Smiling happy construction workers

Building social change with bricks and mortar

Lisa Boothby is Executive Director of Social Traders.

Certified social enterprises can change the lives of many Victorians, especially in the current Victorian infrastructure boom, writes Lisa Boothby.

Social enterprises are businesses that work to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide people access to employment and training, or help the environment.

Social enterprise has been on the rise in Australia for a decade, growing rapidly in visibility since the first national research, Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector, was published in 2010.

There are many reasons for this boom in awareness and popularity:

  • Government policy and leadership has been supportive of social enterprise, particularly in Victoria.
  • With rising social consciousness, consumers are taking the time to make more informed purchases, having shifted their focus from price to ‘social value’.
  • Corporations are understanding that purchasing from social enterprise will give them a competitive edge in staff attraction and retention, while also making their products more desirable to consumers.

There are many groups who benefit from social enterprise. Young people at risk, people with disability, long-term jobseekers, recently arrived migrants and refugees, and people experiencing homelessness can all be brought into the labour market through social enterprise.

Social Traders is Australia’s leading social enterprise development organisation that connects its certified enterprises to business and government buyers. Social Traders provides Australia’s only form of certification for social enterprises, giving social enterprises brand credibility and enhancing their prospects of winning contracts, which ultimately helps them pursue their social causes.

Social Traders estimates that every time a business or government spends $100,000 with a social enterprise providing employment opportunities, 1.5 jobs are created for people experiencing disadvantage.

What are the opportunities?

Governments and for-profit businesses can make a significant difference to reducing long-term unemployment by changing their procurement policies and practices to give market access to social enterprise products and services.

Social Traders has worked with a range of government and business buyers, including Coca-Cola Amatil, Boral, Australia Post, Mirvac and John Holland.

Over 18 months, these buyers have spent approximately $28 million and supported the creation of more than 350 jobs for people facing disadvantage, Australia-wide.

Organisations that have been certified by Social Traders are now winning contracts with government and business. By demonstrating they can deliver on price and quality as well as on social outcomes, they are being integrated into organisational supply chains as part of ongoing business.

While social enterprise is already expanding its reach, the future growth of the sector – and therefore its potential to make a positive impact on people’s lives – becomes particularly exciting when applied to Victoria’s current infrastructure boom.

In March 2018, the Victorian Government announced a $10.2 billion infrastructure commitment over the next four years, with projects including the Metro Tunnel, level crossing removals and West Gate Tunnel.

These infrastructure developments are designed to meet the future demands of an ever-growing state, but they also provide us with a prime opportunity to encourage and develop long-lasting social change.

If just 1 per cent of the current Victorian infrastructure commitment were spent with social enterprises, it would support the creation of around 1,000 jobs for Victorians facing disadvantage.

Through the work of Social Traders and the ongoing commitment of government and the business community, social enterprise can change the lives of many more Victorians. Beyond roads and tunnels, the infrastructure boom can do so much for our society.

Case Study

Yarra View Nursery in Melbourne’s south-east is Social Traders certified, and in April this year announced the creation of 10 new jobs for people living with intellectual disability, thanks to a $500,000 contract on the Mernda Rail Project with Social Traders buyer members: the Victorian Level Crossing Removal Authority and John Holland.

As a social enterprise, Yarra View Nursery operates like any commercial nursery, producing more than one million plants per year, supplying major retail chains such as Bunnings, Mitre 10 and Aldi – while at the same time providing training and employment opportunities for people with a disability.

Yarra View is just one of a growing community of Social Traders certified social enterprises to experience increased employment opportunities as a result of Victoria’s infrastructure boom.


Through the ongoing commitment of government and the business community, social enterprise can change the lives of many Victorians. The current Victorian infrastructure boom can mean so much more than improved roads and rail networks.

The opportunity is clear.




VCOSS and Social Traders are partnering to provide community organisations with an introduction to social procurement and how to get involved.

Wednesday 20 February 2019
11:00am – 2:30pm
The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne CBD

Register to attend