Last weekend, from the 8-10 of August, saw the launch of the inaugural Impact Youth Social Enterprise Conference. 120 of Brisbane’s best and brightest 16-25 year olds gathered at the State Library of Queensland to hear from Australian and Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awardees and finalists, successful social entrepreneurs and like-minded individuals. The purpose of the conference was to bridge the gap between business students and young professionals with the skills and socially passionate youth with the drive, in order to explore the concept of social enterprise.
What is interesting about this conference and the community that will ensue because of it is the story of its creation. In September 2013 you may remember that I attended the Asia Pacific Cities Summit in Kaosiung, Taiwan, as a delegate of Griffith University and part of the Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s Young Professionals. There I met a group of incredibly passionate students from UQ, QUT and Griffith, including Cara Nolan, Lucille Danks and Paddy McCann. On the plane flight home from Taiwan, these three individuals, who saw a need for a space for young people to become engaged and passionate about the potential of social enterprise, conceived the idea of starting their very own conference.
“Hold up, what is social enterprise???” I hear you ask. Well, social enterprises are organisations that use business principles to address social issues. So not only do they gain profit, but they also benefit others while doing so. Some prime examples include ThankYou (“Once all the costs involved in bringing you great products are taken care of, every cent left funds life-changing projects in the developing world”) and Kinfolk Cafe (who re-direct 100% of their profits between 4 development projects in Australia and abroad).
After recognising that there was a gap between those who know about social enterprise and those who don’t even know of its existence – and therefore of its opportunity as a future career or the opportunity to support such enterprises – the concept of IMPACT was born. Two weeks after returning from Taiwan, we had an initial meeting where two questions were asked – do you want to be a part of it? and – what can you bring to it? Coming from a background of Asian Studies and Intercultural Communication, my interactions with social enterprises (that I knew of) were nil. However, as my sister Lara runs an extremely successful design company, The Grazing Elk, and I have a creative + perfectionist streak in me, I thought – yeah! I can do design!
What followed was two months of hard work getting a website (the first one I’d ever created) set up and a logo decided upon. Being primarily wrapped up in the creative side of events, I was blissfully ignorant of the incredible work the rest of the team was doing in pulling in new volunteers, sponsors, speakers and mentors… work that continued for the 10 months leading up to the conference.
From the start of 2014, our efforts on marketing and conference design really kicked off, with the Early Bird Registrations launching to coincide with the universities’ O-Weeks. This first push got us the first third of our 120 applicants, proving its relevance and the interest it was gaining in the community. We were also confirming speakers left, right and center, and had started to get university support. Particularly helpful to me was the support I received from my own university, Griffith. I met with Student Development Coordinator Joanne Fairclough to see whether the Griffith Business School would support us. Amazingly enough, within the week we had notices up on the Blackboard (the online centre for students) and meetings set up to talk with the Griffith Business School Student Leadership Programme of which I have been a part of since 2012. Later, the Business School also sponsored placements at the conference and alongside this, Griffith Honours College provided a great deal of support in helping source volunteers and more participants. Griffith University went on to be one of IMPACT’s sponsors, and we had a range of volunteers and participants coming from Griffith over the weekend.
What started as a kernel of an idea, had quickly progressed in only 10 months to being a fully-fledged and incredibly successful three-day conference filled with keynote speeches, workshops, Q&A sessions, social enterprise pitches, a pitching competition, networking events and a full house of inspired and motivated young Brisbanites (and a few from around Australia, too). And the super cool thing? It has been organised completely by youth under 25 for youth under 25. What follows is an approximate account of our incredible speakers, guests and engaged youth…
So how’d it go? And what was it all about?
Well, the conference had three main aims:
1. To inspire Brisbane’s youth to have positive impact on their communities
2. To educate them about social enterprise as a means for addressing social issues
3. To empower them with the skills and pathways required to have meaningful and lasting social impact
Starting on Friday night we heard from Elliot Costello, who has a passion for social justice, youth, and creative enterprise. As Co-Founder and CEO of YGAP (Y_Generation Against Poverty) he works tirelessly to improve the lives of others and aim for an end to world poverty. Talking about his own social enterprise, Elliot says that its success “is driven by younger people who want to engage with charity very differently”. His speech was inspiring and he even had the opportunity to launch his next project, The Polished Man, which is an innovative fundraising campaign that challenges men to end violence against children. From the 1st-15th of September the campaign is asking men to wear nail polish on one of their fingers, which will act as a conversation starter to encourage the end to violence against children whilst challenging out-dated and dangerous perceptions of masculinity.
Friday also included food provided by West End/Moorooka social enterprise Mu’ooz, a restaurant that provides delicious Eritrean food whilst also providing “an opportunity for paid employment, work experience and training for refugee African women and their families”. It also aims to improve cross-cultural understanding through the breaking down of cultural barriers in the local community. Participants also got the opportunity to mingle and explore social causes that they were passionate about. This first day was really about building energy, introducing ideas, and kicking off what would be a weekend of incredible interaction and learning.
On Saturday we started with an energising and spectacular performance by a local dance troupe, followed by our MC Peter Ball’s “Social Enterprise 101” workshop. We then heard from economist and engineer Simon Griffiths. As a Young Australian of the Award Finalist, Simon turned down a lucrative corporate job to pursue a new breed of social business which he calls ‘consumer driven philanthropy’. It involves offering consumers the choice of buying goods where the profits are used to improve the lives of people in the developing world. His innovative approach effectively gives consumers the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. Simon runs the not-for-profit bar “Shebeen” in Melbourne’s CBD and has also launched “Who Gives a Crap”, which is an environmentally friendly toilet paper business that uses its profits to fund sanitation projects overseas.
The rest of the day included social enterprises pitching their project (think: The Gruen Transfer style pitching) – such as Luke Swetman and Dave Ryan of Metaset, Michael Curran of NVAccess and Lauren Shuttleworth of Project Elephant – as well as workshops on idea generation and working with the Business Model Canvas from Social Traders and Ingrid Burkett. This led nicely to a tear-inducing keynote speech by Daniel Flynn of ThankYou.
Daniel Flynn is the co-founder and Managing Director of Thankyou Group, a social enterprise that exists for the sole purpose of funding water, food and health and hygiene projects in the developing world through its range of life- changing products. At the age of 19, Flynn co-founded Thankyou (then known as Thankyou Water) alongside a group of likeminded friends who were university students at the time. In August 2008, they registered the company and launched their very first product, Thankyou Water to the market. In July 2013, Daniel lead the company rebranding of Thankyou Water to Thankyou and the launch of two new product ranges – Thankyou Food and Thankyou Body Care via a bold, consumer-led social media campaign. Thankyou’s products are now available for purchase in Coles, Woolworths, 7-Eleven, IGA and Foodland stores.Passionate about entrepreneurship, Daniel has a strong belief that impossibility is only someone’s opinion, not a fact. He is passionate about inspiring others to dream big and do what many believe is impossible.In 2014, Daniel was named Victorian Young Australian of the Year and was also awarded the 2013 Victorian Young Achiever of the Year title.
Finally we had a networking workshop run by Dean Moss, the CEO of UniQuest, before heading to the Queensland Museum Collectors Cafe for the networking event, followed by informal networking at the Next Door Cellar Bar (Archive). Invited were social entrepreneurs and enthusiasts, our sponsors (Queensland Social Enterprise Council, Brisbane City Council, Bank MECU, Griffith University, QUT, Creative Enterprise Australia, the University of Queensland and the Queensland Government), and of course our participants. For me, it was particularly great to catch up with people I had last met and worked with at the 2013 Asia Pacific Cities Summit, such as Barry Hancock, as well as meet some of the fantastic young people at the forefront of social change, like Alyssa Holton of the Foundation for Young Australians.
Our final day, Sunday, arrived with a bang. The emphasis changed. We no longer had ‘participants’ at our conference, but IMPACTers. It wasn’t the last day of the conference, it was the launch day of the community and organisation. THIS is where it really got interesting.
The day involving ‘pitching 101’ with Amanda Reed, another social enterprise pitch by Steve Williams of QSEC and SEED PPM , a Q&A session with Bank MECU, QSEC, the School for Social Entrepreneurs and QUT, and a pitching competition. The pitching competition gave each group of IMPACTers the opportunity to develop their idea of a social enterprise and pitch it to a panel of judges. The finalists included Re-FOOD-gee, an organisation to provide cooking classes organised by refugees, cooking authentic foods from their home communities; Happy Boots, selling gumboots to uni students and festival-goers with proceeds going to mental health services and awareness, and; Heidi Feminine Hygiene, providing sanitary pads and feminine hygiene products for homeless women, where the organisation would provide products for sale commercially and for each product sold, a product would be given to the homeless, utilising existing services such as Rosies.
The quality of ideas and pitches was exceptional, so much so that our Head of Media, Ally Lynch, managed to bring the former Governor General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, to the State Library to meet with some of the participants and talk with our co-directors Lucille and Cara. The pitching competition winners – Happy Boots – also won exceptional mentoring sessions, a design package, and a few other goodies to help get their enterprise off the ground.
Finally Hollie Gordon, of Milaana, wrapped up proceedings. Hollie founded Milaana in July 2013 whilst still a student herself, to help other students combine the causes they care about with their career development needs. Milaana means “to connect, to help people to meet” and the online platform http://www.milaana.org, connects students and jobseekers with community projects for internships with heart. Hollie is at the beginning of her social business journey, but had a wealth of knowledge and inspiration to share with other IMPACTers, including our own Griffith student Julian Fang, who is currently starting his own social enterprise, La Jaca, to reduce the waste of Jack fruit in India through opening a social enterprise cafe and through utilising the fruit locally in Australia. It was incredibly inspiring to see students like Julian whose ideas were catalised at the conference.
You want to join now don’t you? I hope so. IMPACT is not a one-off thing. It is a community and we’d love you to be a part of it, and joining our Facebook page and following our website is probably the best way to go about it.And if you’re a youth yourself, you should definitely check out our fellowship program and be one of the organisers for next year!
I’m left with mixed feelings… This was probably the most incredible student-led effort I have ever been involved in. I hope it is not the last. I’m already nostalgic for the weekend just gone and it is only Monday afternoon.. However I know that what I was part of, and what I am now a part of, is greater than the sum of its parts. IMPACT was and is so much more than a conference. It is so much more than a body of passionate youth. It is more than our volunteers, it is more than our IMPACTers and it is more than our sponsors signed up for. I strongly believe that IMPACT will be the start of an incredible youth social enterprise scene in Brisbane. As our IMPACTers are testament to, we have the drive and we have the ability. Brisbane, you’d better be ready for us.
Our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future.
THE BIGGEST THANKS TO OUR IMPACT TEAM:
Lucille Danks, Cara Nolan, Paddy McCann, Gabrielle Glen, Ally Lynch, Scott Robinson, Lloyd Colligan, Shi Ng, Helen Ulcoq, Emily Boller, Alison Killen, and Mikhara Ramsing.
Photos (c) Elise Stephenson and IMPACT Youth Social Enterprise Conference.
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