The lessons we've learned

The last five years have been full of opportunity and excitement, but not without hard work, commitment, and a belief in what we are doing truly makes a difference. As an organisation, we are committed to continuous improvement, and now we’ve turned five, and fully disbursed our SEDIF grant, we thought it was the right moment to take stock and to reflect on the top three lessons we’ve learned so we can apply the learnings going forward.

We definitely have a role to play

Our first lesson, and our major achievement in the past five years is the confirmation that there is definitely an important role for social finance and SEFA in the Australian market.  We have supported over 20 social enterprises through our innovative finance solutions and have helped many wonderful clients better achieve their mission. Through our loan finance our clients have helped:

–  increase the supply of social housing, crisis accommodation, and affordable housing

–  provided supported independent living solutions for people with disabilities

–  enabled community organisations to set up and buy local commercial businesses so that they can become more financially independent and sustainable

– finance organisations that provide long-term unemployed people, many Indigenous, to gain training and meaningful employment.

We would not be able to support our clients without the support of our investors. To them we have provided both a financial return and a social return, demonstrating the power of social finance in Australia and that the model does work – the reason SEFA was set-up with the support of our investors and the Commonwealth Government’s SEDIF grant has been validated.

We can achieve more in partnership

The second major learning from our first five years is that through partnerships we can achieve bigger and accelerated impact. Some of our most successful partnerships have been with the:

– SEFA shareholders, especially the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and Community Sector Banking, which resulted in many social enterprises benefiting from our finance and advice.

– Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, which resulted in Habit-for-Humanity building new homes for low income households in Victoria.

– Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, which resulted in the launch of Tender Funerals who provide affordable and appropriate funeral services.

– National Australia Bank will enable many social enterprises to benefit from our financing.

– We have been able to support many more clients, more effectively, through these partnerships.

Patience pays off

Our final lesson, but no less important the first two, is that patience pays off. It takes time to:

– build relationships

– properly understand social enterprises, sectors, and risk factors

– build the right organisational capacity to be an effective social lender.

The good news is that five years on, SEFA has a strong team, Board, and balance sheet. It also has a strong network of partners, investors, and stakeholders; and most importantly a strong client base that we are proud to support.

BlogMia Lumb