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Charity or Social Venture – Which Shoe Fits?

By David Anderson

To the average person there is little doubt that the world of helping others is dominated by the traditional charity. In response to natural disasters, conflict and even Christmas, we are constantly reminded to give generously to organisations such as World Vision, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army through TV, radio, online and print. But the recent emergence of the social venture (SV), as an alternative to charity, now presents us with a choice when it comes to deciding the best way of assisting those in need. So what is the difference between the two and which shoe will fit for any given situation?

Unlike a traditional charity reliant upon public donations, the social venture model seeks to harness the power and organisation of business to develop positive social outcomes. But perhaps the SV’s greatest feature is its high degree of community ownership and participation that paves the way for self-improvement. Through ventures such as the OHO supported Gunawirra project, teaching nutritional education and gardening skills to indigenous children, the social venture provides the opportunity for personal and community development where none had previously existed.

The charity model of course, also has a valuable role to play. Their ability, in partnership with governments, to swiftly deliver short-term aid makes them highly valuable in emergency situations. In response to the recent NSW bushfires for example, The Salvation Army released $1.7 million of funds to be distributed to fire affected individuals and families. Unlike the long-term disadvantaged, the victims of flood, fire, and other disasters, may already have the life skills to prosper but not the immediate requirements of food, clothing and shelter. In these cases, a ‘leg-up’ from charity may be all that is needed to return them to a path of well-being.

At the end of the day, the charity ‘shoe’ is suitable to providing relief to those who have found themselves in temporary need of help. The social venture ‘shoe’, on the other hand, best fits individuals and communities who require longer-term, skills based assistance, to realise their full potential.