Bold Goodstart not-for-profit experiment pays off
A bold idea to use a large-scale, not-for-profit social enterprise to revolutionise child care and early learning in Australia has been vindicated.
The formation of Goodstart Early Learning in 2010 represented a unique moment in Australia’s corporate history.
It was a rare instance when a coalition of business leaders set aside profit motive to join charities and government to create an organisation that existed purely to improve the lives of children, families and communities.
As a result, Goodstart’s 651 centres are operated on business lines but all of the organisation’s revenue is invested back into its people, centres, evidence-informed learning practice, advocacy for children and initiatives that support vulnerable children to access early learning and care.
A resounding success
Seven years after its creation, the Goodstart experiment is a resounding success. It has proven to be financially sustainable and centres are consistently achieving above-average ratings in the national industry quality standards with 43% of centres assessed last year as exceeding those standards.
Hundreds of centres have been upgraded in recent years and Goodstart’s scale and reputation mean it is increasingly attracting the best people in the sector and tens of thousands of children are reaping the benefits daily.
It began with an idea
The ambitious notion to create a sizable enterprise purely around a social purpose had its origins in 2008. The collapse of ABC Learning left hundreds of centres on the market and tens of thousands of children at risk of losing child care and early learning places.
At the time, renowned business innovator Evan Thornley made contact with social entrepreneur (and former Macquarie Bank senior executive) Michael Traill to plant the audacious idea of using this opportunity to create a social enterprise on an unprecedented scale.
As Michael explains it: “We had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to buy a significantly scaled child care chain and run it with business discipline for social purpose.”
That conversation inspired an 18-month journey that resulted in a consortium of leading not-for-profit organisations – The Benevolent Society, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Mission Australia and Social Ventures Australia – forming Goodstart.
They worked with private business and government to fund a new type of legal and commercial structure and raise the necessary funding to bid for the ABC Learning centres.
The vision for Goodstart was simple – ensure Australia’s children have the best possible start in life by providing the learning, development and wellbeing outcomes they needed to achieve that.
In 2017, Goodstart is Australia’s largest early learning and care provider, employing 13,500 people and supporting 70,500 children from 59,200 families.
It is a stark reminder that when people with vision work together, there is no limit to what can be achieved for Australia’s children.