WRITER: Dan Lander
The Australian Alliance for Social Enterprise is redefining what it means to make the world a better place.
With the social services sector currently experiencing unprecedented change, there has never been a more important time to draw on evidence-based research to improve social policy, practices and outcomes.
Working on the premise that people are experts in their own lives, TAASE is helping define social enterprise, fostering innovative solutions for communities and people in need of social support.
Everywhere you look, the professional universe is in flux. Disruption is the new status quo. From delivering the news to doing the banking, it seems they just don’t make the future like they used to.
For the most part, this shift is being driven by the realisation that new thinking is required to address old problems – problems that, by and large, haven’t been helped much by old thinking, despite decades, even centuries, of trying.
Whether it’s through frustration, or some creeping fear that perhaps we might be running out of time, the last few years have witnessed a growing insistence that social change requires innovation. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the delivery of social services.
The emergence of market-based care systems, changes in the social housing sector and large-scale reform of areas such as child protection and homelessness solutions represent a drastic transformation in how society seeks to protect its most vulnerable members.
A large degree of that transformation can be encapsulated by one expression – social enterprise. Despite ambiguity persisting about the term’s exact definition, increasingly social enterprise is the force driving improvements in the delivery of social services, nationally and internationally.
Professor Ian Goodwin-Smith is director of The Australian Alliance for Social Enterprise (TAASE), and from his perspective, explaining why the burgeoning influence of social enterprise has significant potential is quite simple: “The social service sector has innovation at its fingertips,” he says.
TAASE is a collective of diverse, interdisciplinary researchers engaged with those sections of society all too often denied a voice. The group, which is part of the UniSA Business School, focuses on fostering enterprising solutions for communities and people in need of social support.
“Our whole approach proceeds from the notion that people are experts in their own lives, and they know what they need to make those lives better,” Prof Goodwin- Smith says.
“People are enterprising. As researchers, it’s our job to witness that and to bring learned experience and lived experience together to create an inclusive future.”
Working with NGO and government partners as diverse as the Australian Electoral Commission, AnglicareSA and the Department of Human Services, TAASE has developed a fresh approach to social enterprise, taking advantage of the term’s ambiguity to carve its own niche in the field.
“I am completely agnostic about what legal structure, business model or funding sources underpin entities which engage in social enterprise, and I’m focused solely on achieving outcomes with communities,” Prof Goodwin-Smith says.
“I am certainly uninterested in an obsession with the market, as if a reliance on private capital is any assurance of sustainability. I am more interested in operating contexts than markets, and in enterprises that are innovative, working with what is available.”
“I like the idea of enterprise, precisely because its overtones of pragmatism and its focus on getting the job done disrupt ideology. But I also like the idea of the social being up front and centre, recognising that disruption without a values framework, and without a responsibility to community, has no inherent worth.”
With its mission focus clear, TAASE is actively engaged in driving and guiding innovation in Australia’s social services sector. While this sector is, in many respects, booming, new challenges and expectations are redefining it operations, and TAASE Chair and AnglicareSA CEO, Peter Sandeman, notes that the current state of the industry emphasises the importance of academic work in the area.
“There has never been a more important time to draw on evidence-based research to improve social policy, practices and outcomes across Australia and internationally,” Rev’d Prof Sandeman says.
Ultimately, by providing evidence-led approaches to social innovation and social enterprise, TAASE plays a crucial role in ensuring research-directed disruption works to benefit the people who need it most.
“Our vision is one in which we increasingly enable the enterprising capacity of communities and people to inform and control the means of social support,” Prof Goodwin-Smith says.
ESTABLISHED IN JANUARY 2019, TAASE HAS ALREADY SECURED 21 RESEARCH GRANTS WORTH APPROXIMATELY $1.7 MILLION, WITH IN PRINCIPLE AGREEMENTS IN PLACE FOR MORE THAN THAT AMOUNT AGAIN BY YEAR’S END.
Rough sleeping may be a problem the world over, but Adelaide is part of a growing cohort of global communities redefining responses to the issue. TAASE’s Dr Selina Tually and Prof Goodwin-Smith are leading the AnglicareSA-funded research phase of the Adelaide Zero Project which, in simple terms, aims to end rough sleeping homelessness in the inner city.
“Ten years ago, few people would have spoken about ending homelessness, it was always about ‘addressing’ it or ‘managing’ it,” Dr Tually says. “So, it’s very different to conceptualise it within an ending homelessness framework. There are two key pillars to Adelaide Zero – systematising the sector and putting people at the heart of the system.”
While Dr Tually acknowledges it’s difficult to stop some from falling into homelessness, Adelaide Zero aims to develop responses to find appropriate accommodation and support for people quickly, preventing cyclical and chronic homelessness.
“If you can end someone’s period of rough sleeping quickly, you avoid all the really tough challenges to health and wellbeing that come from chronic homelessness,” Dr Tually says. “This program aims for 'functional zero’ – more housing options available than the number of people needing them.”
While finding safe and appropriate accommodation for everyone sleeping rough in Adelaide remains a significant challenge, the scale of the South Australian situation is reason for optimism, making it an important test case for similar local, national and international projects.
“We’re one of a small number of vanguard cities internationally, who are working to end homelessness,” Dr Tually says. “There are eyes on what we’re doing, but at the same time we’re learning from other communities. It’s really a global effort.”
INVESTING IN REGIONAL COMMUNITIES PAYS OFF
Invest locally and it returns more than two-fold – that's the finding from a new TAASE study indicating for every dollar spent by non-government organisations (NGOs) in regional Australia returns 2.3 times the dollar value is observed in local communities.
Undertaken in collaboration with Uniting Country SA and Centacare Catholic Country SA, the study highlights the importance of investing in regional communities, as researcher Dr Catherine Mackenzie explains.
“There are enormous social, civic and economic benefits of supporting community service organisations in the country,” Dr Mackenzie says, “but this research shows just how valuable it is for underpinning and supporting local economies.”
The research sought to quantify the economic contribution that organisations operating in the country make to their local communities, both directly (through their own purchasing) and indirectly (through the wages spent by people they employ and suppliers they engage).
In addition to the economic boost flowing from regional NGOs, the findings show this investment leads to increased volunteering in local communities, fostering a sense of purpose and connectedness for residents.
Anthea Pavy, CE of Uniting Country SA, notes this wider community engagement is a key goal for her organisation. “Having our organisation based regionally not only provides valuable services to our clients, through our programs, but importantly, supports local communities through our spending,” Pavy says.
FINANCIAL CAPABILITY IN REMOTE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES
In conjunction with CatholicCare NT, Dr Jonathon Louth has examined the economic structures and financial needs of people in remote Aboriginal communities to identify culturally appropriate practices that reflect ‘how things work’.
“Addressing financial capability requires patience and time spent in the community, rather than a unidirectional, top down ‘mainstream-is-best’ approach,” Dr Louth says. “Financial institutions need to develop their own cultural literacy to better serve and respond to remote Aboriginal communities.”
Dr Louth’s research demonstrates that many financial structures commonplace in cities and major regional centres are not necessarily appropriate in remote settings.
“Take the simplest example: ATM fees,” Dr Louth says. “In remote locations the few ATMs are usually third-party operations, run for profit. There are no preferred-bank choices, so by default these ATMs attract a A$2.50 fee every time they're used, including to check balances. It's not uncommon for people waiting for funds to check their accounts multiple times; they clock up a $2.50 fee each time, until they find something there.”
Ongoing research in this field shows many other financial issues, including inappropriate provision of insurance policies and credit, and difficulties around the age for superannuation access – which is 60 years for a male, despite average life expectancy for an Aboriginal man in the Northern Territory to be 63.6 years.
“The financial sector needs to work with communities to develop its cultural competencies, explore community and cultural literacies and embrace community knowledge.”
FINANCIAL RESILIENCE AMONG LOWER INCOME EARNERS
Working with the Department of Human Services (SA), TAASE researchers have been working to better understand individual and family perspectives of financial resilience services in South Australia. Undertaken by a team comprising Dr Christina Pollard, Dr Sue Booth, Dr Louth, Dr Mackenzie and Prof Goodwin-Smith, the research is one in a series of projects dedicated to learning from the voices of clients.
“It makes the point that, as well as poverty being driven by low income, it is also driven by high interest rates as part of the high cost of having little money, sometimes known as the ‘poverty premium’,” Prof Goodwin-Smith says.
“It also demonstrates how important financial counsellors are in intervening in debt cycles and precarious financial situations.”
Among other findings, the research noted that financial products and services used by South Australians include both not-for-profit and for-profit options, reflecting the expansion of the mixed economy of credit targeted at people who are experiencing poverty.
“For-profit services are widely advertised and increasingly available online, making them an easy, yet damaging option for people who are generally unaware of not-for-profit services,” Prof Goodwin-Smith says.
“The engagement with service recipients made it clear that the latter service type is critical to the financial and broader wellbeing of many people, while the former can further entrap people in poverty where high or unexpected interest rates are encountered.”
HOLISTIC HEALTH CARE
The new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has many repercussions for the social service sector, with psychosocial support front and centre. With much of the funding for mental health services now falling under the NDIS, care agencies have had to adapt their operations, despite concerns about the appropriateness of funding arrangements, as TAASE’s Tanya Mackay explains.
“NDIS regulations specify that any funding through the scheme requires a permanent and ongoing disability,” Mackay says, “but as with a lot of mental health issues, permanency is not always the case.
“The language of NDIS doesn't fit with the recovery model of mental health, which is about meeting people where they’re at, at that particular time, and helping them to achieve what makes them feel like they’re living a good life; and this has raised concerns with providers of psychosocial care.”
As the industry scrambles to adapt to the changes, Mackay is working with UnitingSA to evaluate a pilot program to test whether the new NDIS structures can deliver the same level of care they have achieved in the past.
“UnitingSA have developed a program for people who have both a severe mental illness and other complex co-morbidities. It's been set up to meet the NDIS criteria, while also maintaining the integrity of UnitingSA’s psychosocial model of care,” Mackay says.
“UnitingSA have asked us to review this and assess how the non-negotiable best practice elements can be accommodated within the new NDIS pricing structure.”
In keeping with TAASE’s guiding philosophy, the evaluation team brings together theoretical and lived experience, including participants with personal histories of mental illness.
“This project not only has people who have experienced mental illness themselves, or as a carer in the research team, but also in the project management groups and steering committees, and we’re working with them to ensure co-design throughout the project”
FOOTBALL FORGES FRIENDSHIPS
Adelaide-based operation One Culture Football is using the ‘world game’ to help young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds adjust to new lives in Australia, providing a safe, fun environment for them to make positive connections and friendships through regular soccer sessions and competitions.
Involved since the project's inception, Dr Mackenzie's research has been instrumental in helping the group develop an evidence-led model that blends a supportive nurturing environment with access to important social services.
“One Culture Football works so well, because many young people aren’t interested in seeking help from social and community services when they need it,” Dr Mackenzie says. “This initiative delivers a whole range of personal development and social opportunities simply by coming to the soccer and engaging with young people there.”
The research has helped One Culture Football develop best-practice programs, with strong evidence suggesting that it helps participants develop a sense of community belonging.
“Many of the people involved find it hard to make friends and connections at school or in other circumstances, so this project is providing a framework this,” Dr Mackenzie says.
One Culture Football is contributing to the creation of positive social networks and, consequently, improved physical and mental wellbeing and community safety among young people from challenging backgrounds. This provides the platform to attract more funding and partners to keep growing their activities.
“The brilliant thing about this program is that it’s bringing together the capacity of collaborators and a variety of other funding sources to make something that’s bigger than the sum of the parts.”
WORKFORCE ISSUES WITH CONSUMER DIRECTED CARE
One of the biggest shifts in social assistance has been the emergence of the Consumer Directed Care (CDC) model of aged care funding. This model places more emphasis on the choices of the person being cared for, affording them greater influence over the design and delivery of the services they receive.
Since 2015, all Commonwealth funded Home Care Packages have been delivered on a CDC basis, and while this has generally been received as a positive initiative, the shift has been accompanied by some difficulties.
In conjunction with a collective of industry partners including Anglicare Australia, TAASE has led a project to understand these difficulties from the perspective of people working on the frontline.
“We weren’t looking to solve any of the macro or policy level issues of CDC, even though we acknowledged those issues,” TAASE's Tanya Mackay says. “Rather, we wanted to understand how we could ensure that people working in the system, as it is, could deliver the best care possible and continue to enjoy their jobs.”
The research showed that workers in this area are passionate about providing quality care for their clients, and while most are positive about the potential of the CDC model, there are clear issues to address.
“Their main concern is about their ability to provide the level of care they want to,” Mackay says. “They're worried about managing client expectations within the structure of specific packages.” The research identifies rostering issues and a sense that the nature of CDC contributes to feelings of isolation and a lack of connectedness between care workers.
“For example, people will be rostered to a range of clients, go from job to job, and not see a single colleague for weeks,” says Mackay. “This effects how engaged they feel with their work and could be improved through smaller geographic teams and a focus on enhanced communication processes and information sharing.”
REDUCING THE IMPACT OF VICARIOUS TRAUMA
TAASE and Centacare Catholic Family Services have collaborated on a study identifying key measures to help community service workers minimize the effects of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout.
“Frontline workers experience high levels of trauma that can impact their everyday lives well into the future,” says Dr Louth. “They represent a generation of veterans who are not returning from war, but from working within vulnerable communities and families within our cities, suburbs and regions. This situation cannot and should not be ignored.”
Through intensive engagement with Centacare staff, the researchers identified seven indicators that community service institutions can use to recognise and respond to compassion-based stress in their workforce.
“Ensuring 'space between’ is a really important consideration,” Dr Louth says, “whether that’s time between clients, time for lunch, reflection or just chatting with colleagues. The boundaries between work and home also need to be protected, and workers need to be supported to better distinguish between their personal and professional lives.”
Official recognition of the many dimensions of the issue is also essential, as both appropriate management frameworks and relevant funding arrangements are required to ensure concerns about vicarious trauma are not neglected.
“There's a strong correlation between compassion fatigue and work satisfaction, which suggests appropriate interventions and support encourage healthier, more efficient workplaces,” Dr Louth says.