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The chance that your job will be impacted by robots is fast becoming reality. Swift advances in technology are changing the labour market and almost half of Australia’s jobs are at high risk of being affected by automation. So how can you prepare?

Futurists believe that robot-resilient careers will rely on human-centred skills like empathy, creativity and building complex relationships with people. These skills are often associated with caring professions, but they’re also core to social entrepreneurship – an ethical approach to business that maximises profit while achieving social goals.

We spoke with social entrepreneurs Rafiuddin Ahmed (Rafi) and Professor Gillian Sullivan Mort, who lead La Trobe’s Yunus Social Business Centre, about how to turn a social business idea into a clever career for you, and for others.

Find the social problem you most want to solve

Like all innovators, social entrepreneurs start with an inspiring business idea. What makes it ‘social’ is its aim: to solve a social problem.

“If you start any social business, then you’re employing yourself, you’re solving some sort of social problem, and you’re engaging others as well,” Rafi says.

Rafi’s chosen social problem is unemployment. According to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, 470 million jobs are needed globally for people entering the labour market between 2016 and 2030.

If everyone follows the motto ‘I’ll be a job seeker’, then who will actually create these jobs? Rather than waiting for someone to provide for a job for you, you can create them,” he says.

Develop an entrepreneurial mindset

Inquisitiveness, optimism and the flexibility to bounce back from failure are all characteristics of an entrepreneurial mindset. As a social entrepreneur, using these skills can give your social start-up the best chance of success.

Rafi applied them to finding the ideal audience for his PhD project, which aims to build a new generation of young social entrepreneurs in Australia. Initially he’d planned to teach social entrepreneurship to university students. But this changed when he realised children of primary school-age were less busy, less cynical and more open to having fun with the entrepreneurship curriculum.

In response, he and Gillian founded a social business start-up called Innokids to teach social entrepreneurship skills to children aged 8-12 years. They launched their idea at Bundoora Primary School in 2016, training grades five and six students for one hour each week.

“It’s a good thing to set up with this age group. The kids can choose to solve any social problem that challenges them. It opens up higher-level thinking by asking ‘What can we do about this?’ and it allows them to develop their maths skills in an extended problem-solving format,” says Gillian.

As part of social entrepreneurship lessons, Bundoora Primary School students learned to make and sell products and donate a share of their profits to a school in Indonesia. Image credit: Rafiuddin Ahmed.

With Innokids’ training, Bundoora Primary School students generated $2,500 profit by making bird feeders and selling them at local markets. They gave 50 per cent of this profit to an Indonesian primary school, which was used to buy wheelchairs for students with a disability. This combination of empathy and business is core to Innokids’ curriculum.

For Rafi, adjusting his social business idea to meet the needs of a different audience has opened up vast possibilities.

“It really works, so we’re trying to extend it to have a larger social impact. We want to expand Innokids to regional Victoria, then roll out to other parts of Australia. And our future plan is a ‘school in the cloud’ where, instead of coming to us, our school can go to others via online.”

Tap into start-up funding and mentoring

Like any entrepreneur, you’ll need help to accelerate your social start-up. Universities play a growing role in upskilling entrepreneurs – around one in five start-up founders have benefited from an accelerator or incubator program, over 100 of which are on offer at Australian universities.

Rafi and Gillian leveraged the La Trobe Accelerator Program (LTAP), a 12-week intensive that gives you up to $20,000 funding (equity-free) to fast-track your business idea, plus access to mentors, resources and workshops to help you get to market. The program has helped Innokids create a market strategy, connect with primary school leaders and education decision-makers, and pursue a lean start-up business model.

La Trobe’s Professor Gillian Sullivan Mort, Bundoora Labor MP Colin Brooks, Bundoora Primary School Principal Ms Lee Pollard, and PhD candidate Rafiuddin Ahmed.

Rafi also recommends La Trobe students apply for the Hult Prize, a global platform where university students can create and launch for-good, for-profit start-ups with the help of an annual $1,000,000 prize. To kick-start social businesses at La Trobe, he and Gillian are offering help and advice to interested students.

“As Professor Dr Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, says: ‘I believe everyone is a born entrepreneur’. You just need to find out who you are and what the opportunity is within you,” Rafi says.

If you have an idea, come to Yunus Social Business Centre to fine-tune it. The initiative shouldn’t come only from Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk – it should come from you as well.”

Whether it’s your sole income or a side hack, becoming a social entrepreneur is a great way to unleash your ideas to help others and create a positive impact beyond your business bank account.

Save your career from robots with a Master of Management (Entrepreneurship and Innovation) at La Trobe University.