New business models and industries are key to rural and regional sustainability.
The key qualities of these ‘community enterprises’ are that they:
- create livelihoods in ways that also meet and provide for essential social and environmental needs ~ particularly energy, transport, learning, food, housing, health, education, communications and healthy, productive ecosystems
- utilise ‘fourth sector’ structures which are for-purpose and benefit more than being solely for profit (or not-for-profit) with legal and business models such as cooperatives, trading associations and benefit corporations
Community enterprise models are especially important to regional sustainability in that they:
- provide for essential needs in ways that are significantly more accessible, inclusive and affordable ~ which is critical to meeting the needs of the over-whelming majority of humanity who barely have their minimum material and physical needs met at this time, and many who still live with abject poverty; and,
- care for the commons ~ nature, knowledge, culture and infrastructure ~ recognising that the commons belongs and is the responsibility of us all, for the genuine and equitable benefit of all living people and creatures for aeons to come.
“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
~ Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Starfish operates using a community enterprise business model itself, providing fee-for-professional-sustainability-services to both advance our mission and at the same time generate income to fund our own initiatives.
In fact, Starfish uses a ‘charitable enterprise’ model.
We coined this term in 2009 to describe:
… a legally constituted charity that, once fully established, becomes financially self-sustaining by means of trading.
As a charity, a charitable enterprise has a clearly defined charitable purpose and structure. It is legally required to apply any and all financial surpluses to its stated purpose, and, conversely, is legally prohibited from distributing profits.
As a trading entity, a charitable enterprise offers goods and/or services to customers. Those goods and/or services may be unique to the enterprise, or similar, or identical, to those commonly provided by commercial businesses or government.
Funding for the establishment of a charitable enterprise is by way of donation. This ensures that financial surpluses are directed solely toward the charitable purpose, and not toward servicing debt or providing a return to stakeholders. A true charity must be able to give and receive, but not owe or be owed.
Starfish sees community enterprises as having extraordinary potential for restoring the commons and creating common wealth and wellbeing.
Starfish’s vision for Community Enterprise
There is no argument the commercial trading paradigm that has dominated our society for centuries has contributed to the unimaginable advancements in medicine, manufacturing, technology and more that we often take for granted today. Unfortunately, in achieving these laudable goals, the profit above all ethos of the commercial world has already overdrawn the balance of the Earth’s natural resources, and unfairly concentrated the planet’s vast wealth into the hands of a fortunate few.
A key step in this great transition to sustainability is to re-imagine the development, production and delivery of essential products and services. We look to a future where caring consumers will access essential products and services from vibrant community enterprises that exist to create satisfying livelihoods for employees, genuine service for clients, and valuable environmental and social outcomes for all.
Virtually any product or service available from a commercial provider could be provided by a community enterprise.
Through the promotion, support and incubation of community enterprises, Starfish is providing a pathway for skilled individuals, from a wide range of industries and professions, to transition from the commercial world to the social world ~ pursuing their goals, and doing the work that they love, in an environment that is every bit as vibrant and challenging as the commercial world, as well as free from the driving and divisive forces of the profit above all mentality.
Starfish’s charitable structure and constitution have been specifically designed to allow it to mimic the ability of starfish sea creatures to self-replicate. Through its Start-up Incubator and Auspice Service, Starfish is able to replicate, and pass on its charitable DNA, through the creation of new community enterprises that can contribute to the essential transition to a sustainable future.
Starfish’s work on community enterprise includes the following initiatives:
- BackTrack’s transition to a multi-site operation
- Biochar for Sustainable Soils, supporting farming-based livelihoods in six less developed countries
- Coalition for Community Energy, working to create a vibrant community energy sector in Australia
- Community Regeneration, which supports micro-enterprise development for small communities
- earthfunerals, establishing Australia’s first, fully integrated natural funeral and burial service
- Farming the Sun, Australia’s most diverse community solar energy initiative
- Myall Creek Centre for Reconciliation, establishing the world’s first centre of this kind
- New England Wind, developing NSW’s first community-owned wind farm
- North Coast Energy Forum, enabling the transition to a sustainable energy system for the region
- The Living Classroom, centre for regenerative agriculture
- Zero Net Energy Town, the world’s first, open-source, town-scale renewable energy planning model