While Dan Poole was completing a double degree in Arts and Law at Monash, he had already started and sold several successful businesses, such as a freelance editing company, but he still experienced a relentless desire to do something “for the good of the world”.
Little did he know that all it would take would be a bus journey home, where the idea for Crêpes for Change was fully formed by the time he stepped off the bus.
That summer, Dan and his brother Liam launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for his idea of a not-for-profit crepe truck which would see all profits donated to charities that help fight youth homelessness. Quickly hitting the target of $12,000 within 60 days, Dan watched it snowball from there.
“It all happened very quickly – we definitely didn’t set out to create the large organisation that we have become. The support from the community was incredible, and it was this that inspired us to dream big” says Dan.
Crêpes for Change was just the beginning. Following from the success of the not-for-profit food truck, he set out to establish more ventures including The Coffee Cart Changing Lives (a corporate coffee cart) and home.one (a café in Brunswick) that includes a catering option for corporate events. And now, Dan and his team are restructuring the organisation to create Society Melbourne, an umbrella organisation to sit above their three businesses. In fact, the team has launched a new business every year since they started, and are on track to not only continue that trajectory, but to accelerate it.
As a group of entrepreneurs, Dan and his team create sustainable businesses which reinvest profits into combatting youth homelessness in a variety of ways. For instance, their hospitality training program, which is run mainly out of the coffee cart but also through their other businesses, hires at-risk young people through partnerships with charities like Launch Housing or Melbourne City Mission.
“This means our young people have the high level of support already from those organisations from a housing and mental health perspective, and then we come on board and provide them with a job for a year – but it’s a lot more supported than a normal job,” Dan said.
“We train them and understand their situation to better inform how to work with them, before helping them to secure and maintain long-term employment.”
This where some of their money goes, but they have limited capacity with the amount of spots they can offer and so also donate profits externally to organisations working in the youth homelessness space. However they hope to scale up their training program in the coming year.
Outside of all of these entrepreneurial activities, Dan works as a graduate lawyer. But it’s not a burden to the 24-year-old who only graduated from Monash last year in 2017.
“It’s also what I love doing and it’s one of my passions. I also have a strong passion for the law, but I suppose I need to do both to live a fulfilled life”, he said.
“I get to help people on a daily basis, and I can make an impact on people’s lives. It can be time consuming – it’s my second full-time job, I guess, but I love the work so it’s not a chore at all.”
Last year Dan received a message from the youth worker of one of his trainees who had come from Launch Housing saying just how happy Rebecca (name changed) – one of their trainees – was feeling after her first day. Never did she think she’d have the opportunity.
Upon completion of her program Rebecca sent a message to Dan and the team telling them just how transformational the experience was for her life: she managed to get a job out of the experience, and although she had never worked before, the traineeship with Dan’s enterprise gave her the confidence and skills she needed to be offered a job.
“The on-the-job training has been so valuable in developing skills that will make me employable in hospitality,” Rebecca said.
“Not only are [the volunteers] patient and encouraging, they can teach you different tips and tricks so you can find a method that suits you.”
“Working at the coffee cart has been an invaluable experience and is one that could benefit many disadvantaged young people”.
Another standout moment, says Dan was when home.one, the café in Brunswick was launched. “It’s a gold standard for hospitality social enterprises in Australia. There are not many other organisations that do what we do and do it well,” Dan said.
“I remember when we launched, we were able to sit there in the space that we created and that was really an amazing period where we got to sit back and appreciate what we’d accomplished”.
Dan explained that the development studies he undertook during his six-year stint at Monash, in particular international development theory, were applicable to social enterprise and not-for-profit work because the current trend in international development is a ‘bottom-up’ approach rather than ‘top-down’ model.
“You’re really trying to work with the beneficiary to develop solutions that work for them rather than coming in and posing your own solutions. This is really what we try to do: we’re trying to facilitate solutions by working with the young people and just try, and fit it around them, rather than just blindly coming in and imposing what we think should happen”, he said.
Today, for many businesses, statistics can paint either a positive and progressive picture or a damning one – especially when it comes to female representation in leadership positions.
In Australia, for instance, statistics from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) indicate women hold 13.7 percent of chair positions, 24.9 percent of directorships, as well as represent 16.5 percent of CEOs. For other companies, it has been reported women can make up as little as just 13 percent of the workforce.
But when Dan undertook an audit of his organization to unearth the gender balance, he found from a total of 55 employees, 67 percent of the leadership positions are currently taken up by women. He says at Crêpes for Change (soon to be Society Melbourne) a healthy gender balance exists naturally.
“When you have a good gender balance, gender sort of ‘dissolves’ – it becomes all about people as individuals. I was surprised that we had so many women in leadership positions, as I had never really thought about it – and that’s the way it should be” he said.
With such a dynamic attitude towards building social enterprises and a forward-thinking approach to gender equality in the workforce, it's perhaps no surprise that Dan was the recent recipient of the Victorian Young Achiever of the Year Award – although the win for him, at least, was very unexpected.
“I didn’t really have any expectations about it at all. I guess it’s just … humbling to receive that award, and as I said in my acceptance speech, I was accepting it not just on behalf of myself, but on behalf of my whole team that actually made that possible – because it is a team effort”, he said.
As his business grows, and an extra level of management is implemented (the top level is now shared between the Chief Operating Officer (Tenille Gilbert) and Chief Impact Officer (Levi Fernandez – another Monash Arts graduate), Dan’s role – Chief Entrepreneurship Officer – leaves him dealing with the entrepreneurship side of things where he now looks at the businesses currently in action and ensuring they are running effectively and efficiently. He’s also after new future opportunities.
“I hope that we’re going to be able to continue the growth that we’ve been having in the last few years”, he said.
“I think we’re at a really exciting time and we’ve just worked out what works for us, and I think now is the time that we’re going to scale really quickly. My goal is for us to double our revenue every year for the next three years and really ramp up our impact.