but when members are voting they don’t know who others voted for. I’m in favour of having openings for specific board roles and voting for them one at a time to give opportunity to consider what it does the board make up as each director is elected.
Gender representation (in all of its diversity) is a key one for me. Our first formal board was a 5:3 ratio with more women than men. This feels representative of the social enterprise ecosystem to me because we have so many awesome female leaders, including our board and many others who I’m lucky to work with.
This changed at our first AGM in 2021 though for some of the reasons I listed. All of the board members who had resigned to that point were women. Without a mechanism to ensure the diversity outcome, I predicted it would result in a 3:5 ratio and advised the board I’d be stepping down if this happened to make way for the ratio to be corrected. I tentatively resigned but stayed on the board when it was decided we’d casually appoint a female director to get to 4:5.
This addressed my immediate concern but unfortunately not a systemic change that guarantees the gender representation we need. Still work to be done.
NSW & ACT Representation Beyond Sydney
SECNA represents social enterprise in all of NSW and the ACT. We’ve had ACT representation since founding until Cindy resigned from the board five months ago. Myra Escobedo did great work helping build the community in the ACT as the ACT Community Hub Lead while we had funding for that role. We definitely need to do more in the ACT and increase our representation.
Most board members have been based in Sydney, or very close… close enough to be included in the Greater Sydney lockdowns during covid. There is so much awesome social enterprise activity happening throughout NSW. We’ve been doing more to organise events beyond Sydney or as hybrid events, but it’s another key area where we need to increase our representation.
Building a Viable & Sustainable Organisation
Designing, building, and launching an organisation to be viable and sustainable while delivering on its purpose, theory of change, and strategy is full of challenges and rewards. It’s another level of challenge with a primarily volunteer-run organisation.
Burnout is always a risk, but it’s been an increased risk with the added pressures the pandemic and lockdowns brought to us personally, for our own social enterprise businesses, and for SECNA. Now we’re through the lockdown years, some aspects have eased but we’ve also moved into more challenging times from a macro-economic and cost of living perspective. There’s always going to be something, so looking after our own personal sustainability and wellbeing… and of our teammates and community always needs to be the number one priority.
Another key challenge has been generating enough earnt income with enough margin and securing untied funding to make strategic moves and set things up to be more self-sustaining financially.
Without the all of the people who have volunteered, funded, and supported SECNA, none of this would’ve happened. It’s time to say thanks…
I’ve mentioned a lot of the key people and organisations who played a key role as volunteers, funders, and supporters of SECNA. It’s been a privilege to work with so many awesome people over the past four years. There are so many people to thank…
First of all, I want to thank all of the SECNA members. We’re a member-led organisation and everything we do is about our members. Helping connect, build, and nurture the social enterprise ecosystem and community. It’s been amazing to meet so many new people, hear a bit of their story, and cheer on their progress.
SECNA Board & Supporters
Thanks to all of the other SECNA board members and supporters I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with. We’ve worked hard together, and I think we can all be proud of how we’ve helped the Australian social enterprise ecosystem make rapid progress and build the momentum we now have. Some key people…
- Hannah Miller, Marg O’Brien, Jay Boolkin, Hanna Ebeling for their work convening Social Enterprise Exchange for the years before SECNA
- Laura Reed, Jay Boolkin, Mikey Leung, and Marg O’Brien for their work in the research and catalysing phase – and Seventh Street Ventures for their support and funding. This continued for the critical formation work with Adele Johns, Cindy Mitchell, Kylie Flament, Laura O’Reilly, Lee Cooper, Marg O’Brien, Tess Ariotti, Tom Dawkins, Belinda Morrisey from the English Family Foundation, Keith Rovers from MinterEllison, Hannah Miller from Sefa Partnerships, Katie Yang, and Mira Gaponova
- My fellow founding board members: Cindy Mitchell, Kylie Flament, Laura O’Reilly, Lee Cooper, Marg O’Brien, Tess Ariotti, and Tom Dawkins
- Other board members: Christina Chun, Greg Hodkinson, Jay Boolkin, Jess Moore, Marcella Lazarus, Andrew Marselos, and David Burns… and team members over the years: Samara James, Bridget Gunn, and Mayra Escobedo
- All of the people who’ve volunteered as part of the various SECNA subcommittees and initiatives… and continue to
- Seventh Street Ventures, City of Sydney, OSII, icare, and English Family Foundation for their funding support. Westpac Foundation also provided funding for the WISE Hub which was initially led by SECNA
There are so many other people to thank, including the people doing great work at the other state/territory bodies, SEA, Social Traders, the SEWF team for their collaboration and friendship. I look forward to plenty more to come…
While 9 May is my last day as a founding board member, I’m not going anywhere. I’m looking forward to continuing as an industry member, volunteer, and helping run our monthly meetup… I’ll definitely enjoy a lighter SECNA workload though. Over the past four years, I’ve invested more than $180k worth of my time.
I’m stoked about the momentum we’ve built as an Australia social enterprise ecosystem and community over the past few years and will continue to be part of it moving forward.
We’ve got the Social Enterprise Festival on Saturday, 27 May 2023. It’s free to attend and will be hosted at UTS Business School (Building 8). It’s a family-friendly event that’s perfect for people of all ages who want to make a positive impact in their community and the world. Register for free now.
I’m lead organiser for our next meetup on Thursday, 1 June 2023… SECNA Meetup #8: Connecting & Collaborating. We’ll do this one as an open space format, so it’s a great opportunity to make new friends and explore some topics on your mind in a very participatory way. Grab your ticket now.
Sydney Design Thinking
I’m the co-founder of the Sydney Design Thinking meetup, a community of 8,500+ members. We meet monthly to explore the world of design thinking as a human-centred approach to innovation and solving complex problems – with a focus on designing for positive change. We’re one of the top 10 design thinking meetups globally on meetup.com. Our next meetup is on Thursday, 11 May 2023… SydDT #81: Establishing & Scaling an Innovation/Design Practice.
Interaction Week 2024 (25 February-1 March 2024) – IxDA’s annual global conference – will be hosted in Sydney. This is the first time it will be hosted outside Europe and the Americas. Our theme for IxD24 is focused on designing for regeneration… Revisit. Reframe. Regenerate.
I’m proud to be part of the small volunteer team who put the winning bid together and the volunteer organising team who are designing and delivering this world-class design conference. I’m lucky to be co-chairing the Education Summit as part of the week with Martin Tomitsch.
SECNA, SydDT, and IxD24 are just some of my probono/volunteer work. This all aligns with Dynamic4’s purpose, theory of change, and strategy. My everyday billable work is focused on helping founders and leaders to solve problems that matter and design, build, and launch their social enterprise ideas. I continue to play at the place where design, regenerative innovation, and wellbeing meet and continue to be an active part of the community.
Check out my book Solve Problems That Matter: Design, Build & Launch Your Social Enterprise Idea, our coaching, and learning programs. If you’re keen to work together, I’d love to hear from you.