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"Thinkers" return with social enterprise focus

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The Rann era Thinkers in Residence program is returning, with the Don Dunstan Foundation taking the lead and promising an 18-month focus on social capital.

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The Thinkers program was run by the State Government for nearly a decade before being axed in Jack Snelling’s 2012 budget.

The Don Dunstan Foundation, backed by the University of Adelaide and Flinders University, revived the concept in 2013 to focus on live music, and it’s about to re-boot the program again this year, with some support from Government but no recurring funding.

There will be some changes, with the foundation promising more than a year of focus on social capital – an area that it believes has huge potential for transforming the South Australian economy.

The residency will also include more than one “thinker”, with the line-up to be revealed on Monday at the new program’s official launch.

Former Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu managing partner Rob DiMonte is overseeing the social capital program for the foundation, and he’s already gathered together a broad list of organisations who will both support the residency and feed into the thinkers’ considerations.

DiMonte, who is deputy chair of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation, said a social enterprise was any organisation that sought to achieve social goals through its work.

It could include organisations – both commercial and not-for-profit – involved in health and aged care, the disability sector, education or community housing, to name a few.

“In South Australia, it’s the fastest-growing part of the economy,” DiMonte said, adding that ABS statistics show employment in the sector grew by more than 13 per cent between 2012 and 2015.

“The bad news to some extent is that we are not alone here. In other parts of the world and in some other states it’s growing at a much faster rate.”

The foundation hopes to use the program to position South Australia as the “social” capital of Australia.

As well as helping existing social enterprises to grow their businesses, the project is also designed to inspire all businesses to improve their social impact.

DiMonte said enterprises with a social goal were more successful and grew faster than other SMEs.

“We want to understand how to do a better job of building social enterprises and getting businesses to be more socially responsible,” he said.

He said there were a growing number of investment drivers in the sector, notably the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) which he expected to spark many socially-focused start-ups, as well as encourage existing businesses to get involved in the area.

There was also a growing desire among investors to put their funds into socially productive areas.

Social impact bonds released to support the Hutt Street Centre for homeless people were over-subscribed within two weeks of their release, he said.

“There’s a huge amount of capital out there looking for a home,” he said.

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