Social enterprise workshop for common good.

All human enterprise, including financing, making, serving, selling and buying, can and should contribute to the common good of all. It can be argued that all enterprise should be social; and that a diversity of business forms can help serve this purpose.

The European Commission uses the term ‘social enterprise’ to cover the following types of business:

  • those for which the social or societal objective of the common good is the reason for the commercial activity, often in the form of a high level of social innovation;
  • those where profits are mainly reinvested with a view to achieving this social objective; and,
  • where the method of organisation or ownership system reflects their mission, using democratic or participatory principles or focusing on social justice.

Although ‘social enterprise’ has various definitions like the one above (also see the predominant Australian one), the kernel is that business should be about public benefit and environmental sustainability; profit, broadly defined, should be put to these two purposes.

So here in this little blog, we endeavour to provide an online ‘workshop’; a way to imagine and build an abundant, happy common life for every person and ultimately all creation, that is the ‘common good’.

The social enterprise response to the ‘great recession’

In the shadow of the 2008 GFC or ‘Great Recession’ there is hope for a new and emerging economic model (often called the ‘new economy’) where:

  • social enterprises’ are being created and new social investment strategies are being pioneered that blend both social and financial returns;
  • mainstream businesses are becoming more responsible in their activities;
  • community organisations are becoming more entrepreneurial and business-like; and,
  • government and public service agencies are increasingly seeing themselves as social investors and enablers looking for social impact.

There is a need to explore and reflect on all of this rapid change; to workshop new ideas and cooperatively facilitate new forms of enterprise.

Also, for social enterprise to thrive we need to promote a diversity of business models in the economy. Unlike the rest of the world (including in the US), Australia has only just begun to re-explore the cooperative and mutual option as an essential part of this new economy, despite having a proud history in this area. Similarly, employee-ownership is being seen as an increasingly attractive option globally with some nascent interest being generated in Australia by business writers like Fiona Smith of the Australian Financial Review.

So why is a Church interested in this stuff?

The roots of the commitment to ‘civil society’ and co-operatives can be found in traditional/radical Christian social thought and across theological divides. However, there are of course many thinkers from a variety of faiths (or none) who support the idea of social enterprise.

Earthworker Co-Operative – social enterprise in action

In 2012-13 the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania explored these new opportunities by ‘doing’. A start-up social enterprise, Earthworker Co-operative, was supported; in doing so the Uniting Church learnt about the new opportunities to be found in social enterprise and the new economy. Former Uniting Church staffer, and CoopWorkshop founder Antony McMullen was released to undertake this work.

This blog is now a place for continuing reflection with Workshop Peers and subscribers on the Earthworker project, and others similarly worthy endeavours, so we can share the learning along the way (and eventually provide online opportunities to develop your similar ideas with others).

So what does this CoopWorkshop blog do?

The CoopWorkshop has been designed to provide Workshoppers (join via the Meetup and/or subscribe to this blog) with:

  • Workshops (online and face-to-face) – to build up the social enterprise sector in communities – with a focus on mutual and co-operative enterprise
  • Help (and resources) – tools and tricks (and organisations that can help) for those interested or involved in socially enterprising work i.e. financing, making, serving, selling and buying for the common good in our communities
  • News (and opportunities) – for you to learn about emerging trends in the ‘new economy’ and build skills so we can build a better future cooperatively
  • Our Story – on the budding social enterprise work of the Uniting Church (Victoria and Tasmania) and beyond – sharing our story and learning
  • Interviews (and debate) – on the emerging ‘new economy’ in areas such as measuring social good – and the best role of government in the new economy.

Help us build the new economy

Become a Workshopper by joining our Melbourne Meetup (and/or subscribe to this blow) so we can work together with a spirit of cooperation; assisting each other to take responsibility to work ‘with’ and ‘for’ others through enterprise for common good.


Further reading: An Economy of Life: Re-Imagining Human Progress for a Flourishing World, Uniting Church in Australia; John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, Mater et Magistra; and, Robert Inchausti, Subversive Orthodoxy.