The Peer to Peer (P2P) Enterprise Incubator is run by the Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative Ltd (NCEC) in Nundah, Brisbane. This grassroots program offers practical ‘hands on’ training and enterprise start-up support for people facing significant barriers to employment. P2P is transforming Nundah’s local economy and tackling the unemployment faced by people from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds.
NCEC was formed in 1999 and aimed to create sustainable employment and training opportunities for members of the Australian community struggling to find a place in the workforce. NCEC continues to focus on working with people facing significant employment barriers due to disabilities, mental health issues or, in the case of people from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds, language barriers and lack of education or relevant work experience. In a broader sense, NCEC and the P2P program collaborate with with people and communities interested in business ownership and self-employment, promoting the possibility for individual economic empowerment.
NCEC has been successfully running a Social Enterprise for many years now whose primary focus is creating employment for people with disabilities and mental health issues. Recently, however, NCEC has been approached by other disadvantaged groups and agencies asking for support in developing their own initiatives. NCEC’s subsequent P2P Enterprise work focuses on working with these disadvantaged communities including those with refugee and Asylum Seeker backgrounds, drawing on a similar model of enterprise incubation as in their other programs.
NCEC’s P2P Enterprise Incubator offers a number of services:
- Practical hands on training in one of NCEC’s own businesses
- Support to develop a business model and plan
- Linkage with pro-bono support (accounting, business and legal)
- Marketing through NCEC’s community networks
The P2P program relies on partnership with a settlement support agency and is funded through philanthropic support and a contracting relationship with this agency.
Richard Warner, NCEC’s coordinator, describes P2P enterprise development as based on relationships and partnerships, participant rather than compliance focused, and reliant on harnessing existing networks of community relationships. The fact that the program is delivered by a group who has a lived experience of disadvantage allows for a deeper insight into the barriers faced, and how to progress through them.
Six small refugee led businesses have been developed with the support of the P2P Enterprise Incubator. For some participants, their work with P2P has been their first ever job in Australia, a number of years after having arrived as refugees or people seeking asylum. Fifteen trainees are currently finding regular employment.
One successful case study of P2P’s work is the small gardening business Mountain Mowing Men. This small business was developed by two members of the Bhutanese refugee community with the support of their refugee settlement agency and the services of the Nundah Co-Op and P2P program. Like many in the Bhutanese community, its founders Shree Monger and Bhakta Poudel were frustrated by their repeated unsuccessful attempts to find employment in Australia. Language barriers, lack of relevant education and practical work experience, and structural unemployment issues kept them locked out of the Australian workforce.
The Nundah Co-Op, along with the refugee settlement agency MDA ltd, assisted Shree and Bhakta with practical training, small business registration, development and planning, bringing income to the project, linking participants with Business Mentors and liaising with relevant parties such as job agencies and Centrelink. The Mountain Mowing Men now have over 25 regular customers and have turned over thousands of dollars in their first year.
Last year, NCEC received a national award for the Best Social Enterprise, testament to its success in making positive change with programs such as the P2P Enterprise Incubator.
Some of the challenges faced by NCEC in their P2P program have included a longer-than-anticipated support period for successful business establishment, and the critical need for skilled mentors and pro bono support for the program to be successful. The individualised, ‘tailored’ approach that the Enterprise Incubator takes is critical but also time-consuming, another challenge for a small Co-Op if resources are limited.
Advice for others
The coordinators of P2P and NCEC offer the following advice for others wishing to develop a similar social enterprise: Start small and give it a go!
Ph: (07) 32663788 (Richard Warner, NCEC Coordinator)