Spark* International

One sunny afternoon in Melbourne, I got off the train in Richmond, Melbourne. Living in Richmond, Virginia, I felt right at home walking down the street to my interview with Kaitlin Tait from Spark* International. I arrived at Feast of Merit – a social enterprise restaurant by Spark’s Partner YGAP – and after double-checking the address realized that this industrial looking cafe was indeed where we were supposed to meet. Instead of the daily special their sidewalk chalk board read “In 2015, YGAP helped 73 impact entrepreneurs measurably improve the lives of 72,232 people.“ The bathroom shelf was stocked with Who Gives a Crap – toilet paper by a Melbourne-based social enterprise producing toilet recycled paper investing 50% of profits into sanitation projects in developing countries. I was excited to say the least!

Talking to Kaitlin Tait from Spark* International at Kinfolk Cafe, Richmond, Melbourne

Talking to Kaitlin Tait from Spark* International at Kinfolk Cafe, Richmond, Melbourne

Program Structure

Spark* International was founded by Kaitlin and Aaron Tait in 2011. Having experienced the need for entrepreneurship training in developing countries and the importance of leveraging local talent, they developed the idea while living in Tanzania and launched their first pilot program in Papua New Guinea in 2011. Programs followed in South Africa (2012), Kenya (2013), Bangladesh and Australia (both 2015). With one full-time manager in each country, they implement their Accelerate – Support – Grow program to “use entrepreneurship to help improve the lives of one million people living in poverty in a significant and measurable way.” (Mission).

  1. Accelerate: 12 successful participants are invited to join a one-week live-in accelerator program during which they
    1. Critically reassess their business models,
    2. Receive business training in areas such as leadership, pitching and fundraising, and
    3. Pitch in front of investors and philanthropists during demo day.
  2. Support: For one year following the accelerator, participants receive support in the form of
    1. Strategic advice
    2. Funding – Spark provides small funds of up to AUS$500 for participants to test new ideas and experiment.
    3. Graphic design
    4. Web design
    5. Impact monitoring
    6. Research assistance
    7. Legal advice to further their ventures.
  1. Grow: Selected participants that have proven their businesses to be viable and scalable can receive investment of up to AUS$25,000 and will benefit from a variety of support services through the Spark team.

Since 2011, Spark* International has supported 225 impact entrepreneurs in 5 countries, 95% of which were still operational one year after completing the program. “Through Spark we want to improve the lives of people who live in poverty. To meet this goal, we look for entrepreneurs who are early in their journey. They have launched a product or service but are usually touching the lives of less than 100 people – that’s the stage at which we can make the most impact. The entrepreneurs we work with are local – ideally born in the country they work in, or have lived there for several years; we know that an in-depth understanding of the context is essential for developing a sustainable solution. We are not interested in flying in outsiders with solutions for Africa for example. As valuable as their experience and background may be, we believe in local capacity building.”, Kaitlin explains.

Creative Fundraising

In 2014, Spark International joined forces with YGAP – an organization that specialises in social enterprise and creative fundraising for social causes abroad. YGAP’s 5Cent campaign collected over 7.9 million 5-cent pieces – un unpopular coin in Australia – the equivalent of AUS$ 396,000. Polished Man raised awareness and funds to fight domestic violence against women and children (read their impact report here). Kinfolk is Melbourne first social enterprise cafe entirely run by volunteers; profits are distributed to project partners. Like Kinfolk, Feast of Merit – where Kaitlin and I met – donates 100% of its profits to project partners.

5 Cent campaign

5 Cent campaign

With their merger, YGAP has channeled its fundraising efforts towards the Spark* Accelerator Program and Spark* entrepreneurs. For example, the proceeds of the 5 Cent campaign go towards Spark* entrepreneurs that work in the field of education, profits from Polished Man directly benefit Spark* entrepreneurs that tackle domestic violence.

I really enjoyed learning more about Spark* International and YGAP’s specialization in creative fundraising, not just because Feat of Merit knows how to make legit coffee. I think most of us agree that social entrepreneurship goes beyond cafes that donate their profits – and that alone I want to see much more of – but leveraging conscious consumerism to channel profits and donations towards impact entrepreneurs around the world is… great! Why don’t we have more of that? If I have the choice of buying my coffee at Starbucks or at a coffee shop that employs up to 45 locals, uses local products and donates 100% of its profits to making a difference in this world, I know where I’m going! This is all by way of saying that social enterprise supporters can get much more creative about raising funds for their operations and portfolio companies.

Polished Man

Polished Man


Field Study: Australia

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Australia. Based in Melbourne during fall, I was able to work remotely, relive many Australian experiences from an earlier life (Tim Tams, the best skinny flat white I will ever have, smashed avocado for every breakfast, wild koalas, and many many more). The most exciting part of the trip, however, was diving deep into their social enterprise sector.

Social Enterprises in Australia

Social Enterprises in Australia, FASES 2016, p.10-11

When I lived down-under five years earlier, I had dipped my toes into the space doing some pro-bono project work for Social Ventures Australia in Brisbane. Little did I know how varied and progressive Australia’s support sector for social entrepreneurs had become. The entire stay went by in a blur, between work, a two-day trip to Brisbane (that took me another two days to recover from) and a weekend by the Great Ocean Road, I managed to visit six support organizations and learn how they do things down there.

Social enterprises:

  • Are led by an economic, social, cultural or environmental mission consistent with a public or community benefit
  • Trade to fulfill their mission
  • Derive a substantial portion of their income from trade
  • Reinvest the majority of their profit/surplus in the fulfillment of their mission (FASES 2016, p. 5)

One of these organizations, Social Traders, located in Melbourne is deeply committed to the data behind social enterprise in Australia to inform not only their advocacy work but increase visibility of the sector at large. To get you warmed up for what you are about to learn from all these supporters, here are some highlights from their most recent report Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector Analysis: 2016.

  • SCOPE There are an estimated 20,000 social enterprises operating across all industry sectors 
  • COMPANY SIZE – 73% are small businesses, 23% are medium sized and 4% are large organisations
  • MATURITY – 38% have been in operation for 10 years and 34% in operation for between 2-5 years
  • LEGAL FORM – 33% are incorporated associations, 32% are companies limited by guarantee and 18% are proprietary limited (PTY LTD) companies
  • INDUSTRY – 68% are in the services sector, of which 24% are in retail and 23% in healthcare
  • PURPOSE – 34% exist to create meaningful employment opportunities for people from a specific group, and 34% exist to develop new solutions to social, cultural, economic or environmental problems
  • BENEFICIARIES – 35% target people with disabilities, 33% target young people and 28% target disadvantaged women (FASES 2016, p. 9)

I have devoured both the short version and full report about social enterprise in Australia and I only recommend you do the same! Be sure to check out their advice on policy, ecosystem building, financial and impact measurement tools!  

I can’t wait to got back in 2017!