Undoubtedly there are many social enterprises in Toowoomba – from your St Vincents and Lifelines to Homeless support and Drug Arm. These kinds of organisations do an amazing job for the community. The work is hard and I would imagine very emotionally draining. Most of these companies are supported by large, religious or government funding/organisations to provide essential community services and help those in need.
Outside those organisation, a couple of new privately run organisations have popped up. The first is Bounce Coffee – proclaimed to be the first social enterprise cafe in Toowoomba.
Bounce’s aim is to help people get back into the workforce. Many of their employees are disabled and Bounce works with other agencies to help find and (re)train people to be in the workforce and gain their independence. The organisation is run as a commercial operation with the profits/losses going towards the two owners. They were awarded with the first Business Ability Award for supporting those with a disability in the workforce – reflecting the changing attitudes to getting those with a disability into the workforce and the need to support social enterprise in this area.
Ability Enterprises is another that has been recently established in Toowoomba and their aim is to provide employment opportunities to the long term unemployed, those with disabilities and other minority groups. Again this company is a commercial entity and are working the the local council to place people into employment.
The final one I’ll highlight is the Toowoomba Flexi School. This school has been established to provide flexible educational opportunities to students who cannot attend mainstream high school for whatever reason. Kids that are full time carers, have a health issue or who are homeless can attend the school and gain their high school education. The Toowoomba Older Men’s Network – another local group is instrumental to giving the students a male role model. The school is under the direction of Centenary Heights State High School but operates virtually independently to provide alternative education to a group of people that often fall through the cracks.
Personally I don’t have a great involvement in social enterprise though I absolutely see their need and believe the are of great value to society. I’ve never thought of the business models or theories that go behind the operation of a social enterprise though, one day, would very much like to support/donate time to them.
Through my job I have helped with some events with the Flexi School and didn’t realise the need for these establishments until I saw the work that was being done and the positive impact they have on people’s lives. That is the key, these organisations have such a positive impact on people and there needs to be support to allow them to thrive.