Wednesday, 28 June 2023

A collection of Australian leading philanthropic organisations have created a pioneering grant program to support social enterprises in accelerating growth and impact, while creating job opportunities for Australians facing barriers to employment.

The Work Integration Social Enterprise (WISE) Grant will provide up to $4 million to WISE to help them strengthen and increase their employment outcomes for people who face challenges getting into the workforce.

Partners of the grant program include Westpac Foundation, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Paul Ramsay Foundation, Macquarie Group, English Family Foundation, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, Minderoo Foundation and MinterEllison. By working together and pooling grant funding, the partners are seeking to help create a more accessible and streamlined approach to supporting earlier stage WISE.

The WISE Grant will be managed by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation with the support of a steering committee of the founders and will be seeded with $3.4 million in initial grant capital. The WISE Grant funds are held in the WISE Collaboration Giving Account of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

“Philanthropy has a long history of providing funding for social enterprises as they strive for sustainability and impact. We understand the unique challenges and opportunities that enterprises face and can work with them on their journey to sustainability,” said Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation CEO, Dr Catherine Brown.

“The WISE Grant collaboration is a Giving Account within the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, which is the initiative host. This new grant program will make it easier for earlier stage enterprises to access grant funding and for philanthropy to pool its resources, leading to more jobs and impact for people and communities facing disadvantage,” Catherine adds.

Research indicates that direct impact expenses for WISE – such as wages of support staff, additional training, equipment for accessibility needs and necessary transport for employees – can account for up to 30 per cent of the enterprise’s total running costs.i

Westpac Foundation CEO Amy Lyden said the WISE Grant would help address these impact costs as WISE build their business models as well as help reduce the challenges for WISE in navigating this grant support.

“We understand these challenges and have accordingly focused the grant program on supporting core operating costs of social enterprises to reinforce their financial sustainability and social impact.”

“Earlier stage social enterprises often find it challenging to navigate grant programs and grant funding options, each with different applications criteria, conditions and reporting requirements,” Amy said.

A recent Social Enterprise Australia study revealed that for every $1 million in turnover, social enterprises create nine jobs, which is nine times more than industries like construction.ii They integrate real-world work settings with skill development, training, and education, effectively reducing barriers to work and increasing opportunities for individuals.

Josephine Khalil, who leads the Employment portfolio at PRF, said the WISE Grant’s approach was an exciting initiative that better allows grassroots social enterprises to manage the costs associated with training and employing job seekers.

“Research shows more than half of approximately 12,000 social enterprises in Australia (58.5 per cent) are focused on employment,iii generating award wage jobs and employment pathways for Australians facing barriers to mainstream employment,” she said.

“Despite their effectiveness at creating sustainable and meaningful work, WISE face unique challenges to grow due to the significant costs of working with marginalised job seekers, together with the lack of sustainable grant funding for the outcomes they deliver, not helped by the time and resources required to apply for philanthropic grant funding and investment.

“The WISE Grant pools our knowledge as philanthropic grant funders to better meet the particular funding and support needs of social enterprises, ultimately reinforcing our common goal of ensuring all people have access to economic dignity and social mobility.”

While there is growing momentum and support for WISE, such as the recently announced funding for social enterprises outlined in the Federal Budget, the grant program will provide a much-needed avenue for WISE to deliver these wrap around support services.

The two-year grants range in value from approximately $200,000 to $500,000, depending on the stage of the social enterprise.

Anna Le Masurier, ANZ Regional Head of the Macquarie Group Foundation, said the collaboration strengthens philanthropic networks and their shared knowledge base to better meet the funding needs of Australian social enterprises.

“The WISE Grant is an excellent development in Australia’s philanthropic landscape, and we hope it will further demonstrate the impact of collaborative pooled funding,” Anna said.

“This work will inform future best practice approaches for philanthropic networks, advancing our shared goal of creating more job opportunities for Australians facing barriers to employment.”

‍Earlier stage social enterprises seeking to scale their work are encouraged to register an expression of interest for the new grant program, which was co-designed by the charitable foundations and an advisory group of social enterprise leaders. MinterEllison provided invaluable pro bono legal advice on the grant program's governance.

Expressions of Interest for the WISE Grant are open from 3 - 21 July 2023. These will be assessed and shortlisted against the grant criteria, with organisations proceeding to a full application by invitation only.