IMPROVING internet access for the vision impaired, building support for Aboriginal businesses, and a bike recycling project with corporate connections are among the first group of initiatives to be supported by the state government’s Social Enterprise Fund this year.
Six organisations have been awarded business development funding under the Social Enterprise Fund grants – The Association for the Blind WA, Wunan Foundation, Dismantle, Bridging the Gap, CASE for Refugees and Befriend Inc.
Announced in April this year, the Social Enterprise Fund provides $10 million to support the development of ‘social enterprise’ models in community organisations (social enterprises use trade to generate income, which feeds services).
Dismantle is one of the organisations to receive funding under the first round of grants. The Fremantle-based organisation uses bicycles as a catalyst for social change and is focused on at-risk youth as its primary market.
Dismantle founder Lachy Ritchie told WA Business News the organisation’s flagship bicycle education program taught at-risk youth how to recycle bicycles to positively engage them and get them on a pathway to employment, or keep them attending school.
With its $50,000 Social Enterprise Fund grant, Dismantle plans to partner with recruitment firm Chandler McLeod to develop a corporate team-building program, driving revenue through that to deliver funds back to its at-risk youth program.
It would also develop an education and commuting skills workshop that would be run for corporate organisations wanting to encourage employees to cycle to work.
Mr Ritchie said Dismantle had run a couple of pilot programs already and would develop the program further with the funding.
The Association for the Blind WA plans to use its social enterprise fund grant to develop its Access Focus consultancy practice, which would assess and advise organisations on the accessibility of internet, downloadable information, and physical accessibility for people with a disability.
Program developer David Vosnacos said the organisation’s $50,000 grant would go toward the development of a business plan for Access Focus – to analyse the market, develop resources, and build an understanding of the staff base required to run the program.
The plan was to then apply for start-up funding under the Social Enterprise Fund.
Technology commonly referred to as ‘screen readers’ already exists for people with vision impairment to make the internet and computers accessible, but Mr Vosnacos said the accessibility of websites and downloadable documents could be compromised by text colour, hyperlinks and similar functions.
With ‘web content accessibility guidelines’ having been developed, and the WA state government committing all government agencies to adhering to these guidelines by 2014, Access Focus has a ready-made market.
Other organisations to receive funding were Befriend Inc, which plans to develop its eFriends Project to encourage participants to overcome isolation; CASE for Refugees, which aims to establish a commercial legal and migration service; and Wunan Foundation, which plans to offer business support to indigenous businesses.
Employment service organisation Bridging The Gap also received a $50,000 grant and proposes development of a commercial cleaning business to employ socially disadvantaged people.
Bridging the Gap chief executive Colin Kerr said the organisation would partner with Victoria-based WCIG, a social enterprise that had developed a similar cleaning business and could advise Bridging the Gap on how best to establish the social enterprise.