ACU (Australian Catholic University)

ACU Alum

Issue 1, Spring 2011

Schooling for change

Benny Callaghan Benny Callaghan, CEO of the School of Social Entrepreneurs.

The students at this school aren't after fame or the big bucks. Nor are they setting out to climb the corporate ladder. Alisse Grafitti spoke to Benny Callaghan about schooling social entrepreneurs.

Providing affordable fresh food hampers to struggling families, helping girls in Sierra Leone attend school, and giving young people access to driving lessons are just some of the ideas put into action by graduates of the School of Social Entrepreneurs.

Based in Sydney and Melbourne, the school runs 9-month programs for would-be entrepreneurs, using an action learning approach.

"We don't have academics, exams or assignments," said chief executive Benny Callaghan. "Our students come in with their ideas and the problems they're facing, and we utilise peer-learning and successful social entrepreneurs who share their personal experiences with the class."

Benny, an arts graduate from Australian Catholic University, said the school was built on the premise that people who experience the problems firsthand often have the best ideas on how to solve them, but often lack the skills, confidence, experience and networks to bring them to life.

"Our students are very diverse," he said. "They range from 20 to 65 years old, are both men and women, and come from a variety of backgrounds. We have people who haven't completed high school, some with postgraduate education, and have had 12 nationalities represented to date.

"The common denominator in our students is enormous passion. They're absolutely determined to implement whatever they're trying to do, and they'll stop at nothing to make sure it happens."

Since it opened two years ago, the school has graduated 64 students, who through their initiatives have created 67 jobs, 296 volunteer positions, and collectively attracted more than $3.7 million in funding.

One graduate is 25-year-old Sarah Tilley, who established Shortland Black Café to provide work and life skills to the youth of Telopea, a Western Sydney suburb with large areas of public housing.

The Café currently runs from a community hall, with eight trainees learning to work the coffee machine and a waiting list of 25, all aspiring to work in hospitality when they leave school.

The school recently picked up the $100,000 inaugural Australian Social Innovation Award from the Macquarie Group, for an organisation that is innovating to meet an unmet community need.

Benny said the growing public recognition and increased demand at the school was part of a groundswell of interest in social business.

"Commercial businesses are definitely looking to change the way they operate and work with the community, and even the way they share their wealth," he said.

"The school is not about taking experienced entrepreneurs, we're taking ordinary, everyday people with big passions and ideas.

"Every day I get to associate with some pretty inspired and remarkable individuals, and see their projects go from an idea, to an initiative which is changing peoples lives."

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