[Global Youth Camp for SSE]: Co-Ground

ESS Organisations
Urban & Rural Regeneration / Community
Youth / Education

Interview with Andrew Mellody, Cofounder and Managing Director of Co-Ground

How social enterprises can contribute to both local communities they are based in and communities in developing countries at the same time? We share a story of Andrew Mellody from Co-ground (andrew.mellody@co-ground.org) helping local communities in Australia and Vanuatu.

* This interview was conducted by UNRISD (Su-Yeon Lee, research analyst) during the GSEF Global Youth Camp for SSE in Korea August 2017.

Q.) Please tell me your name and where you come from.

A) My name is Andrew Mellody; I’m the co-founder and managing director of Co-Ground. We are a community organization, a registered charity that is driven by empowered communities and fueled by social enterprise, In Australia we generate funds through; Co-Ground events one social enterprise and Co-Ground Coffee which is our second social enterprise and the 100% of the profits from our social enterprises support community health, education and livelihood programs in Vanuatu and now the Philippines as well.

Q.) Is there any reason in particular that you choose those two places?

A) We had a very organic beginning. There was a natural disaster in Vanuatu and in response to that community initiatives were organised. The old community which was very strong and empowered already in Vanuatu inspired new communities to form, and it became in total eight villages. The resilience from those eight villages consists of the Vanuatu team now. And then in Australia, a place where is not much community and connectedness, we created a new community around these. So, in Vanuatu, its teachers, students, local leaders, builders made up of eight separate villages all work together in health education and livelihoods.

And then in Australia, we are forty-five volunteers, social entrepreneurs, event organizers, lawyers, and journalists, a range of different skill set students, some who are professional and others who are passionate and young, wanting to learn new skills. So, we found that by putting these two groups together, we can support young people in Australia from a diverse range of backgrounds to gain confidence, gain skills, and get meaningful employments while helping villages in Vanuatu. 80% of the young people who have become part of the Co-Ground family in Australia have gone on to get jobs that they otherwise thought they could not get.

Q.) Do people nowadays are familiar with the concept of SSE and is it sustainable in Australia?

No. But it is growing definitely. It is inspiring to see how fast-moving it is in the suburbs, in Melbourne. Across Australia, it’s gaining momentum. In the Australian context, well for me, I think a lot of our team, we feel the same way, social enterprise is a key part of the solution to making a quality real. I feel like after working with really small and non-profit organizations, I’ve seen great programs end quickly and it affects real people when grants and donations dry up or when governments change you know.

So, I feel like if you can make a social enterprise work and it’s the sustainable funds you can control, you’re not relying on the already existing pool of funds, and you’re creating your funds. You’re bringing in funding from different strands, and it takes time, our social enterprises are sustainable, but as an organization not yet because we’re only two years old. Our goal is to be completely run and funded independently through social enterprises, but that will take some time.



Q.) What are the biggest social problems facing young people? In whichever part of the world you would like to elaborate on?

A) The biggest social problems facing young people, I think, definitely changes, depending on where in the world you’re born and the life lottery that you get. But I think the problems that face young people are often going through the same problems that older generations faced before. Maybe there are some global issues, such as climate change and the refugee crisis and the growing population, which everybody has to rise to the challenge to address. But regarding specifically young people, I would say that employment, freedom over their livelihoods is probably a bigger issue now.

Q.) Even in Australia and even for highly educated people as well?

A) Yeah. I think that after participating in the GSEF youth camp this week as well, it seems like a problem everywhere.

Q.) You mean the general lack of jobs or the lack of decent work?

A) Both. A lack of meaningful work, but also a lack of job opportunities. In Tasmania, which is one province in Australia one state, there are far more unemployed young people than advertised jobs. So, if you make that comparison, if you add up all of the advertised jobs, there are three times more unemployed young people. It may not be the best indicator, but it shows that it's not through lack of trying, but it’s very competitive. And a lot of young people are told that they need experience before they can get a job, but to gain experience you need to have a job.

Q) But how can you gain experience if nobody gives you the opportunity to gain experience, right?

A) Young people join us for the right reasons. They join us because they want to support communities, to empower communities to address their local issues and to make the world more equal or to make equality real is what we say. But I think the effects that they get through volunteering with us, in taking on a key position is, they do get that experience, and they get that support, and they get that encouragement, and we support them into jobs. So, I think sometimes it does require volunteering or getting that experience otherwise. I think, globally, the refugee crises and climate changes, which will only make the refugee crisis far more intense, is ultimately something we will all have to take part in.

Q.) Since you’re speaking of issues on a more global scale problem, do you think that SSE has the potential of solving global problems, such as the refugee crisis or climate change?

A) Yes, I do.

Q.) Or job creation in general?

A) All of the above. I think it's not one model and last night was a great model. A lot of us went down the path of trying to be performers maybe because that’s what the directive was but the discussion in our group, I don’t think it was 100% communicated throughout the performance, but it was amazing! It was putting down some steps into how we create this better world that we see. And I think the answer in our group was fertilizing change-makers in empowering communities who are already examples and leading their change, supporting them to step up a really big communication campaign continued in supporting all existing social enterprises in the communication space around tackling pessimism, around what’s possible.

I think the World in our collective countries, we talk about people who are not involved in SSE have not so much faith that the world can get better. But when you look at these individual stories and these amazing young people here and when you look at the global statistics around poverty, it’s inspiring, and things are changing! And so we feel there’s so much negativity and pessimism, this needs to be flipped. We need so much good new stories and highlighting all of these. So that’s part of fertilizing, but inspiring others and then creating better platforms to connect everyone so that they don’t feel alone but feel part of a global community working In the same direction. 

Q) Do you think the SSE model is a transformative movement, rather than complimenting mainstream economy?

A) I think it’s new, but it’s using what already exists, and I think that’s why it’s strong because you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel altogether, you’re using the already existing system in a lot of countries, but you’re redistributing the profits, and you’re making the focus of what you’re doing must involve more than just those profits. So, I feel like no matter what the issue is, different, diverse, and colourful range of social enterprises and other new models will automatically be a part of this.

Q) Why do you care so much about SSE or social issues? What is so rewarding about doing your work?

A) There are almost two different things. I have dedicated my life to working towards making the world an equal place. I think because, one, I think it's human nature to want this. And the other one is because of selfish reasons because I get a lot back for following what I believe in. So, I think it started small, and it’s been growing, growing, and growing. It started with supporting young people when I was a young person, and from there it’s continued to grow to a global scale.

Regarding why do I work in the social economy, I believe that right now you have these great examples of social enterprises and social based initiatives that also drive profit or even just address adjusting needs. But there is a massive opportunity to be part of the shift. I already see in Australia; we have small businesses that are our social enterprises. We are influencing sectors. So for example, our cafe, our first activation, we worked with a property developer who was not thinking about SSE. But after they realized what we were doing and wanting to support, it became a core part of what they’re doing. They changed their whole marketing strategy because, there’s a demand for customers, for a property developer to be more socially involved.

Since the first activation, only six months, we have two hundred developers asking us to work with them. And I feel like this is just in the bubble of Melbourne in Australia, we are influencing a certain sector. So I feel like these social enterprises that exist now are beacons and examples of what’s to come. Not only will we create new ones, but we’ll also influence businesses. I dream that all businesses are addressing, supporting and are having a social impact in the world and, whether they want to or not, it becomes expected by people.

Q) What do you find most difficulties of doing your work?

A) In our organization, it’s probably because we’re still in momentum, I think its balance because we’re all so passionate and involved and invested. And personally having a balance to sustain ourselves is important and I struggle with that sometimes.

Q) You mean financially sustaining yourself?

A) That and also physically and emotionally because you’re putting so much energy and working so hard and all of the above. I don’t get paid, but I’ve made that choice because I wanted to see what we can succeed.

Q) What did you learn or gain from this camp?

A) I learned that there are opportunities for young change makers, like this camp. And I learned that this is a great way to connect with people. However, I think there need to be more ways for us to continue to connect. And share opportunities, lessons, modules, training and all different things. And so that we continue to work together.

I believe that empowered local communities are the answer, but working together across the world with other local empowered communities and organizations, I feel, when we’re working together you’re much stronger, I learned that there’s a hunger for this within this participant group and it’s definitely something that’s needed, and there’s talk about creating something like this. I think we can start with something basic and build on something much more detailed with much track. But I think I learned about the context in a lot of different countries to understand more of some of the similar issues in other county contexts.