Live from the Social Enterprise World Forum — Day 3

Another excellent day! I am never sure about study tours – over the years I seem to have visited many social enterprises which are in reality projects and bear little resemblance to anything enterprising! Top of my list of things to do was to visit the Bonsai Social Firm – famous because it began a series of development work in Scotland on acquisitions which is now spreading southwards.

‘Bonsai – the imagination tree’ became a social firm 3 years ago, bought from a family looking to retire – last month it merged with another garden centre [this I hadn’t known] and the new garden centre provides paid employment both for people with learning disabilities and people with mental ill health. What really was interesting was that this is a business of scale, it owns its own land and doesn’t receive payments from the government. What interested me more was that the merged company has been operating a garden centre for 20 years and originally financed the move from day activities to business start up by borrowing the money from a bank against some property they had. I thought it was a great business and didn’t disappoint!

The second visit was to Prahran Mission – a well established agency for homeless, long term unemployed and those with mental ill health. They have just opened a ‘vintage clothes shop’ – not especially exciting but what was interesting was the decision-making process that has led them down the road of social enterprise and how they plan to manage 2 staff teams, one providing traditional support/care and the other operating a social firm.

The final visit was to Tjanabi [Boonwurrung Foundation] – a fantastic restaurant in the heart of Melbourne serving food based on the native food of the reflecting the six seasons of the area. They took this approach so not to over hunt, fish or pick food and to respect it. We met Auntie Carolyn the elder of the tribe who has a considerable reputation as a social entrepreneur. She established the restaurant to resource her work with her community. She has played a significant role in the struggle for recognition and rights for the Boonwurrung people – which ended up with the first indigenous land use agreement for the Melbourne area.

The other elder I met was from the Woiwurrung Tribe [at the opening of the conference] and these two tribes share the land of Melbourne. I have met some amazing and very strong women on this trip! It’s unusual for women to be leaders but apparently many of the men die young and there are real problems with alcoholism.

By the way – the menu today had crocodile and kangaroo – guess what I had – and the plates were dressed with local berries and herbal leaves – it was superb! One of the leaves made my mouth go numb and then when I drank water there was sweetness in my mouth – explain that one if you can!

Tomorrow an eco centre!

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website
  1. Alun Severn Reply

    Hello Sarah. You’ve obviously recovered from your cold and sound your usual self — energetic, curious, ready to enjoy every moment.

    You said in the post above: “One of the leaves made my mouth go numb and then when I drank water there was sweetness in my mouth – explain that one if you can!”

    Er, drugs?

  2. Deanne Dunstan Reply

    ‘Sarah’s Adventures in Oz’ seems to be going well…well done you for finding the time to keep up the blog; im not sure about eating kangaroo or crocodile but i would hazard a guess that you tried both!

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