Luke Terry: The Driving Force Behing Toowoomba's Social Enterprise Revolution
Serial entrepreneur Luke Terry has a unique ability to turn great ideas into a reality. His championing of community causes throughout his life has led to his active involvement in social procurement in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Luke Terry was born to run social enterprises. After leaving university he set up his first social enterprise with his sister in a Glebe housing estate in Sydney. From there he has worked on dozens of social enterprises both here and throughout Europe. He currently lives in Queensland, where he leads the Toowoomba Clubhouse as Executive Director.
In establishing the Toowoomba Clubhouse’s hospitality program, Luke first secured $30,000 in funding to set up a café, with the aim of supporting and training people with mental illness.
“We went to the local café provider called Metro Café. We wanted them to run it on our behalf, on the proviso that they only hired Toowoomba Clubhouse members. At the time this was a really different, innovative idea in the area.”
Luke soon went on to secure another $10,000 funding from Westpac for the Toowoomba Social Procurement Group. The Procurement Group trained up corporates and local and state government in the value of social procurement. From this small grant, the influence of the Group was far-reaching.
Inspired by this program, the Group was able to set up Ability Enterprises, a labour hire business that created 40 jobs from a $1.7 million tender from the local council. Not only that, but a 9-year linen contract was secured from St Vincent’s Private Hospital for the brand new $4.5 million Toowoomba Career Development Centre, a social enterprise to be launched at the end of the year.
Luke believes that Toowoomba is ideally situated as a centre of social enterprise. “My theory is that the honey is in the regions! I love working in Toowoomba because it’s a bit separate from Brisbane and we can create good case studies and frameworks to be able to replicate that across another region.
“More than three new social enterprises have been developed here in the last 24 months. We’ve got a real passion, the council’s raving about social enterprise, and the community is really waking up. We get invited to chamber breakfasts and have a great dialogue with our Mayor and local members. I feel like we’re making a difference, like Queensland is waking up. It’s good!”
The Toowoomba Clubhouse has seen a turnover of $300k increase to $1.3 million. “You can now see real job opportunities coming out at the end of it for members,” he says. “Corporates and government at all levels are starting to see the benefits of social procurement and I think that, if we can keep building momentum we’re going to see more jobs and a lot less people relying on government services.”
In his role on the Queensland Mental Health Commission Advisory Council, Luke actively lobbies for policies that support regional areas and social enterprise. He is also working with University of Southern Queensland to write a book on regional development, to be able to replicate his model in other regional areas across Queensland, from schools to training up procurement offices.
The new laundry will launch by the end of 2015, as well as a School Social Entrepreneurs Program, designed to increase interest in social entrepreneurship. With Luke Terry as a driving force, Toowoomba’s future as a social enterprise and procurement hub looks bright.