When we started GSL, I thought we were opening a business and assumed our title would become 'business owners'. While we are, and the title is strictly correct, I feel like it's more a description than a title.
In the first few years of operation, I became more and more aware of the tension in our sector between the 'inc.' and 'pty ltd'. I felt like we were on the wrong side of the fence! We chose 'pty ltd' at the time purely because we couldn't risk giving our life's savings (and the debt in our name) to a committee. It was no more complicated than that.
It's not the hopes of profit driving us, it's our passion about GSL's purpose. Sure we want to make enough to support ourselves, but this isn't anything more than sheer practicality. It's GSL's purpose that drove us to invest everything we had, and it's this purpose that has taken us through some fairly awful times.
About two years ago, we were exploring options for starting up a new venture to employ young adults, and this re-opened the whole conundrum. Should we be a 'for profit' or 'not-for-profit'? The trading name for the business is Piranha Mowing FNQ and we decided to go 'for profit'. If we didn't, what message are we sending our employees (our 'Piranhas') and the community? We wanted a strong name, to go with a strong identity, and a strong message about equity. Our Piranha's can turn a profit, just like anyone else! No sad violins following our Piranha ute through the streets of Cairns!
Through all our researching, debating and decision-making, there wasn't a question of Piranha Mowing being a social enterprise.
Now isn't it interesting that within Australia a social enterprise can be either 'for profit' or 'not for profit'? I've pondered this. I joined the Social Enterprise Network for the Tropics (a local group of social entrepreneurs, supported by JCU) and I have been genuinely interested in the discussion around bias in government policy. There are more tax advantages and incentives for those who register as a not-for-profit, and even more for charities.
So I can't help but ask why? Why are we pushed to a business structure that might not be a fit?
I understand that the underlying assumptions of a 'not for profit' is that their existence is more about doing good. Their values are not profit driven, their board ensures they 'do good' and their reporting responsibility to ACNC Commission ensures transparency. But then why can't we have something of a similar safeguard for social enterprises?
If the only Australian business registration alternatives are 'for profit' or 'not for profit', where's the space for 'just doing the right thing'? GSL floats in this space. Our values are not profit driven, but there's no real way of demonstrating this to the outside world. As sole director, our 'board' is me at the moment and I don't have any ACNC equivalent reporting responsibilities.
I know the primary sensitivity within our sector against 'for profit' focuses on exploitation of a vulnerable person. There's something that seems unethical about making a profit from a person with a disability. I don't think I am speaking out of turn by saying we all value expertise, so if someone has higher qualifications and experience they should be paid more. This is not the essence of the sensitivity. I think it's more around up selling, cross selling or any other form of selling that influences and targets the vulnerabilities of a person with a disability.
Perhaps I'm tuning in a little more these days, but I can't help but see an evolutionary trend. More and more social enterprises are popping up and their image, or social message, is different to that of a charity. No pity parties, black and white filters or sad violins; more a social call to action.
I used to feel GSL was a business anomaly; not so much now. As the years have progressed we've found more kindred spirits, and isn't it interesting we have a whole local network? The social enterprise movement is progressing, and my hope is that we can strengthen GSL sufficiently to become B Corp registered and proudly participate in a B Economy (https://bcorporation.com.au/certification) #future #bcorp #socialenterprise
Look out world - here we come!