Young entrepreneurs drive social change

AMY GRIFFIN

Sisters Elise and Lara Stephenson see change as an opportunity to empower and innovate, which is what led the two young entrepreneurs to create Social Good Outpost.

Elise and Lara Stephenson

Sisters Lara (left), 33, and Elise Stephenson, 27, merged their backgrounds in design and social enterprise to create a unique company. Photo: Courtesy Social Good Outpost

 

Social Good Outpost is a design agency and social enterprise which supports emerging communities and pioneers a social business model, with clients including government organisations and other social enterprises.

The sisters co-founded the design company, which is now one of Brisbane’s leading social enterprises, providing one hour of free work to emerging community organisations, for every 10 paid hours.

“I wanted a chance to do something that I felt would help more people,” Lara Stephenson said.

The social enterprise began as a branch of Lara Stephenson’s established design company, The Grazing Elk.

As Elise Stephenson started to become more involved in social enterprise, the sisters decided to make a change and use their established skills to create a unique design initiative.

The services at Social Good Outpost include web design, graphic design, branding and logo design, and are aimed at social businesses and women-led organisations.

While the two companies’ services are much the same, Social Good Outpost targets women-led and socially responsible organisations.

“When we changed to doing this work with a lot of social and women-led organisations, I felt way more invested in it,” Ms Stephenson said.

The duo is currently teaming up with Australia Now, a public diplomacy program fronted by Australia’s federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to bring a unique and exciting initiative to the Asia Pacific region.

Australia Now aims to bring Australia’s creative excellence, diversity and innovation to our neighbouring nations whilst building diplomatic relationships.

Elise and Lara Stephenson

Elise (left) and Lara (right) Stephenson with Ambassador Angela Corcoran (centre) are looking forward to watching the series unfold. Photo: Courtesy Social Good Outpost

 

Over the next 18 months, Social Good Outpost will be curating the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speakers Series, which is a program of events run across a selection of countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The program was launched in Laos in July and will consist of a series of workshops, panel discussions and conferences throughout the Asia Pacific region, each with the aim of connecting youth and showcasing their entrepreneurial initiatives.

The series also travelled to Cambodia in August and will return to Laos in November before heading to Brunei and Malaysia.

“Youth play a really important role in Australia’s public diplomacy and our overseas presence, because in the Asia Pacific region youth form 60 per cent of the overall population,” Elise Stephenson said.

By connecting social entrepreneurs from around the region Ms Stephenson said she hoped to promote a better understanding of what social enterprise was and how it could influence our world.

“One of the things that I love about social enterprise is that it’s not a nonprofit organisation,” Ms Stephenson said.

She explained that social enterprise was not charity as some people might think.

Social enterprise offers a way of balancing our business orientated world with meeting social needs.

The sisters said they believed youth were at the heart of solving the Asia Pacific’s greatest social issues and said the series provided a platform to promote change.

“One of the cool things about our home region, the ASEAN region… is that it’s actually a thriving region for social enterprise,” Elise Stephenson said.

“I think we’re all trying to learn at the same time: ‘How do we solve some of our biggest social and environmental and political issues, and is there a way that we can do that through business?’”

“Because often there is,” she said.

The Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speakers Series opened in Laos with Dr Cameron Cliff as one the keynotes speakers.

Dr Cliff is an expert in cross-platform development and audience engagement, and is currently the social impact manager at Go1.

Dr Cameron Cliff

Dr Cameron Cliff said the success of the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speakers Series in Laos lay in the high level of local context. Photo: Courtesy Social Good Outpost

 

He, along with the team of other young Australian keynote speakers, was selected by Australia Now, from an elite group of candidates.

Dr Cliff said he believed Australia could learn a lot from neighboring nations.

He said while Australians prided themselves on caring for their workers and having systems in place to protect people, Australians often got lost in what was possible rather than remembering to design business models with humans in mind.

“Before something [in business] might be done, they [Laotians] look at the journey that people go through every day and design with people in mind,” he said.

Young Australian of the Year Queensland nominee for 2019, Mikhara Ramsing, will be a keynote speaker later this year at the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speakers Series’ second set of events in Laos.

Ms Ramsing said she firmly believed in the importance of social entrepreneurship because of the rate at which social problems are increasing.

“Now, more than ever, we have access to information at our fingers tips that also results in us becoming overwhelmed by all the social problems out there,” she said.

“But I see social entrepreneurship as a real path for particularly the younger generation to use business for good.”

Through the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speakers Series, the Stephenson sisters said they hoped the region could look to the future and instill a desire for real and long-lasting social change.

“I hope that social enterprise is the only way we do business in the future,” Elise Stephenson said.

“I think that we’ve got too many problems not to do business in a socially responsible and sustainable way”.

The Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speakers Series has also travelled to Cambodia this year and will return to Laos in November, where Ms Ramsing will be one of the guest speakers.

Ms Stephenson said through the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speakers Series, nations will be able to learn from each other and support their neighbors in the world’s shifting social climate.

Cameron Cliff

The series will encompass a variety of workshops including technology, human relations, mental health and LGBTI+ inclusion. Photo: Courtesy Social Good Outpost

 

Ms Ramsing said she believed in strong regional networks and their power to promote tangible change.

“I think it would be amazing to realise that the problems we face in Australia are not exclusive to Australia,” she said.

“Things like high rates of suicide, things like discrimination in the LGBTIQ sector, that’s prevalent amongst all human beings regardless of the country and to see those similarities and have more minds working on solving them would be amazing.

“I hope greater inclusion is an outcome of this program.”

Ms Ramsing said she believed Australia had a lot to offer other nations in the South East Asian region.

“We’re very lucky to consist of a plethora of diverse nationalities and skills that call Australia home,” she said.

“The experience they bring in using business for good and being able to communicate that then to our neighboring countries is exciting.”

Over the coming months and into next year the program will head to Malaysia and Brunei before heading back to Laos.

The Stephenson sisters said they were humbled and proud to be curating this event and firmly believed programs such as this provided connection, growth and learning which could only strengthen the region’s future.

“I think that one of the great things about the series is that it can connect a lot of these innovators and entrepreneurs who are going to be leading in the future,” Elise Stephenson said.

“They can influence our business structures, our political structures, our social structures and, at the end of the day, they can ensure we are looking after our people and our environment, and essentially we can have this really harmonious and prosperous region.”

You can read more about Social Good Outpost and the Australia Now program here.

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