Moira Were discusses what metrics companies can use to measure “good”
Moira Were has been involved in many endeavors in the Australian startup ecosystem throughout her long career, with a focus on projects striving for social good. Moira is the founder of the Hen House Co-Op, an initiative with the goal of closing the gender investment gap, and co founder of Collab4Good, a social enterprise working towards a just economy based on participation, equity, access and rights for all. In her conversation with guest host Will Tjo, Moira discusses her belief that all companies should be social enterprises, as well as various approaches and metrics companies can use in order to measure “good”.
The Hen House Co-Op: https://henhouse.coop/
Moira on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/moirawere/
Adam Spencer: Hi, I’m Adam Spencer. And welcome to Day One, the podcast that spotlight’s Australian startups, founders, and the organizations that empower Australian entrepreneurship. We go back to the beginning to tell a story of Australia’s most inspiring founders and how they built their companies.
Adam Spencer: You’re listening to a special interview series as part of a documentary W2D1 is producing about the history of the Australian startup ecosystem. This episode was conducted by guest host Will Tjo.
Will Tjo: Hello everyone. And welcome back to the Australian startup series. Our guest today here is Moira Were. Welcome to the show, Moira.
Moira Were: Thanks so much. It’s great to be here.
Will Tjo: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re currently doing?
Moira Were: Yeah, I’d love to. I’m someone who could be considered be in act three, Jane Fonda calls it. Over 60 and I’ve been involved in all sorts of entrepreneurial and innovative things over my life, mainly in the social space and in the economic space. And at the moment, one of the things I’m involved with is I am the founder of the Hen House Co-op and it’s a co-op and what we are dedicated to is closing the gender investment gap.
Moira Were: And so we all know about the gender pay gap, but in fact, the gender investment gap is pretty incredible in the startup world. We’ve only got 4% of women who get venture capital funding and you don’t get that by mistake, that’s by design. So we are trying to redesign and make this revolution completely irresistible. So we’re interested in divestment, not just investments. So moving funds away from things that don’t support gender equity and things that will help decolonization.
Moira Were: And yeah, so that’s what we’re about. And I’m really thrilled to be a part of all of that. I’m here on Kaurna country and I just want to acknowledge elders past, present and emerging and that this is land that’s never been seeded. So we like to pay our attention to that and currently, actually in Tandaya, in Adelaide, the land of a big red kangaroo today.
Will Tjo: Moira, it’s clear that you’ve got incredible wealth of experience as you mentioned in social impact innovation. That spans across government, the private and public sectors, as well as education. What drew you to this space?
Moira Were: Well, I started off my professional life as a social worker and one of the things about social workers is we are really interested in systems. What’s working and what’s not working for individuals and the whole demographics, places and communities. So it’s inevitable that when something doesn’t work as all entrepreneurs, they start to look for why isn’t it working? What are the problems? And so when you think about things like child protection, disability, homelessness, aging, it’s inevitable that those problems, we still aren’t getting the solutions we need for people. So that leads me to look at what else can we do? What systems can we change to make those things possible?
Will Tjo: Interesting. So I guess it was a natural bridge from that problem focused, solution focused, type of work.
Moira Were: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs will be coached into saying, “Well, please explain your problem. Like, what is it that’s not working that you want to fix?” And there are so many things that aren’t working for our planet and for people right now, we aren’t short of challenges to be working on. And I think it’s often the role of the entrepreneur to help discover that and also to come up with the solutions and innovations that will actually help those things transition into being better outcomes for all of us.
Will Tjo: What you said just then really peaks my interest because it’s about this idea that there is just so many things in the world that obviously could be done better and could be fixed. How do you personally decide what to focus on and which social issues that you want to devote your time into?
Moira Were: Yeah. Great question. Well, for me, it’s always been feminism is a big driver for me. And one of the basic feminist principles is that the personal is political. And so when we think about what’s impacting on your own life, it actually has a systems lens to that. And so I’ve always had a very strong interest in gender and women missing out.
Moira Were: One of the very first examples of my own life was just being a little girl and being encouraged to do certain things and not being encouraged to do other things. And I would always wonder well, I could do that. Or I’d like to play with that, or I’d like to do this well, why am I missing out on those things?
Moira Were: Equally, and my brothers would’ve wanted to do in fact some of the things I was being encouraged to. So really just unpacking and making visible what the opportunities are. And I think about that from an equity point of view, one of the things I like to encourage people to think about is the difference between equality and equity. So equality is when everyone has a pair of shoes to wear, but equity is, everyone’s got a pair of shoes that actually fits. So that usually requires meeting the gap between the fit and the one that actually that you can wear.
Will Tjo: I love that analogy. So when would you say that you first got started in this whole ecosystem?
Moira Were: I think I’ve always kind of been around systems change, but I’ve moved more into the startup community only because of way technology has started to unfold and many of the problems and social solutions that we’re looking for do require impact investment. And also they’re big pieces of social and environmental infrastructure and they also, some of the new tech is enabling those challenges to come by and help people.
Moira Were: So in the last, probably last five to 10 years, particularly in South Australia, we’ve got a very strong and it’s growing and growing all the time, the way social enterprises and social entrepreneurs in particular are being valued and being supported by the whole ecosystem. And equally startups are looking to the social and environmental spaces for ideas and also for inspiration. And if we look at what’s getting funded and supported and we’re heading into big international conversations about climate, the environmental movement, renewables, startups that are building health and biotech and in the climate space are really taking the world by storm.
Will Tjo: That’s very interesting. So you mentioned that within the last five to 10 years, it was really, I guess, the growth period for the ecosystem in South Australia. What was it like before that, if you were someone who wanted to drive that social impact and that change, what sort of support structures were out there for you and who could you turn to?
Moira Were: Well, in those days, it was very much in the not-for-profit sector. While there were some commercial and some hybrid if you like, there was very little in the straight commercial environment and there still isn’t as much as there could be and will be in the future. So in those days it was very much around, not-for-profits, trying to be creative and develop their ideas into innovation. A lot of that was in things like aging and housing and disability.
Moira Were: There’s always been quite a lot of innovation in those areas, particularly in the disability services where new pieces of tech, whether it’s been new innovation for mobility, for people in cars or wheelchairs. So we’ve always had a bit in that space, but in the olden days, so to speak, it was very much driven by the not-for-profit sector, just trying to do its thing and some of the commercial initiatives were in the disability and transport areas.
Will Tjo: I see. I’d love to get your opinion on social enterprises. It’s a bit of a buzzword. What are your thoughts on it?
Moira Were: Yeah, so social enterprise, people wonder what that really means. And I guess from my point of view, a social enterprise is a enterprise that’s doing good and with purpose and can actually align their purpose with a good outcome.
Moira Were: So I always say not-for-profit is also not for loss. And if you are really doing good as a social enterprise, there are some external ways that can be verified, so some people will choose to get certification through social traders, which has a certain number of… You get points according to what it is that you’re actually being able to deliver and get returned into the business. So there has to be some social outcomes for that. And the other one that’s quite well known a B Corps. So in the B Corp, you’re trying to do things for planet and purpose and people. And again, you get a certain rating based on, and a classification that you can call yourself a B Corp.
Moira Were: So those two external validations are often out there for people to say that’s how they define themselves as a social enterprise, but a lot of people just use that language to describe the way they do business, which is giving a social outcome, a social return, not just a commercial return.
Will Tjo: Do you think that as a nation, we do enough to support our social entrepreneurs.
Moira Were: Not yet. It’s coming, I’m feeling very optimistic. There is certainly a public policy and environment is growing in some states more than others. So Victoria and Queensland, and a little bit in New South Wales, certainly I think ahead of the game and leading that and investing in particular in Victoria, investing millions and millions of dollars into trying to build the social enterprise sector and to support industry led and community led initiatives to make the economy more just and equitable.
Moira Were: We’ve got some way to go here in South Australia, but there are really good signs on the horizon that this is starting to shift. My view is that all enterprises should be social enterprises. If you’re doing good, you can be doing good for everybody and you don’t have to just focus on your own bottom line.
Moira Were: A lot of businesses now are really trying to get their environmental outcomes up and their environmental returns for the work and the things that they’re delivering and getting their carbon footprint down and all of that. So I really would love to encourage more businesses to also look at the social outcomes that they’re doing as well, and good outcomes as good social, good economic and good environmental deliverables at the other end of the spectrum. You know, when you look at your balance sheet, you should be able to talk about to all three of those.
Will Tjo: Absolutely. There’s no reason really that companies can’t focus on all of those aspects.
Moira Were: Yeah. And the really good ones are, and that’s exciting and are they really leading the way? And, the small social entrepreneur who has often been considered a bit of a cottage industry, they are starting to scale and get more and more support for their initiatives.
Will Tjo: Yeah. So you briefly mentioned that. What excites you about as a nation we’re supporting our social entrepreneurs is some new public policies that are on the horizon as well as investments into the ecosystem. Is that support just purely monitoring?
Moira Were: No, I think you’re building the culture around that. So one of the best levers I think government’s got, and this is at all levels, local, state and federal is their procurement policy. So if you want to procure things, make sure you put in your procurement policies, some attention, a minimum amount like 10 or 20% of procurement needs to go to social enterprises.
Moira Were: I mean, our state here in South Australia, the Department of Transport have really done that beautifully. They’ve started to look at how they can build into all of their contracts, a portion of that for social enterprises. And that’s fantastic, I’d like to see more and more of that. So procurement is one lever.
Moira Were: Also creating the culture is another one, so that you begin to support and talk about and make visible those people who are those kind of leaders. So again, a South Australian example of that is we have the Office of the Chief Entrepreneur here, and there’s an advisory body, the Entrepreneurship Advisory Board and I’m a member of that. So that gives me an opportunity to make visible social entrepreneurs and impact investors and impact investment and drawing attention to those things. So that’s a really simple way to start to build some of the cultural infrastructure.
Moira Were: And then the third one I would say is supporting big movements and national festivals so that you can showcase these things and people get to see, oh, I can do that or I could support that. So just again, with the South Australian example, _SOUTHSTART, which is an incredible national event that we host annually, next year will be in March here in Adelaide. And, they’ve just had such fabulous pieces of the puzzle, making the social enterprises visible. For example, they had all their lanyards made by Youth Inc, which is a youth alternative high school. So that was to support their social enterprises all the way through to getting caterers that are also social enterprises, speakers, making sure a lot of the panels and presenters were going to bring those perspectives as well. So I think that’s how you build some of those things.
Will Tjo: Yeah. That’s amazing. Are there any particular jurisdictions around the world that you would say that’s the gold standard?
Moira Were: Great question. I’m not so sure there’s a gold standard, but there are little elements of things that are really great worldwide. I often look to the work that’s happening in the Netherlands. They’ve got a very strong and old culture around enterprises that are community based. In fact, they probably wouldn’t necessarily call them social enterprises. Here in our own country, if we look at First Nations communities who have really shared their resources historically, it’s just a form of Indigenous economics, if you like. And I think that there’s plenty of lessons we can learn from those nations and those cultures here in our own jurisdiction.
Moira Were: And in the UK, there’s been a long, long history of social enterprises, particularly through the co-ops and mutuals movement where people have come together, whether it was in the early days of having a credit union to support workers so that they had easy access and return on their own investment back to them, which I think all those financial instruments, we just need more and more of those sorts of things and there’s been some great examples of that in the UK and also here over time.
Will Tjo: That’s very interesting. So far, we’ve been talking about the role of government in supporting this ecosystem. Would you say that there’s onus on other aspects of society? So I know something that gets frequently mentioned is changing the way that we educate the youth.
Moira Were: Yeah. I don’t think, governments always follow. They’re rarely leaders. So it’s up to us as consumers. So I’m quite involved in SheEO, which is a global movement to support female founders, female entrepreneurs, and on a non-binary people. And we really work hard to make sure that we can be consumers of those products. That’s the first thing we can do. We can use our consumer dollar to support those businesses. That’s always a good place to start.
Moira Were: Another one is just in terms of our own behavior, working with communities and people that really can be supportive. So again, if I’m using the indigenous space, lots of communities have their own arts centers and art leaders and artists and artisans. So if you are visiting those places, buy from them and start to build your own way of understanding and supporting those artists in those communities. How you spend your own dollars, a really big, important part of that.
Moira Were: The other thing is how we build our own budgets, if we’re organizations or businesses ourselves, and giving ourselves some challenges, like let’s see if we can spend 20% of our budget on social enterprises. What could we do in our own business to hire someone who perhaps hasn’t had a chance and is leaving prison or domestic violence situation, or is a young person who’s just left school.
Moira Were: And then the third thing, when you were referring to schools and educating young people, I don’t think they’re the ones we need to educate. They’re always pretty good at coming up with great ideas. We’ve got some fabulous programs in Australia with young people, as I said, Youth Inc here in South Australia has a strong entrepreneurial push. We have five high schools in South Australia, which are our entrepreneurship high schools where the curriculum is particularly geared towards entrepreneurship. So we’re really trying to help bring that as a way of doing things.
Moira Were: And then there’s programs like Young Change Agents, the $20 Boss that shows you how to spend your $20 and create a small business. So I think we’ve got lots of things we just need to do more and more of them.
Will Tjo: Before we briefly touched on this idea that all companies should be social enterprises. Why do you think that there is, I guess for a lack of better term, hesitancy around wanting to drive that change in Australia and I guess for the rest of the world?
Moira Were: I think it’s cause it’s hard. It requires a lot of creativity. I always say imagination is the only thing we are in short supply. And so I do think that it’s really difficult. It’s not easy to do and it does require us to shift not just our mindset, but also some of our systems, and this is where I think the startup world can be really helpful in terms of building different kind of tech and algorithms that will privilege and support and build, cover some of those equity gaps.
Moira Were: We’ve got instruments now that are helping people with suicide prevention because AI’s built in and that enables people to get to a service faster. So I think we are getting there and I think that the barriers have sometimes not being anything other than the hard work that it requires, and what we know is what is our default. So we default to what’s familiar rather than thinking, okay what could we really disrupt here? We could actually disrupt a whole lot more things.
Moira Were: So it’s one of my big challenges I say to startup founders, if you really want to disrupt, try and disrupt patriarchy or disrupt colonization, and how would you build that into your business model? As a way of being provocative and helping them open up some new ways of thinking, and perhaps then coming up some new innovation that might set them in the market in a new place.
Will Tjo: One of the biggest criticisms and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here, of this social enterprise movement, ESG and so forth, there’s just a lack of concrete measures on how we define social good. Do you think that’s a big issue or do we need some sort of standardization? We briefly mentioned companies like B Corp offering that sort of service, but just, I guess, how do we measure good.
Moira Were: Yeah, I think that is a really good question and metrics, we need metrics and they’re still immature to some extent, but we do have the sustainable development goals and they’re universal. Countries, there’s thousands of data sets behind them already. So that’s, I always think, well, if you don’t know where to start, start there, everybody knows what they are and you can measure against those. So that’s my entry point, if you like.
Moira Were: And then when you want to be much more specific and looking at the outcomes, you need to base that on what the changes that you want to see in the world. So if you are in a housing business and a property manager, you might want to say well we would like to provide affordable housing for at least 10% of our business. So you just can build that in and that’s the bit you measure because that’s the business you are in. You don’t have to do everything else, just start from whatever is true for you and if you’re not sure where to start, go to the SDGs as your entry point.
Will Tjo: Yeah. I guess it’s not really something that should be over complicated or overthought.
Moira Were: No, I don’t think, and I think metrics, people do make them harder than they need to be. If you want to get granular, you can do that and there’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to improve your whole impact, but you can start somewhere.
Will Tjo: Do you have an unpopular opinion about our ecosystem, so something that you believe is true, but other people may not just agree with you?
Moira Were: I’m not sure about that. I mean, generally I think we are a pretty generous community, particularly here in South Australia. People really do share well and collaborate quite well together. And I think there is often a myth about entrepreneurs being really competitive and while they might be competitive for their product or their service, my experience is that there is incredible generosity. People have been incredibly generous to me and to the Hen House Co-op and we are just babes in the wood when it comes to these sorts of things, but there’s been a lot of kindness extended to us.
Moira Were: And I know from the SheEO networks that I’m involved with globally, one of our principles is radical generosity and I think that we work really well together because of that. So I think sometimes the outside world might see a bunch of really competitive, aggressive kind of business people, but inside the community, I find a place of great generosity.
Will Tjo: That’s amazing. Overall, would you say that you are optimistic about the future and if so, what is it that provides you hope for our growth in the future?
Moira Were: I’m optimistic that we have all that we need for a really just and equitable future. The worry that I have is that we are in the middle of this giant climate crisis, and we need to get to solutions very, very quickly, and that will require behavioral change and a shift in some of the systems, but I’m still optimistic even about that because we’ve got incredible world leaders like Greta. I don’t think we should look to our political leaders, but I do think we should look to our community leaders who are really changing the world, literally stopping traffic. When I think about the Extinction Rebellion activities this last week, all around the world, and as we head into COP, so I’m optimistic. Yes. And I want us to look to ourselves and to each other, rather than [inaudible] houses or heads of other kinds of industries. I think we are the ones that the world’s been waiting for.
Will Tjo: Yeah. That’s amazing. If a new social impact entrepreneur founder, so came to you, Moira, given all your experiences, your mistakes, your wins, what’s one piece of advice that you would like to give them to increase their chances of success.
Moira Were: I trust them to trust yourself, find friends and dump the ones that cause anxiety
Will Tjo: Very simple. I like that.
Moira Were: Yeah.
Will Tjo: And lastly, not really a question, but more about just giving you a space to say whatever’s on your mind. Our podcast is aiming to reach policymakers, entrepreneurs, investors, educators, everyone across the board. What would you like to say to them?
Moira Were: Well, I’d like to say to investors, please take seriously those of us who are trying to shift the conditions that are holding inequity in place, and the female founders will give you a better return on investment than just all male founders. The data is in. So don’t bother looking at others, just look at the female, founded businesses, just go there straight away and you’ll be happily rewarded.
Moira Were: To the policy makers, I’d ask them to really help build a culture and create the conditions where people can be successful. I don’t have an expectation that you need to change the law to do that, or be legislators, but you do need to show up. You do need to cheer us on and you do need to get out of the way when that time comes.
Moira Were: And to entrepreneurs, be kind to each other and continue to build the community that you know that will help you thrive. So be that person that you most can be in that community that you belong to.
Will Tjo: That’s amazing. Thank you so much, Moira.
Moira Were: Pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Will Tjo: Where could the audience go if they wanted to learn more and connect with you?
Moira Were: Sure. So you can find me on LinkedIn, Moira Were, W-E-R-E. And you can follow the Hen House Co-op so just go to the website, henhouse.coop. So henhouse coop. I’m on Twitter as well. And if you want to follow us on Instagram, there’s the Hen House Co-op or there’s me as well. We’d love to see you.
Adam Spencer: I hope you enjoyed that interview. More interviews are on the way, follow the podcast wherever you’re listening right now. Stay tuned for more interviews, with many, many more amazing people from the Australian startup ecosystem. Thanks for listening and see you next time.