Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

School for Social Entrepreneurs Graduation Ceremony – Surry Hills

Location: Surry Hills Community Centre, Surry Hills, NSW



  • The Gadigal people – traditional owners of the land on which we meet
  • Benny Callaghan – CEO, School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia
  • Steve Lawrence – Chief Executive of the Australian Social Innovation Exchange
  • Graduating social entrepreneurs
  • Business and community leaders

I’m delighted to join you tonight in celebrating the graduation of the first students from the Australian School for Social Entrepreneurs, and I thank Benny Callaghan for the opportunity.

I would like to congratulate School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia on this milestone and, especially, those of you graduating today on your pioneering effort.

When I came to visit you last year, you were at the stage of scoping up your business plans –what amazing progress you’ve all made since that time!

It’s clear that you’ve all benefited enormously from the practical training and concrete mentoring you received over the past year.

I’ve been greatly inspired by the different exciting projects you’ve been working on – from organic community gardening to driver training.

These projects attest to your entrepreneurial drive, innovative problem-solving skills and commitment to help tackle some of the difficult social challenges facing your communities.

We know that government alone can’t resolve the complex and multiple problems associated with deep disadvantage.

Finding and implementing real solutions that work requires collective effort – government, business, community organisations and innovative initiatives such as School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia are all part of the problem solving mix.

That’s why the Australian Government has welcomed the establishment of School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia and provided funding support of $1.2 million through its Innovation Fund.

We’re a government that’s passionate about transformative social change – just like you. And one of our priorities is to grow the social enterprise sector in Australia as an important player in our social inclusion agenda.

Social inclusion is about giving everyone in our society the opportunity to realise their potential – whether that’s through education, employment, participating in the community or making their voices heard.

To put it succinctly, the Australian Government’s social inclusion agenda is about making Australia a fairer place.

Just two weeks ago, the Deputy Prime Minister released an important statement on social inclusion entitled A Stronger, Fairer Australia. It explains the presence of persistent social disadvantage in the midst of our relative prosperity, and outlines the government’s plan for achieving our vision of a stronger, fairer Australia.

Social enterprise features strongly in the statement and I encourage you all to download a copy from the social inclusion website.

The statement emphasises that a thriving social enterprise sector in Australia has an important role to play in helping us to achieve our vision of a stronger, fairer Australia.

By combining market trading and social purpose, social enterprises are able to provide supportive work environments and offer specialised services to people who find themselves caught in a spiral of disadvantage.

And that’s why we are working to help boost the creative development and capacity of social enterprise by funding a range of projects targeted at supporting disadvantaged job seekers and providing communities with much needed services.

Already we’ve invested $57 million in 76 social enterprises through the Government’s Jobs Fund and the Innovation Fund, including two projects being undertaken by some of the graduates here today:

  • The first, Mars Hill Café, seeks to increase jobs and training positions for disadvantaged job seekers in the Parramatta region.
  • The second, Mount Druitt Community Enterprise Hub, aims to create jobs and training positions for up to 50 people and increase the number of disadvantaged families it provides with healthy food.

I would like to thank the graduates behind these wonderful projects and the corporate and community partners whose support made all this possible.

Indeed, all the 17 graduates here today are ready to reach out to their community and help make Australia fairer and stronger.

Tonight our graduating social entrepreneurs have become fellows of the global School for Social Entrepreneurs network, which comes with enormous responsibility – responsibility beyond your individual business interests. A responsibility to share the knowledge your have learned with others, to support each other and to maintain a network with your fellow graduates where you can keep the passionate fire of creativity burning.

I have little doubt that your time at School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia has equipped you with the ability to make an even greater contribution to your local community and beyond.

I would like to commend you for the tenacity, entrepreneurial drive and commitment reflected in all your inspiring projects, and wish you the best for the future.