What we can all learn from Western Sydney

Corporates, Not-for-Profits, Government and Communities working together are the basic building blocks to creating social good. That underpins our theory of change here at Spark. It was also the theme of the Parramatta City Council, Western Sydney Community Forum and the Western Sydney Collective’s major event in June earlier this year –  very aptly named SPARK! Seeing our theory of change in action was inspiring. In the room of 280 people from business, community and government there was a genuine commitment to developing new community-business partnerships (see Spark’s whitepaper Partnering for Purpose) to ultimately strengthen Western Sydney for economic and social growth together. Western Sydney is Australia’s third largest and fastest growing economy and they are actively promoting collaboration between sectors for social impact. So what can the rest of the country learn from this dynamic and culturally diverse hub of business, industry and innovation? Here are my takeaways.

It doesn’t matter how small your contribution, everyone has something to offer

Be it a spare desk space, skills in teaching art, a large newsletter reach, or you know someone who knows someone who can help, everyone has something to offer. This was proven to me when I was running the rapid ideation workshops at the forum to generate ideas to address social issues. 90 minutes to solve homelessness or reform the education system (to name just a few) was always going to be tight. But instead of taking a high-level approach to solving some very big, complex issues we spoke practically about what underutilised assets everyone in the room had. Collaborating doesn’t have to be about large sums of money exchanging hands. It’s about finding mutually beneficial partnerships where all parties believe in the common goal. Have a think about which of your assets are underutilised. Then start talking to other businesses and organisations about where your assets could match up.

With diversity, comes new and better ideas

Don’t limit yourself by just talking to your direct peers or networks. Jump ship and go cross sector. Partnerships between Corporates, Not-for-Profits, Government, Philanthropists and Communities are the basic building blocks of our theory of change and our work with so many organisations is proving this theory right. When we look at the issues we are trying to solve we understandably inject assumptions from our own unique experiences. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s the seed of our intuition. Although, having perspectives from all sides of the track is invaluable. Be it identifying commercial opportunities, finding new markets to raise funds or someone to challenge your value proposition to strengthen and clarify your mission. By bridging sector boundaries, the osmosis of ideas and practices naturally gives rise to new models where individuals and communities can thrive without over taxing social sector resources or extinguishing private sector profit.

Look for a link between community benefits and commercial interest

According to Master Builders NSW, 300,000 construction workers are needed in the next decade and there is training for only 40,000 underway. A trained labour shortfall is looming that will cause problems for developers and government. At the same time, youth unemployment in NSW is currently at 17%. Paul Breen, a construction manager from Western Sydney identified this opportunity to create social benefit aligned with commercial and government interest and created Productivity Bootcamp, an 8-week training program for unemployed youth, teaching them a mix of hard construction skills and life skills. Not only does the program engage disaffected youth but Mr Breen says “governments are going to gain because we’re going to get less people at Centrelink, and businesses are going to gain because they’ll get employees that are going to hit the ground running.”

Finding these win-win opportunities, where all parties involved get what they need creates an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts. This alignment of social and commercial interest is key to a sustainable business (download Spark’s whitepaper In Search of Sustainability)

And my big takeaway?: Together we do things better. We live in a society, not just an economy and we’ve all got something to offer and something we can learn from one another. What I saw at the SPARK! forum was a conversation between courageous leaders looking for an alignment of interests with a willingness to unearth and try models of practical, sustainable and ensuring impact. You don’t see that everyday. 

Are you one of those leaders? We’d love to help you find your partner for social impact and uncover levers for your organisation’s sustainability. Get in touch.

Email: martin@sparkstrategy.com.au

Phone: 02 8076 9399

To learn more about developing better partnerships for social impact, download our whitepaper, Partnering for Purpose.

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