With an estimated 20,000 social enterprises operating in every industry of the Australian economy, and growing, the number of female social entrepreneurs is also on the rise nationally.
While on a global level males still dominate the entrepreneur space, the Australian market is taking progressive steps towards a more equitable workforce in the social entrepreneurship sector.
The 2010 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found that Australia had the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs among developed economies and in early 2013 Dell ranked Australia as the second best place in the world to be a female entrepreneur, in their gender focused Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index. Social enterprise as a business type has immense appeal for women by not only encouraging economic participation and leadership, but also in creating sustainable solutions to the issues facing women and their communities.
Of the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia’s 250 Fellows, 70% are women – and this is continuing to increase with applications coming in from women in regional, rural and city locations across Australia. The ideas they develop for social change are just as diverse, including these women’s ventures:
Motivated to do something after the Asian tsunami in 2004, Gayle headed to Ghana to volunteer in a fair trade not-for-profit and loved it. Roll on five years and she was in Ghana setting up the G-lish Foundation. G-lish’s philosophy is to give communities in Ghana what they need most, by asking them what they need. The Foundation works with rural communities to produce hand-made products from plastic drinking water bags and scrap African cloth, using age-old weaving techniques.
Kerrie Noonan: The Groundswell Project
Kerrie, a psychologist, social researcher, author and presenter decided in 2010 after 15 years working in the public health and not-for-profit sectors, to co-found The GroundSwell Project which aims to promote resilience and wellbeing in response to end of life issues and to encourage people to build their death literacy. Kerrie believes that renewing a conversation about death and dying can help build supportive communities that inspire change for living.
Laura Egan: Enterprise Learning Projects
Laura is dedicated to creating opportunities for people living in remote communities to learn the tools to develop and implement their ideas. She has extensive experience in working with people at the early stage of the business development process and founded Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP), which works in remote Australia to support microenterprise development within Aboriginal communities.
The state of women entrepreneurship in Australia is encouraging, but it’s important to recognise that there is still room for improvement globally. The GEM research identified a number of key barriers for female participation in entrepreneurship, such as women requiring greater access to capital; needing more education and training programs and, in many cases, still needing to break through traditional societal attitudes toward women in business.
While there’s still a lot of work to do, it’s good to see that we are making progress in this area. It’s inspiring at SSE to support these women who have a burning passion to create change, to make their idea a reality. And this change is starting to happen; when it comes to encouraging female social entrepreneurs we’re heading in the right direction.
Celia Hodson is CEO at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia, one of ING DIRECT‘s community partners, which runs learning programs across Australia for people from all backgrounds that have an idea or business with a community benefit.
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