New Zealand Minister hugely supportive of social enterprise

In its recovery from a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and caused extensive damage, the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, has become a symbol of resilience and collaboration. 

This year, the city will host the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF), and for the Hon Alfred Ngaro, New Zealand’s Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, ‘It seems entirely appropriate that this year’s forum happens in Christchurch [because] out of the devastation of the 2011 earthquake has risen a dynamic city, emerging entrepreneurial businesses and social enterprises.’

In an interview conducted by email, the Minister, whose portfolio includes social enterprise, shared insights on the social enterprise sector in New Zealand and the opportunity presented by hosting the SEWF. 

Mr Ngaro explained that social enterprise has a long history in New Zealand even if the model is not as prevalent as in other countries. 

As an example, he cited Kilmarnock Enterprises which was founded almost 60 years ago in Christchurch to help people with disabilities build the skills and confidence they need to find jobs. ‘They now have over $3 million in annual turnover, 85 employees and are winning commercial contracts for everything from health and safety training, manufacture of children’s toys and food packaging, through to payroll and recycling,’ notes Mr Ngaro. 

Social enterprise also has deep cultural roots: ‘Māori and Pacific business owners in particular will often reinvest their profits back into their communities,’ he noted. 

The past five years have seen a sharp rise in new social enterprise start-ups and growing interest from investors. By way of illustration, Mr Ngaro noted that the Ākina Foundation, the national sector body and host organisation for SEWF, provided business development support to almost 250 more social enterprises in 2016 than they had the year before.

As momentum grows, a new generation of social enterprises is emerging. Mr Ngaro mentioned Patu Aotearoa which ‘has tapped into the unique concepts, language and stories of Māori culture to develop a franchised fitness and health programme for Māori and Pacific people.’ He sees more opportunity to develop business models to address specific cultural needs. 

In October 2016, Mr Ngaro’s predecessor launched a government report on social enterprise and social investment (Social Enterprise and Social Finance: A Path to Growth) that explored the challenges and growth opportunities for social enterprise.  

As in other countries, social enterprises in New Zealand find that access to finance is a significant challenge. ‘As hybrid social-commercial entities they often fall between the cracks when trying to secure funding or capital.’ Another challenge is the limited amount of data about the sector and how it contributes to the New Zealand economy.  

In response, the government has set up a working group to build the government’s knowledge of the sector, promote its growth and encourage the growth of social finance. Mr Ngaro describes the working group as a big focus for his work. He plans to meet with social entrepreneurs around the country, raise awareness of the sector and ask other government departments ‘to look for ways they can join up to make it easier for social enterprises.’

The Social Enterprise World Forum will provide a further boost. ‘I see [it] as having a really important role in achieving these goals. It’s a great opportunity to bring attention to the amazing work being done on our shores but also to inspire and encourage growth here and overseas,’ says Mr Ngaro. 

‘We’re really lucky that New Zealand is full of smart and caring people who want to use their business acumen to do good,’ notes the Minister. ‘I’m hugely supportive of this.’

Editor’s note: This is the first in a new series of articles we plan to run about the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) and about social enterprise in New Zealand with the kind support of our partner The Ākina Foundation.