by Matt Burgess
Online financiers ING Direct have set up a $100,000 fund for emerging Australian social entrepreneurs to access through the online crowd-funding platform Dreamstarter. Equating to just under 10 per cent of ING Direct’s total community investment, the online platform was launched in August this year following the success of the 2013 pilot program.
Dreamstarter offers Australian entrepreneurs the ability to raise funds for diverse social change start-ups. Successful projects that capture the imagination of the Dreamstarter panel will be allowed to use the platform for their crowd funding endeavours.
The Dreamstarter panel is a mixture of representatives from ING Direct, the School for Social Entrepreneurs based in Melbourne and social crowd funding platform StartSomeGood. They assess the potential social impact that can be gained from each program, its marketability and if they are, indeed, crowd funding ready.
ING has pledged to match up to 50 per cent of every Dreamstarter crowd funding campaign’s ‘tipping point’, which is typically up to a $7500 investment. The tipping point is the minimum amount of money a project needs to get off the ground and have a social impact.
Don Palmer, director and founder of the Young Doctors program, was one of the initial four to be selected as a Dreamstarter candidate. The Young Doctors program aims to implement the World Health Organisation’s strategy of educating school children to improve their community’s health. Children are a catalyst for change. This approach was credited with stopping an outbreak of cholera in Aceh, Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami.
Mr Palmer says that government funding for social programs comes with strings attached, which is why crowd funding is a better avenue for funding. “So far we’ve been able to raise all the money we’ve needed just by word of mouth and it’s worked,” he says. “But now, the number of communities that are coming to us has grown too large, so we’re exploring other options to attract people to invest in what we do.”
The School for Social Entrepreneurs initially introduced Mr Palmer to ING Direct. “ING was looking for a front end contemporary way of supporting selected charitable organisations,” says Mr Palmer.
“I think ING really wants to do something. I believe they realise that, as an organisation that wants to engage in the whole community, it’s appropriate that they are not only seen to be, but actually are finding ways of supporting organisations like ours.”
In a more general sense, Mr Palmer says many corporations that talk about social responsibility are often just looking to window dress and spend more money to pat the back rather than actually investing in the projects themselves.
The 2012 Edelman Good Purpose Report says that brands align themselves with causes not only secure more consumer consideration; they also earn the consumers’ dollars and support. When quality and price of a product are deemed equal, the relevance of a brand’s social purpose as a purchasing factor has risen by 28 per cent globally.
“The tension of this paradox spells significant opportunity for marketers” says Carol Cone, Edelman global practice chair. “Brands and corporations can ease the burden for consumers by making involvement in social issues easier and more aligned with the core needs they face today – jobs, hunger, education and healthcare.” According to the report, consumers currently have less time and money to put towards societal issues, however they still feel the need to help.
ING Direct made a net profit of $271.1 million for the 2013-2014 financial year. ING Direct’s total community investment for 2013 was $1.145 million, less than 0.5 per cent of net profit. In comparison to a direct financial competitor the National Australia Bank, this investment is weak. In 2010, NAB gave 0.86 per cent of gross profit back to the Australian community.
“We take our social responsibility really seriously,” says Shannon Carruth, the Manager of Sustainability and Community Impact at ING Direct. “We want to invest in projects the community feels are important to them.”
Stephanie Arrowsmith, the Director of Global Management at StartSomeGood, says younger generation Australians are becoming more demanding of transparency in the ethics and practices of how goods and services are sourced. “Corporate social responsibility is not just a fluffy expectation anymore,” says Ms Arrowsmith. “It’s not a question of ‘do you have corporate social responsibility?’ but how can you be doing it better than everyone else.”
Despites it’s good intention, a review of ING Direct’s social giving, indicates it is unrepresented in the charity stakes. Australia’s top 10 companies give just over half a billion dollars back to the community, with 70 per cent coming from BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.
Ms Carruth says the Dreamstarter program has shown great initial success, so it is being continued into 2015.