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Stronger together: Philanthropists unite in support of social enterprise

08:30am June 29 2023

Australia's social enterprises contribute around $21 billion to the economy annually. (Peter Tarasiuk)

The rising cost of doing business is a challenge for organisations across Australia, and the country’s social enterprise sector is no different. 

From humble beginnings more than two decades ago, there are now an estimated 12,000 businesses in Australia which are driven by a social purpose, rather than profit generation. They contribute $21 billion annually to the national economy, while their value in promoting inclusion across local communities goes well beyond that.  

But more must be done to support our social enterprises, to ensure that their development is not stunted in the current high-cost environment and they can continue to grow their social and environmental impact. 

That’s why Westpac Foundation is proud to have combined with a group of the country’s leading philanthropic organisations to create a grant program to support the sector – the largest of its kind supporting social enterprises in Australia. 

Our partners include Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation, Paul Ramsay Foundation, Macquarie Group, English Family Foundation, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, Minderoo Foundation and MinterEllison.

The Work Integration Social Enterprise (WISE) Grant will provide up to $4 million to help businesses which are focused on improving employment outcomes for people who face challenges getting into the workforce.

WISEs make up more than half of Australia’s social enterprise businesses and perform a vital role in the community by creating training and job pathways for disadvantaged people. WISEs facilitate their transition into sustainable and meaningful work and, in doing so, also help to fill gaps in the jobs market. 

A great example is Australian Spatial Analytics, which was set up three years ago with a mission of hiring neurodiverse people to offer data analytics services for businesses and governments. 

A recent Social Enterprise Australia study revealed that for every $1 million in turnover, social enterprises create nine jobs, which is nine times more than industries like construction.. 

Administered by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the grant program will make it easier for earlier stage WISEs to access grant funding, while allowing philanthropic bodies to pool their resources. 

Research indicates that direct impact expenses for WISEs – such as wages of support staff, additional training, equipment for accessibility needs and necessary transport for employees – can account for up to 30 per cent of the enterprise’s total running costs.

To address this challenge, the grant program will be focused on supporting the core operating costs of social enterprises to reinforce their financial sustainability and social impact. 

Earlier stage social enterprises also tell us that they often find it challenging to navigate the plethora of grant programs and funding options, each with different applications criteria, conditions and reporting requirements. 

By working together, pooling knowledge and funds, the partners aim to create a more accessible and streamlined approach to supporting earlier stage WISEs.

While there is growing momentum and support for WISEs, such as the recently announced funding for social enterprises outlined in the Federal Budget, the WISE Grant program will provide a much-needed avenue for these organisations to deliver their essential support services.

The two-year grants range in value from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on the stage of the social enterprise. Expressions of interest for WISE Grants are open from July 3-21, 2023. These will be assessed and shortlisted against the grant criteria, with organisations proceeding to a full application by invitation only.

For more information, visit Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation - Work Integration Social Enterprise (WISE) Grant.


Amy is CEO of Westpac Scholars Trust and Westpac Foundation. She has over 25 years’ experience across corporate, foundations, SME and not-for-profit sectors as a senior manager, founder and CEO in Australia and North America. She’s long been devoted to providing education and development opportunities to aspiring individuals with generosity of spirit, having previously held the positions of CEO as the Australian Scholarships Foundation and Chair on the Selection Committee for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.

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