Exploring Sydney’s Social Enterprises
Words by Lisa Cugnetto
Photos by Andrew Harrington, Mamie Chen and Luisa Brimble
Sydney's network of social enterprises is building resilience and employability among the city's most underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.
When it comes to purchasing decisions, there’s plenty to love about supporting social enterprises. For me, it’s the fact that our dollars are helping to create a positive impact in our communities. But, more than that, after speaking with these four Sydney-based social enterprises, what is most evident is the passion and dedication they have for their work, the beautiful products they create and the people they support.
Studio A is a Sydney-based arts company that provides professional development to talented artists with intellectual disability.
“In creating Studio A, I have always been inspired by the high quality of art work our artists produce. I have wanted to forge opportunities for our artists to experience the joy of sharing their artwork with relevant audiences, and to bring their artwork to audiences I know will appreciate the work,” says Gabrielle Mordy, the social enterprise’s CEO and artistic director.
“I have the privilege of seeing this dynamic alive at Studio A daily,” explains Gabrielle, who has over ten years of experience working with artists with disability and is a practising artist and writer herself.
“Very often, when I tell people I work with artists with intellectual disability, I am assumed to be a volunteer art therapist. There is a common cultural assumption that people with intellectual disability can only partake in art as therapy.”
Gabrielle says the best way to counter this stereotype is to show people the artwork itself. She cites Studio A artist Emily Crockford as an example.
Emily creates bold, colourful and striking art. Her work was licensed by the City of Sydney and her Opera House image has been exhibited on giant hoardings throughout Sydney's CBD.
“This brings colour and life to Sydney's pedestrians, and a sense of incredible pride and income to Emily,” says Gabrielle.
“Having Emily's artwork displayed so large and frequently across Sydney gives Studio A's work an audience of thousands and in the process profoundly changes perceptions about the capacity of artists with intellectual disability.”
The Bread & Butter Project:
In 2013, Bourke Street Bakery owners, Paul Allam and David McGuinness teamed up with their friends Rachel Simons and Chris Green to launch The Bread & Butter Project.
Based in Marrickville, the artisan bakery is Australia's first social enterprise bakery. Each year, up to 30 new bakers are trained and graduate from the paid six-to-eight month training program. This includes the completion of a TAFE qualification, hands-on baking training, English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring and work placements.
“The Bread & Butter Project supports refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia, with 100 percent of profits reinvested back into providing training and employment pathways for refugees who aspire to become bakers,” explains Philip Hoban, general manager of The Bread & Butter Project.
Six years since its launch, the social enterprise has trained and employed more than 60 refugees and asylum seekers.
“For most trainees, it is their first paid job in Australia. They often have no formal qualifications, or qualifications earned overseas that are not recognised in Australia,” says Philip.
Independent research by the Social Impact Hub recently confirmed that 100 percent of the project’s graduates have secured sustainable employment.
“This same research also confirmed that the offspring of graduates were all either in school, at university or employed, proving that the intergenerational impact is very positive.”
The Bread & Butter Project is currently seeking funding to expand its program into refugee communities in other states.
The Social Outfit:
The Social Outfit (TSO) is an Australian ethical fashion label and social enterprise. From their workshop and studio in Newtown, they provide employment and training for refugees and new migrants in clothing production, retail, design and marketing.
They are accredited by fashion and textiles body Ethical Clothing Australia, which ensures products are Australian-made and that employees, at every stage of the supply chain, work in safe and legally compliant workplaces. TSO also has a ‘great’ rating on Good On You, an ethical brand rating guide that is designed to help consumers shop more responsibly.
The label regularly releases collections and collaborates with artists and labels on projects. Last year saw TSO work with Melbourne-based artist Jiaxin Nong and fashion designer Gary Bigeni. While, just this month, Sydney fashion house Romance was Born donated fabric and samples for TSO to use.
TSO aims to provide a supportive work environment where new migrants and refugees can expand their skills, gain experience and develop their English. They then help them transition into related employment.
“Without previous job experience in Australia it is much harder to find a job,” explains Camilla Schippa.
Camilla joined TSO as its CEO earlier this year after 20 years spent working in international development and peace, including as the Director of the Institute for Economics and Peace and Chief of the United Nations Office for Partnerships in New York.
She says since opening five years ago TSO has paid over half a million dollars in wages and employed 23 people.
“For 20 of those women, this represented their first job in Australia and we have been able to transition 19 of them into further employment. Those are figures we are very proud of.”
As the new CEO, Camilla hopes to grow awareness of the label and develop its collaborations, online offering and sales outlets.
Opened in Bondi in November 2018, Heart Cafe is an initiative of not-for-profit Wayside Chapel, which operates community services centres in Bondi and Kings Cross.
Through Wayside Chapel’s employment program, the Wingspan Project, Heart Cafe aims to positively impact youth unemployment. Young people who are unemployed are offered paid hospitality traineeships at Heart Cafe for a year, as well as the opportunity to receive a Certificate II in Hospitality.
“Heart Cafe is one-of-a-kind and goes beyond quality coffee, healthy food and good service,” says Jon Owen, Wayside Chapel pastor and CEO.
“It returns hope to the lives of unemployed young people by supporting them into paid hospitality traineeships and breaking the cycle of unemployment.”
The social enterprise cafe prides itself on its fresh, wholesome food. Much of which is locally sourced, including organic produce directly from Wayside Chapel Bondi’s community garden down the road, and working with ethical suppliers, such as artisan bakery social enterprise The Bread & Butter Project.