Social enterprise sits between commercial business ventures and volunteering, as it’s about using business strategies to achieve social improvement or impact. Social entrepreneurs have ideas about new and innovative ways to work with or solve entrenched social problems in the community. For those in their 50s and beyond, it may be an interesting fusion of seniorpreneurship and volunteering.

Celia Hodson, CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia, says that a significant number of the social entrepreneurs who come to their training courses are aged over 50 and that they come to social entrepreneurship through two different paths. Some are caring for family members, such as parents or children, and think there must a better way of delivering a service to their mother, or whoever – so these ones are motivated to work for change from a personal point of view. The other trend Hodson sees is people who have paid off some of their mortgage, want to get out of the corporate world, and think ‘now is the time for me to do that thing that’s been burning away for years and years’.

She says that older social entrepreneurs are ‘very considered, they have spent a lot of time thinking. It isn’t a harebrained thing, they pondered on it for many years and have planned their lives so that they can take this time to do whatever it is they want to do’. There are advantages to having been around the block a little bit, just as there are with senriorpreneurship generally. You have your eyes wide open and are generally more clear about what you want to get out of it.

If you don’t want to set up your own social business, or aren’t sure about it yet, you might consider mentoring someone who is doing that. For example, every social entrepreneur who comes to School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia to do a program gets a senior business leader as their business mentor.

Hodson sees many funders who are interested in backing the older cohort. We think of entrepreneurs sometimes as young and geeky, but when the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia puts forward an older entrepreneur to their funding network, ‘chances are they’ll get into the shortlist because of the lack of diversity in the social enterprise space. They are always so thrilled when it’s someone over 45 that we put forward because they’re amazing storytellers and what secures the cash is the way you present the story.’

Hodson has plenty of examples of successful social businesses started by older people. She talks about Moira Luxford, who started a venture called Mela-what? because her daughter was diagnosed with melanoma at 20 and died within a year. Luxford decided to raise awareness of melanoma as a young person’s disease.

Another example is Don Palmer, who runs Malpa, a bush doctors’ program training young indigenous people as health ambassadors within their communities. They take young kids who become bush doctors and they put them together with a medical student and together they work in communities.

Great ideas, older people, successful ventures. Maybe working with social enterprise is for you?

Joanna Maxwell


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