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HUNTER BUSINESS: Pushing for social change

HUNTER BUSINESS: Pushing for social change

Photo courtesy of Edward Cross

Great to see one of our HBWN Emerging Leaders 2013, Heather Moore in the Maitland Mercury this week.

Cheryl Kernot first learnt about collective action at Maitland East primary school.

When the former leader of the Australian Democrats and Labor MP was told she was too short and too small to carry a banner in a school parade, her supporters in the first three rows refused to march.

‘‘I learnt a lot about how people can support causes that they think are unjust,’’ she said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Hunter Business Women’s Network dinner, she told 159 women that business was now the driving force for social change.

‘‘We no longer have to rely on government to create social change,’’ said the self-described ‘‘recovering politician’’, who famously defected to the Labor Party and retired from politics after she lost the seat of Dickson at the 2001 election.

In her post-political life, Ms Kernot is a director at the Centre for Social Impact, at the University of New South Wales.

She told the gathering at Noah’s on the Beach Newcastle that a ‘‘critical mass’’ of business people had moved into the social entrepreneurial space.

Social entrepreneurs are people working within the business environment to create innovative solutions to social problems.

‘‘Twice as many women run social enterprises than run small businesses,’’ Ms Kernot said. ‘‘And we know that a lot of women run small businesses!’’

She described three forces within the business community driving innovation that benefited ‘‘the whole of society’’ and challenging the ‘‘way business does business’’.

There were social entrepreneurs – a field dominated by Gen-Y thinkers.

‘‘Then there is a whole new generation of investors who want to create social impact as well as financial return on their investment.’’

And ‘‘others who are using their procurement dollars to make a conscious choice to create value,’’ such as buying supplies from an organisation that supported marginalised women or indigenous groups.

The age when business and not-for-profit were at opposite ends of the spectrum was over.

‘‘In the middle there’s a big swirling, evolving number of what we call hybrid organisations.’’

She was not talking about companies that recycled or used energy efficient lighting. Rather businesses that from their environmental imprint to the wages they paid their staff, took an ‘‘inside out approach’’ to being socially responsible.

Ms Kernot has returned to live in the Hunter and is putting into practice what she learnt in school at Maitland East.

‘‘When people join together, you would be surprised at how much money can be unleashed,’’ she said.