Helping Businesses Do Good // Social Traders

By EHM Editor Jade McKenzie

Imagine if there was an event that supports hundreds of positive change makers across the nation, which in turn, impacts hundreds of thousands of lives across the country through providing employment opportunities, providing ethically focused products and services for the general public to purchase and most importantly, contributing towards important causes.

Well luckily for us, this event does exist in the form of an annual Conference and awards thanks to the amazing team at Social Traders. We sat down and spoke to the Head of Marketing, Mark Hemetsberger, to learn more about the Social Traders Masters Conference and the Social Enterprise Awards.

We would love to hear the journey of the Social Traders Masters Conference and Events. Where did the idea come from and how have your events evolved over time?

The Social Traders Masters Conference and Events is based on our purpose for being and what we do as an organization. We're a social enterprise development organization, which means we're an intermediary. We fundamentally believe that social enterprise already plays a valuable, important - if not, at times, relatively unrecognized - role in Australian society and it’s economy. We believe that social enterprise, with the right support, could contribute a lot more.

To give you a sense of social enterprise's current contribution to Australian society and economy, we estimate through our national research that there is 20,000 social enterprises in Australia employing around 300,000 Australians and contributing an estimated 2-3% of GDP. Our belief is that by 2025, social enterprise could be contributing to 4-5% of GDP, and employ around 500,000 Australians.

This then flows into the reason why we host the Masters Conference and the Social Enterprise Awards, which are two national conferences. We do this because we believe that it's really important for the social enterprise community to come together to be able to see itself, to be able to recognize one another, and to be able to try and speak with a coordinated voice. And that's the reason why the Masters Conference exists and also why the Social Enterprise Awards exist, as well – to build a national social enterprise community

That's amazing. It's so nice to hear how it started and evolved. So, who are you event attendees, and what type of impact do they have across Australia?

The attendees that we get to the Masters Conference, are existing social enterprises; large and small social enterprises. Those that are interested and are wanting to start a social enterprise themselves, academics and students of social impact and change. We run national research in partnership with the Centre for Social Impact from Swinburne University.

This year we hosted the Masters Conference at Swinburne University, and so we had a strong academic and student contingent. We also receive a lot of interest from not- for-profit organisations that already operate social enterprises, or are considering commencing or starting a social enterprise..

We had a strong contingent of Government this year, as well. Government leaders that are starting to be interested in social enterprise and are wanting to do what governments do; that is create the conditions for social impact to flourish within community. So this year, in particular, we had very, very strong representation from the Victorian State Government, and through our research and experience, we know that Victoria is the leading state in Australian social enterprise. It's the most progressive state in this respect and I feel, perhaps, that's partly because Social Traders exists in Victoria.

Other attendees to the Masters Conference are also businesses within the private sector that have a vested interest, in contributing to and providing solutions for communities through social enterprise. Probably the interesting thing about this audience is that in previous year’s businesses interest has been predominantly around community development and engagement.

The shift we're seeing at the moment is that large corporations and government are really interested social enterprise procurement. This is the area people are really starting to be curious about, "Well who do I buy from? Who's out there? How many are there to buy from." That's a really healthy shift, to have both parts of corporate business involved - the community development engagement and the procurement side.

When it came to planning the Masters Conference, did you already have a strong idea of its content and guest speakers? Or does it evolve for you through the planning process?

Planning the program of the Masters Conference this year, was a joint effort between myself and a senior individual at Social Traders that has been within the sector for a long period of time - Mark Daniels.  Mark really knew the hot topics, the hot speakers, and has his finger on the pulse of the sector.

I work within the sector in a marketing communications capacity, so what I provided, within the planning process, was a clear strategic direction and focus back to Social Traders and what we’re trying to achieve This year we were really focused on ensuring Government was involved.. Because we feel at Social Traders that in the absence of Government championing, policy, and framework, that social enterprise will struggle to reach its full potential.

The theme of the conference was Realising the Future of Social Enterprise and aimed squarely at the role government has to play and also the role social enterprises themselves have to play in building the sector.

How would you describe the event planning experience for Social Traders as a whole? Is it something that's enjoyed by the team?

We have a multi-disciplined marketing team of 3 and we don't just work on the Masters Conference. We work laterally across the business managing our leadership activities such as the Masters conference and Awards as well as managing the brand and communications for the business. We have a range of different services that we offer so we are juggling a whole range of different activities and competing priorities all the time.

We know that we're deficit in the specific specialist skills of running an event, so this year we called on some experts to coach us through what we were planning on doing, what the program looked like, how we wanted it to look and feel, and what our focus points were on.

By bringing in event management experts, they provided us with a report and a whole series of recommendations, which we adopted, and were able to roll out. I wanted to try and make sure that we were as well advanced in our planning as possible, that we had things like sponsors, the money in the door, to run the event as early as possible, that we had our vision, and that we had a really detailed document that overviewed who the target audience was, what our objectives were, where we were trying to take this thing. I think what that enabled us to do is to have the benefit of time. We weren't rushing right up to the last minute for this event. This enabled us to then finesse and make the event and the experience the way that we wanted it to be.

How do you think business owners and organizations can use events to create positive impact, not just in this world, but in the day to day lives of our own communities?

It's about the experience. It's about focusing on purpose and experience, so it depends on what you want people to get; is an event about just an exchange of information or is it something deeper? Is it about influencing the way people think, influencing the way people behave or giving them the information to be able to do that at a later point in time?  If you create an event that is purposeful, and meaningful, and is dynamic, and requires people to really bring themselves and their minds to the activity, then I think you've got the opportunity to create something that has value.

In our case, it is about creating positive impact and the people that attend want to do that. So I think the event if an event is delivered in the right way it can really empower people to do what they want to do. Which is, in this instance, to create positive impact on the world and for communities that they work for. The event is the vehicle to try and motivate them as individuals, as well as a community.



What an incredible example of an event creating a huge amount of positive impact! Please do keep up to date with their annual events here and for all of those interested in taking part in their annual awards, The Social Enterprise Awards are now open for applications.

They are the only national event recognising and celebrating excellence and best practice in Australian social enterprise AND the Awards have a new category this year - ‘Women’s Impact Award’. The winners across the 8 Award categories will have the opportunity to attend and participate at the Social Enterprise World Forum 2017 in Christchurch NZ.  Applications close on 2nd September so if you are interested in submitting your application, make sure you do so here.    


All images courtesy of social enterprise photographer Flashpoint Labs