Michelle Sharp has called on councils to unbundle some of their contracts. Speaking at the LGNZ Conference in Christchurch, she said she was there to talk about one of her favourite topics. “How can we harness the power of business and collectively use it to address some of the most significant issues that we face in our communities?”
Michelle told delegates she was wearing two of her favourite ‘hats’: one as the trustee of the Akina Foundation, a partner to central government in creating an eco-system for social enterprise. Her second role was as CE of Christchurch-based social enterprise Kilmarnock.
“My one plea to local government is to unbundle some of your contracts to allow organisations like Kilmarnock – and especially some of the country’s smaller social enterprises – to be able to access some of your work because without the markets, nothing else will work,” she said.
Michelle described a social enterprise as ‘a business with a heart’. “Unlike a charity, it is trading for its income and, unlike a business, it is not there solely to make its shareholders profitable.”
Michelle said a social enterprise lies on a very long continuum somewhere between those two models.
When it comes to procurement, councils could play a pivotal role for social enterprises, she said.
“Without a market in which they can trade, social enterprises simply cannot exist. It’s about having real partnerships which are meaningful so that adoption of social enterprise becomes mainstream.”
She added that by partnering with social enterprises, councils could work towards addressing some of the country’s social, environmental and economic issues.
Michelle told the story of Kilmarnock, the 60-year-old local organisation that had started life as a charity and exists to provide tangible pathways for school leavers with disabilities – “people who, otherwise, face a cliff at the end of school”.
Kilmarnock undertakes contract manufacturing, providing a real-world environment in which people can gain experience and build confidence.
When seven years ago, Kilmarnock lost its largest contract manufacturing ANZAC poppies, it also lost a third of its income overnight and the charity faced a choice. It could either shut up shop – and jeopardise the employment prospects of 60 vulnerable people – or dig deep, change its model from a charity to a social enterprise and take control of its own future.
“So, we partnered with local government and with some organisations locally and went about changing everything in terms of how we approach life.
“I’m so excited to say that a year ago, with the help of government financing, and because we had outgrown the previous site that we had been in for 50 years, we moved in to a brand-new base camp.”
Michelle says, suddenly, people could see Kilmarnock’s scale. “We started attracting lots of visitors and that resulted in a contract being unbundled locally with Citycare and in some incredible statistics which are lifechanging.”
The unbundled contract allowed Kilmarnock to participate as part of a supply chain when Citycare was rebranding its vehicles.
“It meant that across four months six of our employees, who had never ever worked outside of the four walls of Kilmarnock, were able to experience what real life and normality feels like in the workplace. They were part of a team and it has changed their lives.
“These six people now have confidence and are aspiring to go on beyond Kilmarnock. We don’t want to be the destination: we want to be part of the journey.
“Over 460 hours, these employees were able to see and be inspired by the fact that there are exciting jobs out there. We ended up with one placement of somebody who left Kilmarnock after 18 months with us and is now earning the Living Wage. The email we received last week to say his life has changed is real.”
This article was first published in the October 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.