The Rise of Social Enterprise in New Zealand

Social Enterprise World Forum 2017 Set to Build on Growing Momentum 

More and more, citizens and consumers are becoming socially and environmentally aware, and want their purchasing decisions to reflect their beliefs. In a capitalist society, social enterprise provides consumers with a form of activism as organizations with a social purpose open up an alternative for consumers to spend their money responsibly rather than on goods or services that ultimately perpetuate the growing global wealth disparity.

Throw social media into the mix and an idea can spread like wildfire; the power of global communities coming together to effect change is a formidable force.

Social enterprise is a different kind of business, and it’s not always a charity — though many registered charities use trade to resource or to deliver mission-based services and fall under the social enterprise umbrella. Social enterprises don’t just measure success by profits, revenue forecasts, or customer retention, they measure their impact on society or the environment. Profits are the engine that enable impact – they are reinvested in either the cause, or back into the business to enable scale.

The sector is beginning to take off in New Zealand, with Christchurch even hosting the next Social Enterprise World Forum from the 27th – 29th of September.

All around the 4-million-person and 40-million-sheep country, there are social enterprises popping up and addressing major societal challenges.

Take Eat My Lunch, which was founded in 2015 to help feed the one in four Kiwi children who go hungry every day. The organization uses a “buy one, give one” model, giving a lunch to a child in need for every lunch sold. You can even set up a regular delivery, and have your lunch delivered to your workplace on any given day of the week.

Eat My Lunch’s impact

Wellington’s The Misprint Co. wanted to reduce the carbon emissions and water usage caused by the paper industry. They started using repurposed paper to create quirky notebooks, offering consumers an alternative to brand new paper. The water footprint from making virgin A4 paper is 10 liters per page – so The Misprint Co. saves an enormous 130-260 liters of water with every single notebook sold. 

The Misprint Co-founders, Jenny Buckler and Kareena Harris

If you’re a fan of Karma Cola, you’ll be pleased to know that a percentage of all sales goes back into the community of Boma in Sierra Leone, where their cola nuts come from. The do-good organization wanted to give back to the farmers and villagers at the source of cola, rather than exploiting them. To date the Karma Cola Foundation has provided scholarships for more than 60 young children, built two rice processing centers to secure food supply, funded medical supplies during the Ebola crisis and much more. 

Finally, there’s Patu Aotearoa, a group that has created a gym ‘gang’ to decrease inactivity rates in New Zealand for Māori and Pacific Islanders.

Friends and whānau of Patu Aotearoa

Alex Hannant, CEO of local social enterprise intermediary Ākina Foundation, explains that “there’s a convergence of trends: expansion of entrepreneurship; enabling technology; awareness of social justice; and a growing sense of pragmatic activism. The roles and responsibilities of the private, public, and community sectors are shifting and merging into new models of interdependence. We can’t expect government and charities to do it all and we expect more from business.”

“In New Zealand, we’re a little behind the likes of Australia, Scotland, Korea, and Canada in taking a more intentional approach to growing social enterprise but we can catch up quickly. New Zealand is an entrepreneurial, resourceful, and largely cohesive society where you can get stuff done, and we also have the benefit from learning from what worked in other countries.”

Social enterprise isn’t a new thing, but what we’re seeing now is a significant increase in activity, sophistication, and innovation from all parts of society in using business to deliver positive change and benefit the community.

Founded in 2008, the Ākina Foundation has evolved its mission to achieve social and environmental impact by growing social enterprise in New Zealand and increasing the impact of socially responsible organizations through innovation. Their aim is to activate talent, raise awareness, and develop new market and investment opportunities for social impact.

How do they do it? Ākina provides advisory services, accelerator programs, and works with impact investors and the New Zealand Government to create funding opportunities for social enterprises at all stages. They’ve seen the growth of the sector first-hand, working with more than 1,000 ventures since 2015.

“Social enterprise isn’t a new thing,” says Hannant, “but what we’re seeing now is a significant increase in activity, sophistication, and innovation from all parts of society in using business to deliver positive change and benefit the community.”

Host to the largest social enterprise conference in the world, Ākina Foundation is excited about the potential the World Forum will bring to the young New Zealand sector.

Since its 2008 debut in Scotland, the Social Enterprise World Forum has supported the development of the global social enterprise movement with a three-day program for anyone passionate about addressing the challenges and inequality of our complex and interconnected world.

Focused on the needs of people leading and working in social enterprise but welcoming a wider mix of supporters and organizations, the forum is an opportunity to share insights on practice, debate policy, and inspire one another towards positive change.

“It’s driven sector development in other countries it has been hosted in, and it’s a chance for us to learn from others and replicate that step-change,” says Hannant.

“There is recognition that while excellent social enterprise work has been, and is, going on in New Zealand, it’s fair to say that other countries are getting better results because they have taken a more strategic and organized approach to growing social enterprise as a sector.”

This year’s theme is “Ka koroki te manu – creating our tomorrow.” Taken from a traditional Māori prayer about the birdsongs of the morning chorus, the theme refers to a wake-up call and welcome to the challenges and glories of a new day. Ākina hopes that the forum will be just that for participants.

To find out more about the Forum, and New Zealand’s social enterprise sector visit 

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