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How did Fighting Chance come to exist, and why did we choose to harness the power of social enterprise?
September 27, 2022
In 2009, Fighting Chance was founded by siblings Laura and Jordan O’Reilly. They were inspired by the experience of their brother, Shane, who had cerebral palsy and a moderate intellectual disability, and who was let down by a society which defined him by his disability.

When Shane finished school, his options were limited compared to his siblings’. At his day program, he couldn’t choose how he spent his days and he didn’t have the option of purposeful work or support for his business idea. Laura and Jordan saw the power of social enterprise to address these gaps in opportunity for people with disability and create a truly inclusive economy

Since then, Fighting Chance has grown from siblings working on the start of an idea in the garage of their family home, to a leader in the Australian disability sector. It has launched five social enterprises across 14 locations in 4 states, which impact the lives of nearly 1500 people with disability. It exists to build and empower social enterprises to create limitless opportunity, dignity and prosperity for people with disability as part of a truly inclusive economy, with enterprises including:

  • Avenue: empowering microbusiness, skill-building and community participation activities for people with profound and severe disability
  • Jigsaw: a “prepare for work, through work” pathway to mainstream employment, outperforming current government-funded approaches to disability employment
  • Base Housing Collective: reimagining supported independent living
  • Plus: building Australia’s leading integrated program for people with complex behaviors and high support needs
  • A support coordination and NDIS access business.

Paul Brown, CEO of Fighting Chance social enterprise Jigsaw, said that in addition to creating significant social impact, Fighting Chance has a commitment to social enterprise as the medium for creating opportunity.

“One of Fighting Chance’s fundamental values is “a hand up, not a handout”. What this means is that people with disability don’t need charity. They simply have the right to the same opportunities that society affords the mainstream,” he said.

“A social enterprise model looks at the ways in which traditional structures, attitudes and workflows prohibit people’s participation, and redesigns them. For Fighting Chance, this offers a mechanism to empower people with opportunities to contribute, generate revenue, create value for business and individual customers, build their skills and find purpose and fulfillment.”

“This therefore creates alternative pathways to social and economic inclusion, so that people of all abilities can make a contribution to the best of their ability,” Brown said.

In the disability sector in Australia, Fighting Chance believes conditions are ripe for new and disruptive players to thrive. The National Disability Insurance Scheme, introduced in 2013, represents a real opportunity to bring new approaches to traditional service models for Australians with disability.

“The NDIS introduced a competitive market into an area which used to be entirely dominated by government tenders. However, despite ripe conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship, there is a limited number of transformative new service models which have made their way into the sector in the last few years. There are some exceptions to this statement of course, but that does not change the broad reality that for many thousands of people with disability right across Australia, and years after the roll out of the NDIS nationally, the services on offer today for most people are little changed since before 2013,” Brown said.

“We encourage service providers, government decision makers, and existing or emerging social entrepreneurs to think differently and support the emergence of a vibrant services landscape for people with disability – one which brings variety, quality and specialisation into frontline service design, and which facilitates lives of unbridled opportunity for all,” he said.

Social enterprise can truly thrive in the disability space, and Fighting Chance and its enterprises are an example of how an entrepreneurial approach can successfully tackle key societal and economic challenges.

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