Youth social enterprise is making an IMPACT

Student Elise Stephenson, smiling
Elise Stephenson says the inaugural IMPACT conference recognised the need for a space where young people can become engaged in social enterprise

by Elise Stephenson

Weeks have passed since the inaugural IMPACT Youth Social Enterprise Conference in Brisbane and I can’t wait to do it all again.

The conference drew 120 of Brisbane’s best and brightest 16-25 year-olds who gathered at the State Library of Queensland to launch a concept aimed at bridging the gap between business students and young professionals and bringing together the skills and drive to further social enterprise.

It all started a year ago when I attended the Asia Pacific Cities Summit in Kaosiung, Taiwan, as a delegate of Griffith University and a member of Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s Young Professionals.

There I met incredibly passionate students from Griffith, the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology, among them Cara Nolan, Lucille Danks and Paddy McCann, all of whom recognised the need for a space where young people could become engaged in social enterprise.

The kernel for IMPACT was planted there.Social pics from IMPACT youth conference

But what is social enterprise? Well, social enterprises are organisations that apply business principles to social issues.

Prime examples includeThankYou,which after meeting production costs for its bottled water, bodycare and food range, channels all funds into projects in the developing world.

Another is Kinfolk Cafe, a coffee and culinary operation that directs all profits to development projects in Australia and abroad.

Afterrecognising a gap between those familiar with social enterprise and those utterly unaware of its existence, two weeks after returning from Taiwan the new IMPACT team gathered and asked two questions:Do you want to be a part of it?What can you bring to it?

What followed was two months of hard work creating a website, deciding on a logo, enlisting sponsors, volunteers, potential speakers and mentors for a conference that was rapidly taking shape and attracting valuable support.

This included support from my own university, in particular Student Development Coordinator Joanne Fairclough, as well as the Griffith Business School and Griffith Honours College.Speaker at IMPACT social enterprise conference

After 10 months we were ready, the proud organisers of a three-day conference filled with keynote speeches, workshops, Q&A sessions, social enterprise pitches, networking and engagement.

Best of all, the whole thing was organised by youth under 25foryouth under 25.

The conference focused on three main aims:

ToinspireBrisbane’s youth to have a positive impact on their communities;

Toeducatethem about social enterprise as a means of addressing social issues;

Toempowerthem with the skills and pathways required for meaningful and lasting social impact.Speaker at IMPACT youth conference

Our speakers were inspiring and insightful, beginning with Elliot Costello, who hasa passion for social justice, youth and creative enterprise.

As co-founder and CEO of Y Generation Against Poverty (YGAP), Elliot works tirelessly to improve the lives of others and told the conference how YGAP’s success is driven by younger people wanting to engage with charity very differently.

He also used the occasion to launch his next project,The Polished Man, an innovative fundraising campaign that challenges men to end violence against children.

If this first day was about building energy and introducing ideas, the ensuing weekend was about incredible interaction and learning, such as that provided so memorably by economist and engineer Simon Griffiths.

A new breed of social business

A former finalist in the Young Australian of the Year Award, Simon told how he turned down a lucrative corporate opportunity to pursue a new breed of social business he calls “consumer driven philanthropy”.

This involves offering consumers the choice of buying goods from which profits are used to improve the lives of people in the developing world.

Simon runs the not-for-profit bar Shebeen in Melbourne’s CBD and has also launched Who Gives a Crap, an environmentally friendly toilet paper business that uses its profits to fund sanitation projects overseas.

Another brilliant speaker was Daniel Flynn, co-founder and Managing Director of the Thankyou Group. Passionate about entrepreneurship, Daniel imparted the strong belief that the impossibe is only someone’s opinion, not a fact. It’s the type of thinking that this year saw him named Victoria’s Young Australian of the Year.

Emphasis changed on Sunday, the final day of the conference. We no longer had participants; we had IMPACT-ers!

Among the activities was a pitching competition for which groups developed an idea of a social enterprise and pitched it to a panel of judges.

Finalists included Re-FOOD-gee, an initiative involving cooking classes hosted by refugees in their home communities; Heidi Feminine Hygiene, a concept to provide feminine hygiene products for homeless women; and the eventual winner, Happy Boots, through which the proceeds of sales of gumboots to university students would be relayed to mental health awareness and services.

Even former Governor-General Quentin Bryce was impressed, happily meeting with participants and conference organisers. Then it was time for Milaana founder Hollie Gordon to wrap up proceedings.

Meaning “to connect, to help people to meet”, Milaana is an online platformthat connects students and jobseekers with community, cause-driven projects.

Holliewas still a student when she founded Milaana in July 2013 and, while still at thebeginning of her social enterprise journey, she had a wealth of knowledge and inspiration to share.

One of those she impressed was Griffith University student Julian Fang, who has begun his own social enterprise,La Jaca, which aims to reduce jackfruit wastage in India via a social enterprise cafe and utilising the fruit in Australia.Two guys at IMPACT youth conference

Looking back on the conference, and on everything that led to it and has occurred in its aftermath, it’s clear that IMPACT is not a one-off concept.

It is a community and we’d love you to be a part of it. Joining our Facebook pageand followingour websiteis probably the best way to begin.

Join us and you will learn, as I did throughout our conference weekend, that IMPACT is greater than the sum of its parts: more than a conference; more than a body of passionate youth; more than our volunteers, IMPACT-ers and sponsors.

I strongly believe IMPACT will be the start of an incredible youth social enterprise scene in Brisbane.

We have the driveand the ability.

So Brisbane, you’d better be ready.

Elise Stephenson is studying a Bachelor of Asian Studies/Bachelor of Communications double degree and was recently named a recipient of a New Colombo Plan scholarship, recognising high-achieving students and future leaders