21 December 2021 Mary Anne Scully

Reflections on 2021

We’re unlocking the power of social enterprise and entrepreneurship to create opportunities and solve local issues   

ACRE’s purpose is to drive the renewal of Australia’s rural communities so that future generations may thrive.

As leaders in rural entrepreneurship and community-led rejuvenation, we work with and alongside communities who are seeking to create a new future.

Throughout 2021 ACRE continued to guide and support people to build their entrepreneurial capability and capacity to release new opportunities that can renew and rejuvenate communities.

ACRE’s learning and development partner, Social Enterprise Academy delivered programs to support change makers of all ages across Australia. Social Enterprise Academy is a global leader in social enterprise, leadership and social impact leadership and development.

2021 highlights


New learning and development programs for social entrepreneurs: In response to emerging challenging and opportunities, Social Enterprise Academy released a suite of online programs to continue supporting social entrepreneurs across Australia. These included Exploring Social Enterprise, Leading Remotely, Building Revenue Streams and Managing Change.

Wanta Aboriginal Corporation invited ACRE CEO, Matt Pfahlert, and Social Enterprise Academy General Manager, Peter Sacco to Darwin in January. Over the course of two days, a team drawn from across the Northern Territory completed an Exploring Social Enterprise program.


Social Enterprise Schools continues to scale: With increased demand for Social Enterprise Schools, the Academy hosted webinars and Q&As for communities wanting to join the program. The team started on-boarding returning and new schools in Victoria, NSW and South Australia, and hosted professional development sessions for teachers.

Social Enterprise Schools was developed in Scotland. Social Enterprise Academy brought the program to Australia in 2016. Since then, more than 4,000 students from Victoria, NSW and South Australia have participated.


Identifying trends, opportunities and gaps for social enterprise: At the invitation of ProBono Australia, ACRE CEO Matt Pfahlert contributed to the ‘Predictions for 2021’ social enterprise series. Read more here

Social Enterprise Academy team expands: With an estimated 20,000 social enterprises operating across the nation, the Australian Academy team expanded to meet demand for social enterprise learning and development. Tom Collcott was appointed Social Enterprise Schools Learning Coordinator, and Coran Johnson was appointed Learning Coordinator for Academy programs.

Exploring what it takes to run a social enterprise in a rural community: A group of social entrepreneurs from Victoria were selected for the next stage of Thriving Rural Futures. Co-hosted by ACRE  and Social Enterprise Academy Australia Steps to StartUp offered guided e-learning and coaching to help participants take social enterprise thinking to the next level. From March- May 2021, the group met weekly to review online learning modules, explore questions, share insights, and map out key actions for developing a social enterprise concept. The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions supported this community-meets-economic development initiative.

With the guidance of Academy facilitator Matt Perfect, change makers from East Gippsland, Northern Grampians, Golden Plains, City of Ballarat, Indigo, Campaspe, Greater Shepparton, Campaspe, South Gippsland, Hepburn, Glen Eira, Mildura, and Mount Alexander Local Government Areas explored ways to build or grow a social enterprise for the benefit of their community.


Youthful injection of talent to ACRE Board: ACRE welcomed two talented young people to the Board. Program Coordinator with Youthrive Victoria, Brady Cronin was appointed as a Director, and Andrew Mair, a final year law and commerce student with a strong interest in innovation and community development, joined as a minute taker. Read more here

Supporting and strengthening social enterprise networks: ACRE is a founding member of SENVIC, a practitioner-led network with a clear purpose – to establish a thriving social enterprise sector in Victoria. In April a lively group of SENVIC members from East Gippsland, Shepparton, Venus Bay, and Port Phillip joined an ‘understanding social enterprise’ workshop hosted by SENVIC regional manager, Peter Ekstedt, and Social Enterprise Academy Australia facilitator, Rebecca Iliffe. Drawn from many sectors – community development, Neighbourhood Houses, local government, education, food production and retail – participants explored the fundamentals of social enterprise, looking at ways to incorporate social enterprise models into existing for-purpose organisations, or formalise a social purpose as a key driver for a traditional business.

A new social enterprise map developed by Think Enough was unveiled at the inaugural Hume Social Enterprise Networking event hosted by ACRE at Old Beechworth Gaol in April.


Social Enterprise Academy Australia travels to Egypt: After six years of leading up Social Enterprise Schools in Australia, Peter Sacco was invited to join a virtual ‘Dragons Den’ with high school students from Egypt. In this friendly pitching event, students showcased the social enterprises they are developing and received practical advice about ways to develop their enterprises from an international judging panel that comprised entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs about ways to develop their enterprises.

“Young people all over the world are so passionate about making a difference in their local communities. It’s great to part of an international network of Academy hubs that offer learning and development for people and organisations that want to create social change.” Peter Sacco

Supporting social entrepreneurs at different stages: Social entrepreneurs tuned into a variety of learning and development opportunities offered by ACRE and the Academy, including

  • 2021 SENVIC Social Enterprise Leaders Fellowship – sector leaders from metropolitan, regional and rural settings came together for live, online sessions with Social Enterprise Academy Australia facilitators with a planned overnight residential retreat hosted by ACRE at Old Beechworth Gaol in 2022
  • Social Enterprise Schools students tuned into ‘meet the social entrepreneur’ to hear how the business model of social enterprise works. Stefan Heintjes from Scoop 21 Yackandandah, shared insights from a social enterprise that employs young people with a disability in the hospitality industry
  • SENVIC Social Enterprise Network Victoria members joined ‘rebuilding income streams. Led by Social Enterprise Academy Australia this program uncovered tools and techniques for responding to a rapidly changing trading environment

Exploring ways to address food insecurity through social enterprise: Beechworth Health Service hosted a workshop about the business model of social enterprise for North East Victorian food growers and producers, co-ops, restaurants, emergency food relief agencies and packaging and transport groups.

Delivered by Social Enterprise Academy facilitators, ‘Understanding social enterprise’ was held at Old Beechworth Gaol on 13 + 14 May.


Inspiring young people: Prince’s Trust Australia invited Social Enterprise Academy to present at #AchieveFest a free, two-day online immersion designed to support young people, educators & parents with the skills & networks needed to thrive now & into the future. The Academy team collaborated with batyr, High ResolvesVideos for Change & YMCA Australia to deliver high impact sessions.

Global spotlight on Australian Social Enterprise Schools: A Scottish magazine featured a schools special that highlighted Social Enterprise Academy student-led programs around the world, including Australia. Students from Alstonville High School, Alstonville Public School, Rous Public School, #cathedralcollegewangaratta, and Sandringham College featured in the magazine.

The Big Issue is a dynamic social enterprise that is working to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity, through self-help, social trading and business solutions.


National Social Enterprise strategy released: During 2020 a group of organisations in the social enterprise sector gathered with the shared ambition to create a national social enterprise strategy, similar to those in other parts of the world. The group included ACRE, Social Traders, SENVIC, SASEC, YLab and Good Cycles with coordination and seed funding from the English Family Foundation. With support from additional philanthropic foundations, the Yunus Centre was engaged as the project partner. This collection of eight organisations formed the Social Enterprise National Strategy (SENS) Advisory Committee. In a milestone for the sector, the Advisory Committee released two reports in 2021:

  • Part One: a summary of themes, tensions & provocations, capturing the history and learning in the social enterprise sector in Australia and internationally.
  • Part Two: a possible pathway for building the connective tissue across the Australian social enterprise sector so that collectively we can amplify our impact. It asks us to consider – what would it look like if we were to better organise at a national level?

Alex Hannant, Joanne McNeill and Matt Pfahlert from the Advisory Committee hosted a session at a social enterprise unconference on 21 July. The panel provided an overview on the status of the National Strategy initiative, and opened up a lively discussion to explore together some of the key issues facing the sector.

New youth leadership and development program launched: Social Enterprise Academy offers learning and development programs for changemakers of all ages. In July, the Academy launched Wide Horizons – a world-class youth leadership and development program that will be available nationally in 2022.

In the first ever Wide Horizons program in Australia, the Academy partnered with Wodonga Council to support young changemakers in North East Victoria. The program incorporated workshops, and a retreat at Typo Station in 2022.


Exploring social enterprise with Australian veterans: Increasingly, veteran and ADF partners are establishing enterprises that are purpose-driven, designed to make a difference. These entrepreneurs make incredible contributions to Australia by continuing to serve the community, even after service. In August Social Enterprise Academy joined a discussion with veterans hosted by Prince’s Trust Australia.

Like Social Enterprise Academy, Prince’s Trust Australia is also part of a wider global network that is supporting change makers. Despite the many challenges presented by the pandemic, the Trust supported more than 60,000 young people around the world through education, employment, enterprise and environmental programmes.


Academy contributes to #AchieveFest: In early September Prince’s Trust Australia hosted a free, two-day online event that was open to young people, educators, and parents/guardians across Australia. Tom Colcott from the Social Enterprise Academy team in Australia joined the Jane Goodall Institute Australia and The YMCA Australia for a session called ‘Choice and change’. This dynamic session offered the next generation an opportunity to learn from industry leaders, and discover how to make change through existing social action campaigns and initiatives.

Research tells us that as we shift into the fourth industrial revolution, young people will need to develop new mindsets, skills, and capabilities to thrive in a rapidly changing world of work. 


Community-led rejuvenation masterclass: One of Australia’s pioneering social entrepreneurs, ACRE CEO Matt Pfahlert was invited to lead a ProBono masterclass focused on the impacts and benefits of a community-led rejuvenation model and ways that social enterprise can create new economic opportunities for rural communities. Matt unpacked the impact and benefits of a community-led rejuvenation model, explained how social enterprise can create new economic opportunities for rural communities, introduced rural changemakers using the community-led rejuvenation model and offered tips for effectively working with and alongside rural communities who want to create a new future.

ACRE joins global gathering of rural social enterprise community: The annual Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) Rural Forum went online for the first time, running real-time from Halifax, Canada. The 2021 Forum programme addressed priorities and issues of rural social enterprise from around the world. As co-producer of the Forum, ACRE offered complimentary registrations to encourage involvement of Australian delegates, and presented and hosted forums. Brady Cronin (ACRE Board member) joined a panel focussed on the COVID-19 legacy for rural economies. Matt Pfahlert (ACRE Co-founder and CEO) and Mary-Anne Scully (ACRE Breakout Accelerator + Marketing Manager)  led a session titled “Building rural social enterprise capacity“. Clayton Neil (ACRE Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer) joined a panel discussion about “Empowering communities through land and asset ownership”, and Matt Pfahlert moderated a panel titled “Enablement models for rural community networks” that included Peter Ekstedt (SENVIC Regional Manager).

ACRE team members presented on enablement models for growing rural entrepreneurship, community asset ownership and frameworks for building entrepreneurial ecosystems. 


Westpac Foundation announces support for SEWF2022: In a boost for rural entrepreneurship, Westpac Foundation announced a support package for entrepreneurs and business leaders to attend the #SEWF2022 rural event being hosted by ACRE in North East Victoria in early October 2022.

ACRE selected for SEGRA 2021: SEGRA (Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia) seeks to provide end to end value to regional Australia using a systems approach. The SEGRA conference, established in 1997, provides a unique opportunity for all sections of the Australian community (rural and urban) to explore the key issues affecting regional, rural and remote Australia and be part of providing positive sustainable outcomes to ensure future prosperity. ACRE CEO and Co-founder, Matt Pfahlert, led a panel and discussion about community-led rejuvenation at the SEGRA2021 conference held in Kalgoorlie-Boulder WA from 16-18 November.

More milestones for Social Enterprise Schools: After a two year recess due to COVID restrictions, talented next gen social entrepreneurs joined the 2021 Social Enterprise Schools market day and showcase today at Old Beechworth Gaol. Hosted by Social Enterprise Academy Australia, the market and showcase was a roaring success. Watch a TV story about the market here.

In another milestone, next gen social changemakers from Australia and Malaysia built connections via an international pitch exchange hosted by Social Enterprise Academy

In an inspiring example of community impact, Community Bank Mansfield & District in rural Victoria funded ALL primary schools in the Mansfield district to participate in Social Enterprise Schools. Thanks to this support students from Mansfield Primary School connected with students in Malaysia for a virtual international social enterprise pitch exchange organised by Social Enterprise Academy Australia. The students exchanged entrepreneurial skills and ideas with students.  Ryan Dakin, Branch Manager from Community Bank Mansfield & District joined the pitch panel to provide feedback to the students.


Face to face programs return: With restrictions easing, a group brought together by LINE Wangaratta as key stakeholders within the LGBTQIA+ community in North East Victoria gathered for ‘Understanding Social Enterprise’ program at Old Beechworth Gaol. Over the course of two days, Academy facilitators Peter Sacco and Chloe Beevers explored the business model behind social enterprise, followed by a field trip to social enterprises  to deepen understanding of the realities of setting up and running a social enterprise.

Connecting with next gen entrepreneurs: ACRE CEO, Matt Pfahlert visited Heathfield High, a specialist entrepreneurial school in South Australia. Matt joined a discussion with a Year 9 entrepreneurial class about the purpose of a social enterprise and how the business model can solves a problem for its community. He also presented students with their Social Enterprise Schools certificates.

At the conclusion of the 2021 school year, ACRE and Social Enterprise Academy released an inspirational showcase of the innovative ways that primary, secondary and TAFE Social Enterprise Schools students from NSW, Victoria and SA developed enterprises to generate profits for causes they care about during 2021. Visit the virtual awards here


Please get in touch if you are ready to develop the mindset, skills and behaviour required to build an enterprising culture and a thriving new economy.

We’d love to work with you to open doors of opportunity in 2022 and beyond.