University has always been an incubator for passionate young people intent on changing the world. One program, however, harnesses students’ sense of social justice to come up with real solutions: Enactus. 

Active in 1600 campuses across 36 countries, the Enactus initiative challenges budding entrepreneurs to come up with working businesses that support disadvantaged people. The social enterprises aren’t charities: they need to be real businesses. “It’s not just about going out there and doing charity,” explained Nishant Samuel, Powerade brand manager and former Enactus participant. “It’s actually giving sustainable business solutions to solving proper social needs in the community.”

Before Nishant joined Coca-Cola South Pacific, he took part in the Enactus program at the University of Sydney. Since graduating, he’s worked as a mentor for current students. This year, the group he’s advising have been selected to represent Australia at the Enactus World Cup in Beijing - the first time a local university has ever been through to the finals.

The University of Sydney’s group came up with three innovative projects to help under-privileged people across the city: a program where refugees run cooking classes and provide catering called Culinary Tales; another where homeless youths host market food stalls, Pop-Up Project; and The Sight Project, which helps people with disabilities turn their love of art into a career.

The projects all have a common approach. The Enactus team brainstorms ideas they think the community needs, then they speak with community organisations and social workers. For instance, with Culinary Tales, the team visited migrant and refugee centres to learn about their needs. Then, they run their business concepts past advisors like Nishant.

Two of the projects, Culinary Tales and The Sight Project, are already in pilot stage. “For the projects the students are challenged to find ways for us to make those projects viable,” explained University of Sydney Enactus president, Raymond Pham. “So whether it’s finding small grants or making money from the businesses, that’s what we try and do.”

Raymond believes that an entrepreneurial approach to helping the disadvantaged is increasingly attractive to socially-engaged young people. “I think a lot of people are seeing the benefits. Social enterprise helps those that are less fortunate in a sustainable way,” he said. “Especially since the financial crisis a lot of governments have a lot less money to spend on community outreach, social enterprises have been a really good alternative. So I think that it’s a really effective avenue that they can still continue to do the work that they do.”

Nishant agrees that there’s an opportunity there for business to solve entrenched social problems. “There are a lot of social needs out there but they’re not being solved by government,” he said. “We can wait and lobby, but there’s a business opportunity there to tackle that need, make money out of it - and essentially do good in the community.”

In a month’s time, Raymond and the Sydney University team will be presenting their business solutions before the Enactus judges in Beijing. Nishant’s busy helping them prepare - but he hopes to be with them on the day, too. “I’m hoping to make it over there with them – we’ll see!” he laughed.