Cindy Reese Mitchell is an expert at connecting people and ideas, in order to solve problems.
As a social impact strategist with the University of Canberra’s social enterprise incubator The Mill House, Ms Mitchell visited Bega on Tuesday to share her own unique story and connect with people with an interest in social enterprise.
Over 20,000 social enterprises in Australia employ 3000,000 people and contribute between two and three percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
“Social enterprises in the UK outperform small and medium sized enterprises, in terms of startups, growth in revenue, job creation, innovation and diversity in leadership,” Ms Mitchell said.
She said the reason for the growth may be due to austerity measures, and Australia’s strong welfare state tradition has meant it has been slower to embrace social enterprise.
“When you see cracks in that, is where you see social enterprises pop up,” she said.
“When everything in social services becomes what can be tendered out, things fall through the cracks and communities fall through the cracks.”
Health, education, food security and inclusion are areas of potential in Australia, and she was impressed with what she had seen during her first trip to the Bega Valley.
“I want to understand how things are already being done here,” she said.
“I’m looking for business advisers, then we’ll go from there.
“Hopefully you will see a lot more of me, because some of the most interesting things are coming from this Capital Region.”
Originally from Alabama, Ms Mitchell has worked as a venture capital investment manager in Australia and the United States, and as a policy advisor and senior analyst with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
She was also founder and CEO of No Sweat Fashions, a not-for-profit social enterprise providing training, employment and work experience for migrants and refugees in Canberra.
Her experience showed her what is necessary to create a sustainable enterprise.
“We need to educate people to invest in social enterprise and move forward from philanthropy,” she said.
“The challenge is you have to be impact oriented, and realise people don’t respond the way you expect, or want to be helped in the way you want to help.
“You also need a focus on trade, and the need to make an income.”
Ms Mitchell emphasisied the need for a sustainable enterprise to make at least 50 per cent of its income from trade, with the remainder from philanthropy and grants.