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Enabling social entrepreneurs - Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey

23 November 2001 Speech Notes

Enabling social entrepreneurs - a partnership between government and community

Address to the Social Entrepreneurship Conference 2001. Wellington Town Hall.


Kia ora
Kia orana
Talofa lava
Malo E Lelei
Fakaalofa Lahi Atu
Ni sa bula

It is a pleasure to be here.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet with you at this first New Zealand conference on social entrepreneurship.

You can see behind me the very appropriate symbol of this Conference, representing the qualities found in social entrepreneurs - the Kea. As noted in the inside cover of your conference folder, the Kea has a “high level of social organization, a propensity to play and an unusual ability to learn and to create new solutions to whatever problems they encounter”.

And I am sure that someone has already pointed out, “it’s found in the South Island’. In the spirit of national unity I am sure that the people of Te Wai Pounamu will let us share the Kea with them.

I would add some other qualities to those noted in your Conference papers - the Kea is inquisitive and creative to the point at times of almost being annoying; it is intrepid; it is assertive, and it, at times, shows a breathtaking disregard for authority. One could argue that in these respects as well there is some suggestion of the qualities of the social entrepreneur.


Before I go any further, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people who have helped make this very important event possible.

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Firstly let me thank all of you for investing your time and energy in this event - this isn’t your run of the mill conference. In keeping with the spirit of social entrepreneurship this is, by design, a conference of discovery, sharing, and no doubt, at times, quite audacious planning.

And let me single out two people who have made a particularly important contribution to the organization of this event:

„X Charlie Moore, General Manager, of the Community employment Group, and

„X Bruce Hamilton, the Chairperson of the Association for Local Action and Economic Development - COMMACT

Can I also note the important contribution that CEG and COMMACT have made through their sponsorship of this Conference, and the contribution of the partner organizations supporting this event - the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the Department of Internal Affairs, and Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Maori Development.

Political support for social entrepreneurship

Implicit in these departments’ and agencies’ support of this Conference is the very important reality that this Conference enjoys the full support of the Labour-Alliance Government.

Would a government of some other political persuasion have been so enthusiastic in its support of this initiative?

Would Ministers in a government of some other persuasion have been so keen to encourage departments and agencies to vigorously promote the notion of social entrepreneurship?

I won’t offer a partisan answer to these questions, in part because I think that social entrepreneurship is too important to be the hostage of partisan ideology. But I am firmly of the belief that there is a very strong affinity between the principles of social entrepreneurship and the principles of a progressive social democracy.

Our shared challenge is to make those principles part of the core values of the places and communities we work, and of the nation whose governance we all, in one-way or another, have responsibility for.

I know that you will be discussing the formation of a social entrepreneurs network of some kind - the form and function of any such network is, in the first instance, a matter for you to consider.

But for my part I believe that the time is right for the formation of such a network, and I stand here as a representative of a Government that is willing to be a partner with you in the promotion of the principles, and the practice of social entrepreneurship.

In the time that I have with you today I want to do three things - I want to offer my own comments on what it is that defines social entrepreneurship; I want to outline some of the challenges for us all as we seek to grow the principles and the practice of social entrepreneurship; and I want to outline some of the initiatives that the Labour Alliance Government has taken to partner the development of social entrepreneurship.

Defining social entrepreneurship

Do definitions matter? - in one way probably not.

Imagine yourselves toiling away on one of your projects, sleeves rolled up, trying to break through the latest organizational obstacle, and someone turns up from Wellington with a form and says, “we have a few questions here for you, we just want to check and see if you satisfy the Ministry of Really Important Information definition of a social entrepreneur ..’ - what is the response likely to be? I wouldn’t mind betting that the response could include the “Toyota’ word, and the second word would be “off’.

But in other respects a shared understanding of what social entrepreneurship is important - because we do need to reflect on those shared principles and practices. And while we need to avoid being captured by the imperatives of marketing and spin, a shared definition and understanding does allow us to promote a “brand’; it does allow us to take the concept out into our communities and promote it.

You have a great deal of material in your conference folders on definitions of social entrepreneurship. Let me add to it.

I quite like a definition advanced by Father Nic Frances, Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Australia. This is what he has to say:

“I now think there is very little new about it. It is almost what we called in the 1970s and early 1980s “bloody good community work’ with the added difference that it is not just about us as welfare workers going into a poor community and supporting it, it is being in that community and harnessing the input of everyone in sight - local government, business, statutory authorities, neighbours - anyone with an interest in tackling poverty.

A social entrepreneur is someone who is willing not to point at a problem but to recognise their part in it and join with others in taking collective responsibility for changing it¡K

¡K from parents creating enterprises for their disabled children, to public housing estates working with insurance companies to minimise crime - all these ventures have common features and their initiators and leaders have common needs - encouragement, skilling up, access to investors, publicity.”

Father Frances knows what he is talking about - as Peter Botsman noted in a speech he gave nearly a year ago,

“basically what Nic did was to convince housing authorities and local councils in the UK that if they invested approximately $6000 in furniture they could turn public housing into homes, with much less vandalism, greater care for the housing and longer tenure in the houses and a big saving to the budgets of local government and housing authorities. So Nic then set up the company to manufacture and distribute the furniture using people who were primarily out of work. In other words Nic created a social cycle of prosperity where none existed previously¡K”

I guess Charlie Moore would describe Nic Frances as a “mover and shaker’.

The Ashoka Foundation advances another definition that I like:

“The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck. He or she finds what is not working and solves the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.

Identifying and solving large-scale social problems requires a social entrepreneur because only the entrepreneur has the committed vision and inexhaustible determination to persist until they have transformed an entire system. The scholar comes to rest when he expresses an idea. The professional succeeds when she solves a client’s problem. The manager calls it quits when he has enabled his organization to succeed. Social entrepreneurs go beyond the immediate problem to fundamentally change communities, societies, the world.”

Let me distil what I see as the defining features of social entrepreneurship. In my assessment there are four defining features:

- Firstly, they are firmly rooted in the local or the community context, with all this suggests for process and for empowerment

- Secondly, they are initiatives with a strong focus on outcomes that are real and tangible - it’s about fixing things. In the words of the Ashoka definition, it’s about getting things unstuck (a form of social plumbing perhaps).

- Thirdly, social entrepreneurship is about growing social capital. As the guidelines for the Community Employment Group’s Social Entrepreneurship Programme note, a social entrepreneur takes the same approach to risk, opportunity and innovation as a business entrepreneur, but in pursuit of social rather than commercial objectives.

- And fourthly, it is about partnerships - partnerships between social entrepreneurs and business, between social entrepreneurs and local government, and between social entrepreneurs and central government.

And following on from this last point, let me indicate what, in one important respect, social entrepreneurship is not about.

Challenges to old ways of doing things

Social entrepreneurship does suggest, to evoke the qualities of the Kea, a healthy disregard for rules for the sake of rules - a disregard for illegitimate authority. And one of the strengths of social entrepreneurship is that it presents challenges - challenges to communities, and challenges to governments, whether local or central.

But I take issue with some who draw the cloak of social entrepreneurship around themselves and pose a contrast between social entrepreneurship and central government in Orwellian terms - two legs bad, four legs good; central government bad, social entrepreneurship good. In that sense some are very close to using social entrepreneurship as part of an attack on notions of national government and delivery through public sector agencies and departments.

I take issue with those who hold that the logic of bureaucratic delivery means that there is no prospect of any salvation for the processes of government per se.

Clearly there are challenges to central and indeed local government posed by social entrepreneurship. As I have noted in an article published today in the National Business Review, as the number of people involving themselves in social entrepreneurship continues to grow, the public sector has faced demands for change. Social entrepreneurs and a bureaucratic, “Wellington knows best’, public service style do not mix very well. People who may sometimes break every rule in the book to get a result will not welcome a contractualist mindset that privileges process over outcomes.

There is a challenge here to politicians as well. The average politician wants to be able to announce a programme with their name on it so the electorate can see that they are doing their job. It is hard to announce the kind of freewheeling changes that emerge from the work of a social entrepreneur.

However, I am convinced the public sector can and will change. Indeed, if social entrepreneurs are to realize their potential there must be changes in the way that the public service operates. Social entrepreneurs may be good at making something from nothing, but in the end they are going to need resources and people who back them.

The public agencies at the social entrepreneur conference understand that they are going to have to work in new ways and have begun to do just that. The organizations sponsoring this conference will make a vital contribution - not as grey-suited and distant bureaucrats explaining what can and cannot be done, but as partners in a new way of doing things.

Let me make it very clear that this does not in any way suggest an abrogation of responsibility on the part of Government.

And given that you may find that you have some “fair-weather friends’, let me suggest to you that the enthusiasm for local and community provision can sometimes mask a neo-liberal desire to pare back government in the name of a minimalist state - there are actors on the New Zealand political stage whose enthusiasm for the local is very clearly a function of a desire to return to notions of the deserving and un-deserving poor, and to reliance on family and charity.

My tradition is one of social security through state intervention and I am not about to resile from that tradition. What I am prepared to do is to explore new and innovative ways of central government delivery suggested by the notion of social entrepreneurship.

What I am prepared to do is to play a role in restoring the principles and practice of community, to bring the resources of the state to a renewal of civil society and a refurbishment of the institutions of a vibrant civil society.

What I want to see is a focus on social development and a demonstrated commitment to what Will Hutton has referred to as “institutional in-building’.

So what is the Government doing?

Government’s commitment to social entrepreneurship

This Labour Alliance Government is about walking the talk.

The Labour Alliance Government has moved to embrace the notion of Social Entrepreneurship.

In the 2001 Budget the Community Employment Group received a baseline increase of $900,0000 to implement a social entrepreneurship programme.

The first of the social entrepreneurs funded through this programme is with you here at this Conference - Geoff Chapple. Geoff has been developing Te Araroa - the Long Path - a walkway that will span the length of the country. Geoff Chapple demonstrates the unstoppable attitude required of social entrepreneurs and the impact of his work on employment opportunities for communities throughout New Zealand is huge.

Geoff Chapple is our first recognized social entrepreneur under the new CEG programme but he stands on the shoulders of such people as Wally Stone who founded Whale Watch in Kaikoura, Ngahau Davis, who began the rebirth of Moerewa by leading a community effort to build a public toilet in the small town, and Cliff Colquhoun who has pioneered a zero-waste strategy with local government in Kaitaia.

Following discussions with the Department of Internal Affairs, $950 000 will be available in this financial year to support the activities of social entrepreneurs.

The Department is funding some truly exciting social entrepreneurs:

Under the Community Project Worker Scheme, Internal Affairs has funded four Social Entrepreneurs in the South Island to be the catalysts for enduring community change. Each worker will be funded for a minimum of 3 years with active guidance and support provided by the Local Community Development Group Staff. I know that at least two of those DIA supported social entrepreneurs participated in your workshop sessions yesterday:

Losa Tamati is a Pacific Social Entrepreneur. Under the guidance of Te Amorangi Richmond Ltd in Christchurch, Losa works with young Pacific peoples who are identified by their peers as Pacific Island leaders of the future. Losa builds networks and relationships and community strengths to throw up future leaders, enables Pacific communities to support and nurture their young leaders to achieve their goals, and teaches the skills and behaviours necessary to be successful at social enterprise.

Maria McEntyre is a Christchurch Social Entrepreneur reinventing public approaches to community problems. Maria in her capacity as Director of the Waipuna Youth and Community Trust in Shirley, Christchurch has been engaged in broad based strategy development within the Christchurch social services sector to find new ways of changing the social circumstances of young people and their families. Maria works across the public and community sectors to encourage a climate of innovation as means to achieving lasting positive change for her clientele.

And the Department of Child Youth and Family Services is involved with a number of social entrepreneurs.

Here is but one example:

Hana Morgan is involved with an organisation called Awarua in Bluff. Hana has worked hard to develop her local marae into a social service centre and to link that centre with the whole community. Alongside that she has developed consultation and planning processes across the community. The work done now by Awarua in Bluff includes the full range of social development from parenting assistance, services to young people who are struggling, early education opportunities for kids from single parent families and managing an oyster farm.


There are immense opportunities for social entrepreneurship right across the whole of government and particularly for those departments and agencies that engage with the community to address social and economic development. I am in the very happy position of having a large number of those departments and agencies within my portfolios.

Social entrepreneurship is going to be a standing item on the agenda for those departments and agencies, and I have asked CEG to take the lead in convening a regular meeting of the departments and agencies directly involved with social entrepreneurship in its various manifestations.

This is about addressing disadvantages and deficits in our communities. It is about dealing to material poverty and disadvantage in new and innovative ways.

And it is also about promoting the concept. You may note that I am wearing a lapel pin today - those of you close enough to me will see that it is a Kea.

I am going to wear this as often as I can in the hope that people will say, “what’s the story with the bird Steve?’ - and I am going to tell them.

I would really like this to be a recognized brand, and a recognized badge marking out people who have a special commitment to social and economic development, and social justice.

I wish you well for the rest of this Conference and I reiterate the desire of the Labour Alliance Government to work with you, as a partner.

What is the most important thing of all?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Kia ora tatou.


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