Social enterprises are adapting to help the vulnerable and homeless during the coronavirus crisis. Image by Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS


Social enterprises adapt amid COVID-19

2020-04-18 15:36:41

Social enterprises aim to empower Australia’s most vulnerable and in the face of coronavirus, they have adapted and found innovative ways to continue helping workers.

An institution of Australian social enterprises, The Big Issue has been supporting those experiencing homelessness and disadvantage through its magazines sold by vendors across the country.

The Big Issue has changed with the times and launched an online version of the magazine at the same price of $9 and is still being published fortnightly.

Half of the money raised from each digital sale will go into the newly established Hardship Fund, which will provide immediate relief to at-risk vendors and long-term support to help them get back on their feet.

Chief executive officer of The Big Issue Steven Persson says the magazine, like so many businesses is going through financial hardship, but is there to support its vendors.

“What our vendor team is doing – incredibly gifted, hardworking people – they are reaching out to vendors daily, even hourly, to keep them connected and to make sure they are as aware as possible that they aren’t alone,” Mr Persson told AAP.

Mr Persson said he wanted to reassure vendors and the public that The Big Issue would absolutely still be there at the end of the coronavirus crisis, and when it was over, he hoped people would continue to support those on the margins.

“We are critically aware that the whole of society is doing it tough and we hope everyone is looking after themselves, their family and loved ones, and when this is done we hope that they look around and find our vendors again.”

Social Traders is an organisation that connects social enterprises with business and government to create work and employ more people in need.

Social Traders Managing Director David Brookes said the capacity to create jobs for the most vulnerable makes it essential for social enterprise to survive.

WV Technologies, based in Sydney, has been working with Social Traders in the tech space to provide employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have experienced disadvantage.

The business usually works in IT services, data destruction and e-waste recycling for corporates and government, but has recently pivoted to a different area in the wake of coronavirus.

It is now importing and distributing personal protective equipment in both large and small scale quantities as demand for masks and gloves increases.

Director Jamie Miller says the company saw a demand and with IT slowing down like many industries, WV wanted to train up their staff to package and distribute the PPE as a way to safeguard them.

“We’re looking at how we can increase employment to help our people, but now the pool is becoming bigger so we thought: What are different things we can do to increase those employment lines?” Mr Miller told AAP.

As a technology company, WV normally exports a lot of laptops to various places but it has been retaining them for organisations who need more for staff now working from home.

As well, they are donating tablets to indigenous communities and groups who would otherwise not have access to such devices.

Kinfolk is a cafe in Melbourne’s CBD that also falls under the Social Traders banner and employs people experiencing marginalisation, providing them with training for future employment.

Jarrod Briffa is the CEO and Founder of Kinfolk and said the focus now is to make sure business can adapt to survive so when the lockdowns are lifted support is there for the vulnerable.

Kinfolk’s sister cafe Sibling has turned its space into a small warehouse and now operates an online store, where people can buy groceries, gifts and pantry staples, as well as meals for those in need.

Mr Briffa is hopeful for the future of the cafes and other social enterprises, but says sector-wide responses will be more beneficial to marginalised communities.

Moving Feast is a project that brings together Victoria’s food social enterprises to grow, cook and deliver meals to the most vulnerable as part of a widespread food relief system.

The initiative aims to deliver around 40,000 meals a week to a growing number of people who are now vulnerable as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mr Briffa says the initiative allows social enterprises to support one another while providing solutions for the community, and allows these businesses to remain useful.

“We’re stronger together than we are alone,” Mr Briffa said.