Dr Gavin Melles is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health, Arts & Design, Swinburne University (Melbourne Australia). He is a researcher with the Collaborative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, teaches research methods and supervises PhD candidates in Design for Social Innovation. He is a social business mentor for the School of Social Entrepreneurs (Australia) and assessor for the Australian Research Council and Swiss National Research Council.
He has been visiting research fellow in Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. He has PhD (Education), Masters of Linguistic Anthropology, and is completing an MSc in Sustainable Development (SOAS, University of London) focused on livelihood oriented social enterprise in Southern India.
Dr. Gavin Melles shares with Marie Banu about the Social Enterprise scenario across the globe.
About your trip to India?
I have been coming to India for a couple of years now. I have a strong relationship with Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CSIE) at IIT Madras. Swinburne University of Technology at Melbourne and IITM have an agreement and joint research and PhD students. I have been teaching at Swinburne University for the last 10 years and was also until 2016 involved in international relations and research.
In addition to CSIE I do have some connections with Social Enterprise organisations — Okapi Consultancy, Villgro, and DesiCrew —in Tamil Nadu.
I am presently completing MSc Sustainable Development (Development Planning) at SOAS, London, and the focus is the links between social enterprise – in the various ways that is conceived – and social development especially as understood from a sustainable livelihoods perspective (a framework developed by DFID and also promoted by World Bank and others). So, this visit in India I am specifically completing the dissertation work about livelihood oriented social enterprises for my research purpose.
Can you tell us about the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University?
Swinburne University has a Centre for Social Impact (CSI) where there is common Master’s Progaramme taught by four different universities in Australia. I have occasional linkages there and recently evaluated one of their PhD students who is looking at social enterprises at Vietnam. Professor Jo Barakeet heads CSI. In our Business and Law Faculty (FBL), entrepreneurship and innovation are strong and one branch of that is Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
This coming year I will be teaching to the Masters in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme about creativity and innovation.
What made you get interested in the social enterprise area?
Although recently I have got involved in social entrepreneurship, there has been a history or context for me to get interested in this area. About 30 years ago, I lived in Costa Rica along with my wife for some years. I was working for a church based group and at the same time studying in a university about indigenous languages and culture. While I was doing my Masters in Linguistic Anthropology in Costa Rica, I started to think again about how the society in Costa Rica was divided with the indigenous people at the bottom. When I did my PhD (Education) I did an ethnography about migrants learning English as a Second Language (ESL) and that kept my focus on culture and social issues. I now volunteer as a social business mentor for the School of Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) which is setting up in Delhi, India. I also teach social innovation through design at university and invest in Milaap micro-finance platform.
What is your view about the entire social enterprise sector across the globe?
I have realized over the time that when people say ‘social enterprise’ they mean a lot of things – for profit and not for profit; and individual focused and community focused.
You can’t understand social enterprise in India or Vietnam or Australia or UK, unless you understand the socio-cultural and institutional environment in which it operates, ie., government social policy initiatives, venture capital that is available, and the NGOS. All these organisations make the environment favourable to change or development. In India, from what I know, you have the caste, gender, socio-economic status—all of these influence the extent of which social enterprises is acceptable and for whom. Three books have helped me understand current challenges: Sen & Dreze’s book India: an Uncertain Future (2013), Recasting India (2014) by Hindol Gupta, and Ramachandra Guha’s (2011) India After Ghandi.
In Australia, we have an excluded population of aboriginals who have much lower life expectancy and health problems. The issues are not absent in Australia but are different; and the attitude towards social enterprises—there is growing acceptance.
About the ideology on social enterprise in India?
A year or so ago, I had met Professor Amaresh Chakrabarthy, head of engineering design, IIsc Bangalore at an Indo-Dutch Conference on Design and Well-being. He said that I should think of India like Europe and not the USA as it is like a bunch of different countries with difference languages put together. These regional and district level differences affect how social enterprise works or is accepted.
When you talk about Social Enterprise and even the basic division about the poor North and the more developed South in India, it would only make sense to talk about social enterprise with a regional understanding. There are a lot of claims about how social enterprise is changing India but whether there is a good connect with government social policy remains to be seen. The entrepreneurial spirit, affordable innovation and the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid; there is so much to do and as an outsider I can see that change is happening!
Do you think that Social Accounting and Audit is essential for the social sector?
I was discussing with Joe Barakeet, Head of Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University exactly about this as in Australia, where there is debate about impact assessment. Joe said to me that she thought that Social Accounting approach of the Social Audit Network (SAN) is probably one of the best formal holistic process.
Essentially, I see the problem globally wherein people are not assessing but just telling good stories. It is not enough. There is a small move in Australia towards needs based assessment. But, I think that if we allow the organization to have its own system – the downside is how would that be consistent?
I found the recent training organized by SAN, India in Chennai a great way to make an organization explicit about their work.