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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a social entrepreneur?

Social entrepreneurs are everyday people with a social mission. They often have a personal experience of the need they are addressing and many are from the communities they seek to serve.


What is a social entrepreneur?

Social entrepreneurs are everyday people with a social mission. They often have a personal experience of the need they are addressing and many are from the communities they seek to serve. As such they are uniquely positioned to address some of our most pressing social challenges.

While it is important to note that social entrepreneurs are often behind the creation of social enterprises, these individuals are not limited to working in social enterprise. They employ the best model to further their social mission. These models can include social enterprise, for-profit, not-for-profit, grassroots volunteer projects and campaigns to create systemic change.

Traditionally, social entrepreneurs are people who have identified new and innovative approaches that help address entrenched social problems in the community. They can also exist within established organisations, in which case we call them ‘intrapreneurs’. The defining characteristic of social entrepreneurs is that their innovative solutions facilitate sustainable social change. Those that are in the social enterprise sector do this by building business models that finance and/or incorporate the delivery of social missions that increase the social and economic participation of those in need in the community and, thereby, facilitate benevolent relief.

Social entrepreneurs are passionate, driven and committed. They are motivated by an unmet need in their community or society more broadly and develop innovative solutions to meet that need. They use business not for the sake of profit only but to achieve a social or environmental outcome. For example, work training for unemployed youth, support for new migrants and refugees or greater access to healthy and affordable food.

While entrepreneurs in the business sector identify untapped commercial markets and gather the resources to break into those markets for profit, social entrepreneurs use the same skills to different effect. For social entrepreneurs, untapped markets are people or communities in need, who haven’t been reached by other initiatives.

But while they may read from a different bottom line, social and business entrepreneurs have a lot in common. They build something out of nothing. They are ambitious to achieve. They marshal resources – sometimes from the unlikeliest of places – to meet their needs. They are constantly creative and they are not afraid to make mistakes.

Meet some of Australia’s emerging social entrepreneurs.

What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is an organisation that applies commercial and business strategies and trades in a marketplace of goods and/or services to fund activities that improve the community’s well-being. There is no legal definition but it is generally agreed that at least 51% of the equity of a social enterprise is comprised of “social” equity, which means those that provide equity capital for it on that basis are only seeking a social return when they provide it.

Social enterprises may take the legal form of a sole trader, a partnership, a co-operative, a mutual organisation, a company limited by guarantee, or a charitable entity. The latter, sometimes called a social business, is a unique form of social enterprise that only has social equity in its capital structure. Like other forms of social enterprise, it is a financially self-sustaining business. The distinctive feature of a social business or charitable entity is that its capital structure is constructed 100% social equity, so its motivation is entirely a benevolent one. The Australian Tax Office recognises this formally by granting businesses like these charitable and, in some cases, deductible gift recipient (DGR) status.

As well as meaning something about ownership structure, the term social enterprise means something about where the revenue to fund a social mission is sourced. In a social enterprise, revenue is sourced from trading in a marketplace. It stands to reason that if 100% of a social mission performed by an entity is funded by trading in a marketplace, that entity is not dependent on donations (private or public grants) to fund its operational costs in any way.

Defining a social enterprise is complicated by the possibility that trading in a marketplace may not entirely fund the operational needs of a social enterprise. Donations from the philanthropic community to fund operations may need to be sought. There is, therefore, a question as to the degree of independence an entity has to have from the need for grants to be called a social enterprise.

It is generally agreed that to be called a social enterprise, an entity has to source more than 50% of its operational budget needs from trading in a marketplace. This is not to say that entities that source less are less worthy. With this in mind, it is perhaps better to think of social enterprise as a way of thinking as opposed to a business mode. The point of social enterprise is to create financially sustainable social mission delivery vehicles so, to the extent that socially enterprising activity can decrease the need for and vulnerability to grants, any revenue that can be raised from trading in a marketplace is a good thing. Having said that, full independence and sustainability free from the needs for grants is the ultimate goal and vision of those in the social enterprise sector.

A final point about social enterprise. Even the biggest listed private companies need capital for growth and social enterprises are no different. Not many companies can fund growth capital out of operational revenues. Even a social enterprise that can fully fund its operational needs from trading in a marketplace may still need injections of social equity capital from foundations and philanthropists for growth.

What is the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia’s vision?

SSE Australia inspires and equips changemakers and social entrepreneurs to establish, scale and sustain social ventures that foster social and economic participation, and create a lasting impact within disadvantaged communities. Our vision is a community powering positive changemakers for a more inclusive and sustainable world.

How was SSE Australia founded?

SSE Australia was founded in early 2009 by Social Ventures Australia, School for Social Entrepreneurs UK and serial social entrepreneur Steve Lawrence AO.

It is based on the highly successful SSE UK founded in 1997 by social entrepreneur Michael Young and in addition to our Australian schools in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, there are 12 Schools in the UK and one in Canada (Toronto) with a global network of over 1,200 Fellows, including over 400 in Australia.

What criteria is there to apply for an SSE Australia program?

You will need to demonstrate a few things to be ready to come into one of our learning programs:

  • Have an idea/project that you are starting or growing which has a community benefit.
  • Demonstrate passion, drive and commitment to your idea/project.
  • Have ownership of your idea/project and autonomy for decision-making.
  • Be able to commit to program dates.

Visit the Learning Programs section of our website for more information.

Can I apply if I work for an organisation?

Yes we do accept ‘intrapreneurs’ – individuals pursuing a project within an existing organisation. However, it is important for ‘intrapreneurs to have a strong passion and commitment to the project they wish to pursue. They also need to have ownership and autonomy to make decisions regarding their project. Applications are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Are the programs accredited?

SSE Australia programs are not accredited. The focus of our programs is on providing a flexible and responsive environment for social entrepreneurs. SSE is also committed to keeping its programs accessible to people regardless of prior learning or literacy skills.

Will SSE Australia provide funding for my project?

No, SSE Australia does not directly provide funding for student projects. However, SSE does alert students to funding opportunities.

At SSE, we focus on supporting students with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and experiences that will empower them to seek their own funding. SSE students will have the opportunity to meet with funders and practice their pitch. In some of these cases, students have been successful in attaining funds for their project. The success in these cases is dependent upon the student.

How is SSE Australia different to business incubators or social enterprise support programs?

SSE Australia does not work directly on student projects. We work specifically with the individual entrepreneurs to provide them with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and experiences so that they can turn their project idea into a reality.

SSE programs focus on the personal development of the social entrepreneur, as well as the project development, and we provide access to business skills experts, mentors and funding networks as part of our programs.

What do the programs involve?

SSE Australia programs are powered by action and reflection and are far removed from traditional educational and training programs. There are no lectures, but seasoned social entrepreneurs to question and learn from. There are no textbooks, but real life case studies.

Program elements are designed to help you develop the skills to grow your venture and to give you the confidence and legitimacy to make it a success.

What are some of the skills I can expect to learn from SSE Australia?

The focus of skills development varies across our programs, however general skills developed through all of our programs include:

Personal skills:

  • Identifying key blocks or challenges in your project.
  • Problem solving challenges using practical processes.
  • Developing questions that are direct and get to the heart of what you want to know.
  • Reflection skills.
  • Effective listening.

Project skills:

  • Action planning and prioritising.
  • Pitching your project effectively to different audiences.
  • Structuring your project.
  • Funding your project.
  • Business planning.

What is Action Learning?

Action Learning is an approach to learning which is based on learning-by-doing. It is also often called practical learning. SSE Australia’s experience is that entrepreneurs are much more suited to this type of learning, rather than traditional, theoretical learning (taught content in the classroom).

Each SSE program involves a series of Action Learning Sets with other program participants.

How much do the programs cost?

Program costs vary:

Incubator Program (9-months): The full cost of the Incubator Program is $8,800 (including GST). A limited number of bursaries are available for applicants reducing the fee by 20-60%. Contact us if you would like to discuss strategies for funding a place in an Incubator Program.

Accelerator Program (4-months): The full cost of the Accelerator Program is $5,500 (plus GST). A limited number of bursaries are available for applicants reducing the fee by 20-60%. Contact us if you want to discuss strategies for funding a place in an Accelerator Program.

Social Change 101 (4-months): The full cost of a Social Change 101 Program varies depending on funder support.

Am I eligible for a bursary/sponsored place in a program?

In each SSE Australia program Application Form applicants can request a bursary to assist with program fees. Each applicant will need to provide the reasons for why a bursary is required. We do not have any specific selection criteria and as a social enterprise we are reliant on funding partners for these bursaries which vary depending on the program. It is very much a case-by-case basis.

Where possible we do not want you to not be able to participate in a program for financial reasons and support successful applicants to be creative in the way they raise their program fee. We also provide resources to assist applicants to fundraise the program fee, if needed, including our Guide to Fundraising and free fundraising/crowdfunding workshops that are held occasionally around Australia. We can also provide a payment plan option to some applicants.

Contact us if you would like to discuss strategies for funding a place in an SSE Australia program.

What is the process for becoming an SSE Australia student?

Our application process has been structured to ensure an ideal fit for both SSE Australia and our students in each program.

Applicants are required to first complete an online Application Form by the program application deadline, via the SSE Australia website. Applications are then reviewed and if successful applicants proceed to the interview stage with two SSE Australia representatives. These interviews are either done face-to-face or via Skype and take approximately 1 hour. Successful applicants from the interview round are then offered a place in the program.

Please note: Application processing times vary depending on the program.

How many students do you accept?

Student cohort sizes vary between programs:

Incubator Program: Up to 25 participants
Accelerator Program: Up to 20 participants
Social Change 101 Program: Up to 20 participants

What happens if I miss an application deadline?

Contact us or complete an Expression of Interest Form. We would like to hear from anyone who is interested in our programs all year round and if the program you are interested in has started, we can discuss an application for the following program.

Can I apply for the next program if I have previously applied?

Please contact us if you have previously applied for an SSE program. We would really like to hear from you to learn about how your project or idea has developed and how you think our programs can support you in moving it forward.

How can I keep up to date with SSE Australia, program announcements and social enterprise news?

To keep up to date with SSE Australia’s activities, our new programs, social enterprise developments in Australia and internationally, students’ and Fellows’ news and more we recommend you subscribe to our email updates. You can do that by using the ‘Subscribe’ button in the top right hand corner of this website.

You may also like to keep up to date with us via our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube profiles.

I’ve heard a lot about Impact Investing, but what actually is it?

Impact Investing is the practice of making investments that seek both commercial and social returns. The degree to which commercial and social returns are sought depends on the investor’s appetite for both and the way the business operates.

In some cases, achieving targeted social returns involves some sacrifice of commercial returns. In other cases, targeted commercial returns means social returns are sacrificed.

There are many combinations of commercial and social returns, including one where commercial and social returns are not traded off and move in the same direction.