Lives with Purpose – Alumni Profile

ADA alum Tom Dawkins is a natural connector of people and ideas. A highly regarded champion of those working in social impact, he is known for creating a powerful sense of community and common purpose. Tom is Co-founder and CEO of StartSomeGood, a social enterprise which enables entrepreneurs and changemakers to instigate action and make a difference.

Valuable lessons learned at UNSW

Whilst honing in on my chosen university, my goal was always to study Political Science, and UNSW was highly respected in that field. At the only other university I considered attending at the time, Political Science was simply called ‘Government,’ which seemed a little like calling an Engineering degree ‘Bridges,’ and seemed to reveal a lack of scope.

During my studies,  I developed an understanding of how to structure and share ideas in a way which inspired community and action. I explored and refined this through my degree, where I focused on social change and the ideas which spanned classes in philosophy, sociology, history, and political science. More learnings came from soaking up campus culture and leveraging the time and opportunity I had to learn how to organise, inspire and build community.

Loving what you do - a career with purpose

This might sound a bit meta, but my purpose is to help more people find and take action around their purpose. My mission is to build a more democratic and innovative society by helping more people get involved in making a difference. Through my social enterprise, StartSomeGood, I love to work with early-stage and aspiring social entrepreneurs to help them clarify their mission and model, then guide their next steps through our design and accelerator programs.

Through the new crowd-lending platform I have co-founded, LendForGood, I am excited about helping more people take a step into impact investment. It allows them to put their money where their values are, by investing in growing impact businesses and helping those businesses make a more significant difference. Being a small part of the journey of so many great social enterprise and impact projects and contributing to the growth of Australia’s growing social enterprise movement is extremely exciting.

Highlights on the career journey

Over the years, I have founded three non-profits and three-social enterprises whilst working in Sydney, San Francisco, and Washington DC. The highlights have always been when I get to work with a small team of highly committed changemakers with the goal of creating something new. This includes opening the first co-working space in Australia in 2006, and establishing the digital communications team at Ashoka, the world’s leading organisation supporting social entrepreneurs, in Washington DC in 2008. More recently, I co-founded the peak body for social enterprises, the Social Enterprise Council of NSW and the ACT.

But these days it’s more about helping other people start projects and businesses that make a difference - which I love! Some of the great enterprises we’ve been privileged enough to work with include TwoGood, Humanitix, Good Beer Co, Catalysr, The Social Outfit, Grameen Australia, Radio SkidRow, Elato Ice-cream, Chocolate on Purpose and The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, just to name a few of the thousands over the past ten years.

I also love travelling and meeting new people, so other highlights have been teaching workshops for non-profits in Hong Kong, and visiting the Pacific Islands for the United Nations Development Program. Another was teaching youth changemakers in East Africa how to effectively share their stories in order to invoke action.

I had the chance to bring this all together by hosting the recent SEWF Roadtrip. This was a three-day journey taking 44 social enterprise founders and leaders from Sydney to Brisbane for the Social Enterprise World Forum, visiting social enterprise and learning from each other along the way. It was definitely a highlight of my time at StartSomeGood and another chance to experience the incredible camaraderie and learnings which take place when you bring social entrepreneurs together.

Problem solving at work

I enjoy working on the core challenges that face new founders of social impact projects. Examples of these challenges include how to raise first funding, maintain personal resilience and how to access the insights you need to design something that will work. Much of our work is about trying to make the courageous journey of starting something new just that little less daunting and fraught.

I am especially proud of our programs at StartSomeGood that support changemakers with a lived experience of social challenge, or who are under-represented, for instance our programs for First Nations, refugee, and female founders.

As an “Access Social Enterprise”, i.e., an enterprise that creates our impact by giving otherwise excluded groups access to the products and opportunities they need to live better lives, one of the bigger ongoing dynamics is how to do this while still building a sustainable enterprise. We make our impact from giving people access but we also make our revenue from charging for access, which creates an investable tension. We work to overcome this in several ways, but primarily by involving a third-party who is willing to support the opportunity for that group, for example a corporate or government partner, which is how we fund a lot of our thematic programs today.

Building resilience

Having a clear sense of purpose and working with a diverse range of people and projects keeps me energised. It is an honour to be trusted as a partner for institutions and founders who are looking to make a difference, and I take that responsibility and opportunity very seriously, while also having a lot of fun.

Proudest achievements

Founding a youth non-profit (while at UNSW), Vibewire Youth Services, which is now 22 years old, as well as StartSomeGood, now established for 12 years. I’m immensely proud of our track record of helping more than 1,000 impact initiatives launch through more than 20 accelerator programs and $15 million raised on our crowdfunding platform.

Advice for current students

You have access to the most incredible diversity of people around you at UNSW, and limitless opportunities to try new things. Be entrepreneurial – use the environment you are in to test and develop new skills. Don’t just get your degree, get involved.

Tom Dawkins is Co-founder and CEO, StartSomeGood and Co-founder, LendForGood

In 2022 Tom was named as one of the LinkedIn Top Voices in Social Impact (Aus & NZ)

Degree and year of graduationBachelor of Arts, 2002