Building Social Enterprise Capacity in FNQ

    Social Enterprise is an emerging sector in Far North Queensland, a sector that presents a number of opportunities to build more jobs and to address some of the serious ecological, social and cultural issues of the area. Social Enterprises sit at the intersection of the profit and the not-for-profit sector and may include stakeholders from either of these sectors. They basically work towards achieving an economic, social, cultural or environmental mission through providing good or services that in turn provide the income to ensure that sustainability of addressing the mission.

    The Cairns Institute (TCI) has been supporting the development of the social enterprise eco-system in FNQ over the last few years and has been involved in a number of events that towards building social enterprises and entrepreneurs. This section provides an overview of these activities. The Social Enterprise Network for the Tropics [SENT] was established in 2018. This network continues to be very active in the region and has around 140 members who, while coming from a range of backgrounds, share an interest in fostering social enterprises in FNQ. TCI’s Senior Research Fellow Dr Narayan Gopalkrishnan, is the Chair of SENT which also involves academics from across the Colleges. Dr Gopalkrishnan is also a Director of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council, the peak body for social enterprise in the state. The Cairns Institute was active in the establishment of SENT and continues to support its work in building the social enterprise ecosystem.

    TCI was central to the creation of the SENT website (sentfnq.com.au), the running of a number of public forums and trainings as well as the two online conferences involving participants from across FNQ, Northern Territory and Western Australia. The most recent forum was held in Cairns on the 25th of October 2022, with a focus on recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.

    The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) 2022 was a historic event that took place in Meanjin, Brisbane in the last week of September. SEWF involved 2,770 participants, of whom over 1700 were in person, representing 93 countries. JCU was one of the universities that supported the bid for bringing SEWF to Australia, and several of our staff played key roles in the event.

    Dr Gopalkrishnan; Chair for the Indigenous Stream at the Academic Symposium at SEWF is also the Chief Editor for the Special Issue that is associated with the Forum. Adjunct Professor Yvonne Cadet-James was also a Chair at the Academic Symposium and Adjunct Research Fellow, Joann Schmider, was one of the panel speakers at the Symposium. JCU was also represented by Jennifer McHugh, Program Coordinator (Development in the Tropics). SEWF was a resounding success, and it is expected that the outcomes of the forum will support the ongoing building of social enterprises in Australia.

    JCU was also the recipient of an infrastructure development grant from the Department of Employment, Small Business and Training, Queensland. The project will run till July 2023 and involves addressing gaps in our knowledge base on social enterprise in FNQ, building social enterprise capacity in the region and developing communities of practice in the region that will sustain the further development of social enterprise and entrepreneurs.

    The project has a particular focus on Indigenous-led businesses and social enterprises and will work towards developing systems that will support these enterprises. It will also link with the Indigenous Councils across FNQ towards developing an integrated approach to Indigenous business in specific sectors. JCU also supports individual social enterprises that wish to establish in FNQ, and recently hosted WhiteBox Enterprises, the organisers of SEWF, towards helping them to set ASA in Cairns, a social enterprise providing jobs to neurodiverse clients.

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