SHARING THE LOVE (LUVO)

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Love – noun: a strong feeling of affection.
Luvo – verb: to take good care of oneself physically and emotionally.

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The Westgate Community Initiatives Group (WCIG) have many years under their belt as a not-for-profit provider of employment services for the community’s most disadvantaged job-seekers. After the success of their domestic and commercial cleaning Social Enterprise, Cleanable in 2010, WCIG launched LoveLuvo soon after to help fulfil a community need for women experiencing mental illness or recovering from a period of being unwell to be actively supported in returning to the workforce and expanding their job prospects.

Skye MacFarlane and Chris Hawken kindly discussed all things ‘social and sustainable’ with the Westsider – and answered a few of our questions too!

Q. What is a social enterprise and how does LoveLuvo apply these principles?

A. LoveLuvo, while a Social Enterprise, follows the Social Firm’s model, which is (briefly) defined as a business created to employ people with a disability or disadvantage. A minimum of 50% of its income must be derived from trade as opposed to donations or other funding. This income, like that of Social Enterprises, must be largely reinvested toward the business’ social or community goal. LoveLuvo applies these principles in a number of ways, firstly by being an entirely not-for-profit business with more than the minimum level of employees living with mental illness; being both an eco-conscious retail business; and also operating as an employment and training opportunity for women experiencing mental illness to reintegrate back into paid employment in a supportive, sustainable environment.

Q. How do people become involved?

A. Most of the team came across advertised opportunities and instantly fell in love with the message that LoveLuvo lives and breathes by. WCIG is very passionate about attracting the right people to the Social Firm’s message.

Q. Is it fulfilling knowing that you’re providing additional opportunities for people that may not otherwise get them?

A. Very fulfilling! Being involved a person’s journey from being marginalised within our community to gaining employment and witnessing their personal transition to raised confidence and improved self-esteem and re-engaging with the community is a powerful motivator.

Q. Do you have training to help prepare you for working with people with difficulties?

A. Yes, as we employ both supported and non-supported employees, our non-supported employees have on the job training, such as Mental Health First Aid, and other guidance resources and community contacts to assist them in mentoring and managing employees experiencing mental illness.

Q. Have you made friends with people through the social enterprise who you may not have crossed paths with otherwise?

A. Definitely, from members of the Seddon and inner-west community, to people with mental illness who are motivated to gain employment and improve their lives. Engaging with the mental health system and practitioners and providers of services is also a valuable added experience.

Q. Where does the 2014 MIRA award rank among your achievements?

A. We are immensely proud of receiving a MIRA award in 2014! This achievement and the recognition from the Maribyrnong City Council and our local community is a humbling and heartening one.

Q. Did you have a background in the green industry or social enterprises?

A. Our management team has been involved with various other Social Enterprises since 2009 that have delivered amazing outcomes and employment and training opportunities for people living with mental illness, generational unemployment/disadvantage, as well as newly arrived refugees and the Indigenous community.

Q. What’s some of the aims of LoveLuvo?

A. LoveLuvo lives to provide specific opportunities for women living with mental illness, to sell exciting innovative products that align with our social and environmental ethos.

Q. Do you have expansion plans?

A. We see LoveLuvo perhaps expanding one day to a franchise opportunity for other community groups and not-for-profits who share our values.

Q. How do you choose the products that will represent the LoveLuvo brand?

A. Every product must tick one of the following boxes (with most ticking more than one!). All products we stock must be eco-friendly, locally produced, Australian made or ethical trade – usually from community or environmental organisations overseas.

Q. Service is the key for small business survival, what kind of strategies do you use to stay on top of this?

A. Our point of difference from other retail outlets is our Social Firm model, high quality products for the home and body and our mission to create futures through workforce participation for people experiencing disadvantage. These aspects combine to create a really widely-appealing movement that our community and our customers enjoy supporting and always come back for.

Q. Social media is a great leveller if used well, how do you see its role in business?

A. Yes obviously it’s one of the most effective tools to reach an audience who really wants to listen to what you have to say. Most recently, LoveLuvo’s social media presence supports our recent expansion into the online market, as we have begun selling our products via our website as well as in store. We also take great pleasure in sharing content from other community initiatives, local organisations and also from our own hand-picked product manufacturers. It’s all about keeping the right messages moving.

Q. The Green product movement has grown in recent years, what are your thoughts on companies that make green claims without convincingly substantiating their credentials?

A. It is disappointing to find manufactures who claim green credentials without any proof, and even worse are those who might claim this knowing that it’s not true. We have found this frustrating with our buying process at times and we now insist on accreditation/reasonable substantiation of claims to protect both our business and our customers.

Q. Do you have any ideas for future social enterprises?

A. Our third project – our gardening and property maintenance Social Enterprise, Outside Branch was launched in 2012, so while we would not rule out future projects, we believe that our efforts at the present time are best spent strengthening and building our current businesses to best serve those who experience disadvantage.

LoveLuvo are at 174 Victoria St, Seddon, or online at www.loveluvo.com.au

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