Three Social Entrepreneur Stories
Murnane and the Claymore Miracle
Murnane and the Claymore Miracle
miracles do happen. Six years
street was full of vandalism, family disputes and despair.
Things were so bad that the State Government could not pay people
to move into the public housing. The
low ebb came in late 1995 when two tragic fires turned the townhouses into
infernos, killing five people.
no longer live in fear in their homes, wondering if their next-door
neighbour has been doing the break-ins.
Instead, they share a community life with some important projects
underway. There is now a 12
month waiting list for new residents.
This has been the Claymore miracle, a wonderful example of social
reconstruction. How did it
happen and what are the lessons for policy makers?
first lesson comes from the decision of the NSW Department of Housing to
leave the area. In 1996 it
handed over part of Claymore to the Argyle Community Housing Association,
a division of St Vincent de Paul. The
residents had grown distrustful of the Department.
It was seen as distant, cold and bureaucratic - more interested in
making rules than helping people.
contrast, Argyle established its office in
started with small things, such as a community barbecue and clean-up days,
and then moved on to bigger projects, such as a Neighbourhood Watch
scheme. This burst of energy
and effort created an enthusiasm for doing things together.
As Murnane describes it “everytime someone said let's do
something, we backed them.”
particular, the Pacific Islander residents led the development of a
thriving community garden on a large slab of disused public land.
This became a focal point of achievement, as the residents crossed
their different cultural boundaries and learnt from each other.
normalised the social environment, Murnane then moved on to the
development of skills and economic activity.
He set up a small business to meet Claymore’s housing maintenance
and lawn moving needs. A
low-interest loan scheme was also established, managed by the residents
themselves. This has been an
important source of financial education and participation.
It has functioned like a micro-credit scheme, with a default rate
of just one per cent.
enterprises have established new skills and employment opportunities in
Claymore. Murnane now wants to
take another step forward. He
wants to take over the run-down neighbourhood shopping centre for the
development of business ventures, cooperatives and training programs.
This is where social venture capital has a role to play, exposing
the capital markets to new investment opportunities in poor
Murnane has fulfilled the role of a community broker - building new
partnerships between people, while also giving them the confidence to
develop their skills and to take risks.
This is such an important lesson.
People do not live their lives through committee meetings and
minutes. They want to get
things done in practical ways, creating new relationships of trust and
is why social capital is so vital. It
is a community’s immune system against social breakdown.
No amount of government money or market economics can reproduce
these relationships. They rely
on the work of people like Brian Murnane and the development of community
years ago, I doubted that anything could ever be done to improve the
situation in Claymore. Thankfully,
this wonderful example of social entrepreneurship has proved everybody
entrepreneurs often emerge in unexpected ways and places.
Following the success of the Claymore project, the NSW Department
of Housing decided to try something similar in a section of the Minto
estate (known as “the hill”). In
October 1998 it appointed one of its middle managers, Helen White, to run
a new program called “intensive tenancy management.”
Like Brian Murnane, she was located on-site and expected to work
closely with the local community.
took White several months to break down the residents’ suspicion of
someone from the Department. Thereafter
she moved down the social entrepreneurial path: organising street BBQs and
clean-ups; employing a handyman to fix the small but significant things
around the estate; and most of all, enabling people to do things for
themselves. The community now
runs its own neighbourhood watch scheme, soup kitchen, vegetable gardens
and arts and crafts program.
the greatest success, however, has been the establishment of a new
business called Concept Cooperative. In
late 1999 five women decided to establish an enterprise that matched the
skills of the local residents against the needs of the local area.
It now provides a range of house cleaning and renovating, gardening
and rubbish removal services. It
also hopes to establish a youth employment and training program.
White sees it, “the community here is like a treasure chest.
We have uncovered valuable people previously hidden behind fences.
Basically, they want what everyone else wants.
They want a happy home, a safe place for their children and they
want to be proud. The way the
system was, people here had lost their self-esteem, but we’re trying to
bring it back.”
a result, Minto is an improved place.
Public spaces that had been dominated by graffiti and crime are now
being used constructively. Relationships
of isolation and fear have been converted into a spirit of community and
cooperation. For the Housing
Department, the numbers look good. Rental
arrears are down by 47 percent while vacancy rates have fallen by 50
are two important lessons from this project.
The first concerns the significance of people skills.
Helen White is a strikingly enthusiastic and inspirational person.
When I first met her in 1999 she said that she “couldn’t sleep
at night for thinking about new ideas for Minto.”
runs a people business. Her
sole asset is social capital. She
has a distinctive way of bringing out the best in others.
Without the right kind of character and commitment, there can be no
such thing as social entrepreneurship.
second lesson concerns the limitations of public administration.
While, to be certain, social entrepreneurs are available within the
ranks of government, they are not necessarily suited to the methods of
government. White has not had
the same freedom and success as Brian Murnane in crossing institutional
boundaries. At the end of the
day, she is a government employee, somewhat restricted by the departmental
has limited the capacity of the Hill Project to form partnerships.
It is still part of the housing silo, disconnected from education
and health services and most importantly, new sources of corporate
investment. Other than the
Concept Cooperative enterprise, it has not been possible to generate new
employment and training opportunities.
its current management structure, it is difficult to see how the project
can convert its social capital gains into financial capital.
It needs an alternative source of funding to create a wider range
of business ventures. It would
benefit substantially from access to social venture capital.
If social entrepreneurs are to succeed within the public sector,
they require a high level of risk-taking autonomy, both in their social
work and economic partnerships.
Minto experience has convinced many that this is not likely.
While the project has made some important gains, it remains a
second-best model. The best
and most enduring solution to poverty lies in the creation of an
alternative welfare state.
Meadows and Families in Partnership
greatest challenge for any parent is to raise a developmentally delayed
child. A group of working
class parents in Campbelltown has met this challenge with an inspiring
program of social entrepreneurship. Not
content with placing their children in institutionalised care, they have
tried to build the provision of services around the needs of their
families. Through a powerful
combination of innovation, social capital and sheer tenacity, they have
achieved a remarkable amount of progress.
Families in Partnership story starts in 1994 when two parents, Vicki
Meadows and Mandy Shepherd, decided to do something positive about the
needs of their developmentally delayed infants.
They wanted their children to stay in a normal family network,
rather than experience the isolation of child care.
It was important for the children to keep developing and learning
from regular contact with their brothers and sisters.
of doing things the conventional way, by turning instinctively to a
government department, Vicky and Mandy took their own initiative.
They joined a new group called Families First, organised by the
Kindergarten Union and experts at
Families First was located in an old shed at the rear of an existing
childcare centre in Campbelltown. It
made good use of a disused community asset.
By 1995, however, it had become so successful that it qualified for
Federal funding to construct a purpose-built facility.
This was opened in 1997, further increasing the size and scope of
the service. The results for
the children have been outstanding, with an improved level of development
and regular family contact.
success of Families First gave Vicki Meadows the confidence to play an
even stronger leadership role. In
1998 she established a new group called Families in Partnership.
It took on an ambitious agenda for families with disabilities,
mobilising resources from across the health, university and community
sectors. It achievements
the children have grown older, Families in Partnership has shifted its
focus towards school-related issues. The
parents have grown disillusioned with the structure of special education.
In particular, they want a higher level of innovation and service
integration than the government school system is willing to provide.
As one parent (the mother of eight year old Jimmy, who has a
moderate intellectual delay) puts it:
On one occasion I found out about a new literacy workshop and paid for one of the teachers to attend it after-hours. When the principal found out about it he summoned me to the school and castigated me for my ‘unethical behaviour’. Am I meant to apologise for trying to get a decent education for my child? … Jimmy’s programs are delivered in professional boxes. For example, I would take Jimmy to occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy (ST) at private providers external to the school. He would then return to the school where the teachers had no knowledge of what he had learned at OT and ST. The result is that the development of my boy suffers. Why can’t we put all the services in the one place?
in Partnership is not willing to tolerate the failings of the education
bureaucracy. It has applied to
the NSW Government for the establishment of a community or charter school.
Instead of running special education out of a large department in
the centre of
Internationally, the evidence shows that schools achieve their strongest results when they maximise the involvement of parents. This approach is doubly beneficial in special education. It allows the integration of school and home-based programs across a number of disciplines. The community school plans to provide a range of education, health and family services, with funding bundled together from three State departments. The school will also draw on the expertise of the early childhood teaching and research programs at UWS. It has the potential to be a national centre of excellence in special education.
small beginnings, Families in Partnership has grown into a dynamic leader
in the disabilities sector. The
parents are acting on their well-formed and innovative views about the
needs of their children. Most
of all, they want to be treated as equals in their contact with health
professionals, academics and bureaucrats.
They are not interested in the language of consultation – they
want real and lasting partnerships. When
social entrepreneurship empowers parents in this fashion, it is an
incredibly impressive force for social justice.
Peter Botsman has written, “there are no tougher problems than the ones
these families face. Already
they have achieved things that an army of bureaucrats, governments and
professionals would not have even contemplated.
Vicki Meadows and her network inspire people to work for them to
build something better out of one-off payments, uncoordinated area
spending and paternalistic expert advice.
Partnership and direct involvement in the funding, management and
delivery of services for their children and families is the lesson they