The 2015 Big Idea winners and judges

A proposal to turn part of Adelaide’s Southern parklands into a community garden that will provide flexible and transitional employment, education and training opportunities for people experiencing homelessness has won this year’s Big Idea (postgraduate) competition.

Co-ordinated by homelessness social enterprise The Big Issue, the Big Idea seeks to find new social enterprise ideas from university students that can deliver benefits to society.

Winners of the awards receive “unprecedented access to social entrepreneurs, Australian ‘thought leaders’ and experts across a variety of business sectors, whose guidance, advice and direction will ensure students are well placed to develop their ideas into business plans for viable social enterprise”.

This year, for the first time, the competition included a category for postgraduate students, alongside its usual undergraduate classification.

More than 80 student teams from 10 universities submitted business plans for a new social enterprise or social business.

Five undergraduate and two postgraduate finalists presented their plans to a panel of judges, including Telstra chief executive Andy Penn, Australia Post chief financial officer Janelle Hopkins and the Centre for Social Impact’s director of social business, Cheryl Kernot.

Project details

At the awards, which were held in Melbourne last night (30 November), Central Queensland University research students Elisha Vlaholias and Tessa Benveniste accepted the award for postgraduate entry.

Their proposal, The Garden of Earthly Delights, aims to develop a social enterprise that would see part of Adelaide’s Southern parklands turned into a community garden to provide employment and training opportunities for people experiencing homelessness.

The project would be run in association with CQUniversity’s new permaculture program, led by Dr Keri Chiveralls.

“The Garden [of Earthly Delights] will offer students, professional workers, and men and women struggling with homelessness the opportunity to work in garden beds of flowers, vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and crops to grow fresh produce to enrich their own lives and the community as a whole,” Ms Vlaholias said.

Ms Benveniste added that the idea was chosen as research has indicated that “participation in gardening promotes a sense of dignity among individuals experiencing homelessness, and has positive effects on self-esteem and self-efficacy”.

As well as creating work opportunities – including hosting Work for the Dole projects – the garden would be able to sustain itself through fruit, vegetable, flower and herb sales to local markets, with food surpluses donated to local charities.

It would also feature public lectures, workshops and cooking demonstrations, as well as school excursion visits.

If the project is successful, it is hoped that the business model will be replicated across Australia.

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