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Activating NQ’s Social Entrepreneurs

What if changing the world was as easy as popping to the shops? From coffee shops to law firms, social enterprises are businesses created to do good.

Townsville’s growing social enterprise sector has been activated and a local support network formed after eight local businesses completed CQUniversity’s 12 week iActivate social enterprise course. The initiative was sponsored and facilitated by Smart Precinct NQ, with a second cohort now underway to support the next wave of social entrepreneurs.

Unlike a traditional charity model, social enterprises are profitable businesses that trade with the goal of addressing social issues, providing access to employment and training for marginalised groups, or improving environmental sustainability.

CQUniversity Social Innovation Program Manager Steve Williams, who facilitates the cohort along with Smart Precinct NQ, says the region is already benefitting from social enterprise but the course participants are now well equipped to create even greater impact.

“North Queensland faces unique environmental and social challenges around preserving its incredible natural assets, meeting demand for regional services, creating opportunities for youth, and ensuring sustainable growth and employment,” says Steve.

“Those challenges are being met with so many creative ideas from passionate local entrepreneurs, and the social enterprise sector is growing here, as well as in Australia and globally.

“What we saw in the first Townsville cohort of participants is that many of them had not realised they were operating a social enterprise before enrolling in iActivate. Completing the course has enabled them to take a more strategic approach, use design thinking to provide solutions to the problem they have identified, and to measure their impact.

“It’s been a very successful collaboration between CQU and Smart Precinct NQ to kick start the social enterprise ecosystem in North Queensland, and we’re building on the momentum with the second iActivate cohort underway with 10 participants.”

Morehead Meals – South Townsville drop-in centre

According to the FASES Report (2016), it is estimated that there are more than 20,000 social enterprises across the country and two to three thousand social enterprises in Queensland, and growing.

Elise Parups, CEO of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council (QSEC) says that in the last two years, the membership body has grown by over 60 per cent.

“There are more and more businesses who are wanting to go beyond ‘business as usual’,” she says. “Many of the businesses joining are only just realising that the impact they are creating to address these persistent disadvantages can be classed as social enterprise.

“At QSEC, we are like a big family. Anyone on the social enterprise journey can join as either a member or an associate member. We exist to support, connect and advocate for social enterprises, and have regional support champions located throughout regional Queensland.”

The interest generated in social enterprise from the iActivate cohort in Townsville has enabled QSEC to establish the Townsville & North Queensland Network, with Towards Better Managing Director Ricky Esterquest taking on the role as Regional Champion, and he encourages anyone with an interest in social enterprise to get involved.

“The group is still in its formation stages, but we have started holding Network Meetups to connect those who are already involved and others who are interested in becoming involved,” says Ricky.

Morehead Meals – South Townsville drop-in centre

“At our core we are all changemakers who believe in social impact. We welcome people from all areas in the social enterprise ecosystem, such as those currently operating a social enterprise, people in a startup or idea phase of social enterprise, those who simply shop or support social enterprises, and interested members from corporate and government organisations.

“As this is a member based network, a lot of what we do will be co-created with members based on what they would find valuable, but I imagine it will consist of collaborative initiatives and learning and growth opportunities.”

In addition to the impact social enterprises can create in solving a community problem, they are making incredible economic returns for their communities, with New Economics Foundation data reporting that every dollar spent in a social enterprise returns on average $3 to the local community.  Ricky says North Queensland’s flourishing social enterprise ecosystem has the potential to change behaviours in businesses and consumers for good.

“I think as humans, our behaviour matters, and I see ‘Social Enterprise’ as a behaviour,” he says.

“My vision is to have a Social Enterprise Ecosystem in North Queensland that could allow social enterprise to be embedded in our day to day decision making such as what, from whom and where we purchase things personally or for our businesses, how we think about our impact, and the way in which we view the role of communities and their ability to create change.”

Switch to good!

Update your procurement policy and look for social enterprises who can provide your usual goods or services, but also make a difference in the community. Share your journey with your customers to let them know the good you are making in the world using the hashtag #switch2good

Meet Some Local Social Enterprises … 

Morehead Meals – South Townsville drop-in centre

Morehead Meals 

Founded in partnership with the Althea Projects, Morehead Meals is a local enterprise that provides a range of affordable and healthy pre-made meals to the community. The money from each purchased meal is reinvested back into the program to help the homeless and long-term unemployed people in the community gain the necessary skills and confidence to improve job prospects. Through their South Townsville drop-in centre, delivery service and corporate catering, they are providing social and economic opportunities to Townsville’s most vulnerable population.


Qplas recycling facility

Qplas is North Queensland’s first hardwood and agricultural plastic recycling facility. It combines recycled agricultural plastics with waste timber from African Mahogany plantations to produce cost-effective and durable plastic composite products for various industries including agriculture, construction and mining. At capacity the facility currently produces 10,000 tonnes of product, diverting thousands of tonnes of plastic and hard wood waste from landfill every year and reducing microplastics from entering the Great Barrier Reef. By combining hardwood and plastic waste, Qplas is offering a cost-effective and sustainable alternative that is beneficial for both the environment and local businesses.

Youth Reset students

Youth Reset 

Youth Reset is empowering the next generation with a set of effective strategies to self-regulate, improve their focus, and help them navigate through life’s challenges. Their five-part program is aiming to combat the high rates of mental health issues amongst youth through using body, breath and mind practices to help students develop resilience and confidence. Youth Reset currently offers free community classes at different locations around Townsville and has plans to introduce specific programs tailored to high school students over the coming year. They are also creating employment and training opportunities for young people to run different classes across the region.

By Julie Johnston

Photography: Sonia Warrell



Compiled by the BDmag editorial team


Compiled by the BDmag editorial team