Young Social Entrepreneurs

My Chronicle column this week focuses on some terrific Canberra community activists.
Strong Fibre in Canberra Fabric, The Chronicle, 7 May 2012


One of Canberra’s great features is the strength of our civic fabric. And it’s no more apparent than among young Canberrans who are giving back to our community.

Recently, I held a breakfast roundtable for a group of these ‘social entrepreneurs’, to discuss the opportunities and challenges they’re facing. Let me tell you about some of them.

  • The Raising Hope Foundation, led by Ben Duggan, provides opportunities for students in the ACT to develop esteem and self-belief.  Raising Hope works with local schools to make sure that schoolkids at risk of slipping through the cracks get the support they need.

  • Created by Sunny Forsyth, Abundant Water raises money to help people in the Southeast Asian nation of Laos get clean drinking water. Effective water filters can be made at a relatively low cost, and Abundant Water works to support communities getting them.

  • Focused on Canberra, Brad Carron-Arthur’s work with the Youth Suicide Prevention Network aims to help reduce the scourge of youth suicide. A young man who ran from Canberra to Cape York to raise awareness of mental health, I’m sure he’ll make an impact on improving suicide prevention.

  • Most social entrepreneurs focus either on local or international disadvantage. Raize the Roof, chaired by Danielle Dal Cortivo, aims to do both. They support the Starlight Children Foundation in Australia and SOS Children’s Villages in Botswana. And they’re doing it in a unique way: building a house in Bonner with help from local tradespeople, and then selling it off to raise money for charity.


There are many peak bodies and larger organisations in Canberra, and we appreciated the insights of people such as Rikki Blacka of Volunteering ACT and Julie McKay of UN Women.

Navigating the murky waters of charitable foundations and managing to keep your volunteer base upbeat is no easy task, and it was useful to hear different experiences from those at the roundtable. With increasing numbers of government agencies and companies allowing their employees time off to volunteer, Volunteering ACT plays a critical role in ‘matchmaking’ volunteers and charities.

Just as in business, growth in the community sector depends crucially on building new organisations. The activists who joined my latest social entrepreneurship roundtable are living proof that Canberra’s community sector is faring well.

From suicide prevention to better water in Laos, they’re focused on issues that go well beyond themselves. Each of these social entrepreneurs faces challenges in making their group successful. But with the support of others I’m confident they will continue to grow.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com. If you’d like to assist any of these organisations, please email Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au or phone 6247 4396.

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