Pros and cons of a social enterprise

The ups and downs of running a social enterprise

If you run your own business, you’ll know that the highs and lows can be a bit of a roller coaster ride! Operating a social enterprise is not so different, but the overlay of working for a cause can make things especially challenging.

It’s a balancing act.

Melissa Tucker is Social Enterprise Coordinator at the Mildura Chocolate Company, established in 2009 as a branch of (The) Christie Centre Inc., a community based organisation that provides services and opportunities for people with disabilities.

While their product is amazing chocolate from regionally sourced ingredients, their focus is to create a place of support, employment and training for adults with a disability or experiencing disadvantage.

As Melissa says, “We aim to create equity and a voice for our employees whilst meeting the commercial goal of producing high quality chocolate products.”

The pros

Your people blossom. Social enterprises work, fundamentally, to tackle social problems, and improve people’s opportunities. It’s very satisfying to genuinely make a difference. As Melissa says, “This is the most amazing place and a joy to come to every day. Seeing our staff grow, learn and develop confidence is a great thrill.”

Strengthened community relationships. Working with like-minded organisations in your community helps develop both the business’ sustainability and individual’s resilience. The Mildura Chocolate Company’s partnerships with local providers such as Murray River Salt have enabled them to grow and prosper. And, as far as staff go, Melissa says, “Our fundamental philosophy is that everyone can succeed and everyone is capable of work. This adds to the value of the individual within the context of their community and their standing as a citizen within their community.”

Marketing point of difference. For the past few years, the Mildura Chocolate Company has focused their promotional work on telling the stories of the people behind the product. Melissa estimates that 85 per cent of their product is sold on this basis. “It’s a great way of both personalising what we do and changing community mindset.”

Funding and business support. The social enterprise sector is becoming increasingly supported by government, commercial and philanthropic organisations. Melissa’s team are always on the lookout for support opportunities and, as an example, have recently received grants from private and public sources.

The cons

The paperwork. Running any business efficiently requires compliance and auditing, no matter what sector you’re in. Social enterprises may have extra reporting requirements.

Technical skills development. Given the type of employees you may have, you might not always be able to recruit for a defined technical requirement. Smart operators turn this to their advantage by offering specific training and skills development. And, as Melissa advises, “if your staff don’t have certain skills, make sure you know where you can get help.”

The need to constantly monitor your market. Communities and audiences are always changing, so keep an eye on your market. Melissa says that a social enterprise with more altruistic goals cannot afford to miss a chance to make sales or update strategy.

The rewarding feeling

“Like any business, there are highs and lows along the journey,” says Melissa. “But in a social enterprise, the whole team can feel proud to make an amazing product while having a positive impact in our community.”

For more information on running a social enterprise go to Business Victoria Social Enterprise.

Visit Mildura Chocolate Company at www.mildurachocolatecompany.com.au