The Evolution of ADE to Social Enterprise

16th August, 2023

Australian business is undergoing an important shift in order to capitalise on the talents and skills that people with disability can bring to the workplace. By transitioning from a traditional model of Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) and supported employment services, to a person-centric social enterprise model, the Australian economy and society, in general, are seeing great benefits for employment, partnership and self-employment.

Barkuma believes that every person has the right to meaningful, valued employment, and our model based on supporting individuals to pursue their interests and goals is proven to have a multiplier benefit to the economy, community and the individual. By shifting to a social enterprise model, we are creating meaningful employment support that encourages personal development and progression.

Social enterprise in Australia is non-profit enterprise that provides products and services, reinvesting profits into social outcomes.

Social enterprise enables individuals to reach their potential and creates opportunities for talent to be recognised and built upon in the industry, rediverting investment into skill development and growth. Modelling by our peak body (National Disability Services) in 2019 found that the Australian economy benefits from a $2.22 return on every dollar the government spends on supported employment for people with intellectual disability.

With the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the Australian government has afforded more control and flexibility to participants to gain individualised support in developing skills, which has led to greater opportunities for employment, partnerships and self-employment. This is a great leap forward in the creation of meaningful employment, skill development and social connection.

As Barkuma transitions to a social enterprise model, we ensure that opportunities continue to be created for all abilities. Barkuma creates and supports small business units in traditional Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) areas such as hospitality, gardening, maintenance, warehousing, graffiti removals, packaging and assembly, with opportunity for development into supervisor roles through a Peer Supervision program. These units fulfil contracts in partnering businesses and councils, with Barkuma paying wages based on wage assessment tools while allowing individuals the opportunity to develop skills and explore their interests. Employees may be hired in longer-term employment in these units or transfer skills to open employment. Barkuma has an extensive network of partners and work together to identify opportunities for supported open employment, continuing support to employer and individuals through the duration of employment.

Barkuma has evolved the model of small business units, putting forward proposals for Barkuma to add new functions to existing businesses with the human resources, training and support provided by Barkuma. These small business units integrate into partnering organisations to fulfil vital roles and functions. Supported employees learn directly transferrable skills working for Barkuma while learning about the hiring business from within. This organically facilitates the development of employment opportunities built on recognition of an individual’s skills and interests while being mutually beneficial to the hiring organization.

Social enterprise programs at Barkuma are also being developed through a focus on micro-business, harnessing the creativity of individuals by supporting them to build an idea into an enterprise. This model delivers proven success in creating opportunities for people with disability to work toward their goals and contribute valuable benefits directly to the community as well as the economy. Opportunities may eventuate organically or through an individual’s specific project goals.



  • Barkuma collaborated with Dawn Patrol, the supplier of coffee beans to the canteen, to create a co-branded coffee line available for purchase directly from Barkuma.


  • Another project is a startup canteen owned and operated by Barkuma in Elizabeth, where participants learn and use transferrable skills in food safety, kitchen management, front-of-house and back-of-house operations, which can develop opportunities in open employment or micro-business. The canteen provides expansion opportunities for product development and replication to future sites, providing a scalable business solution to directly benefit the community.



The evolution of disability enterprise to social entrepreneurship is a positive development for people with disabilities and society. Social enterprises provide meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities while promoting social inclusion and community engagement. By showcasing the abilities and talents of people with disabilities, social enterprises also help to create a more sustainable and inclusive economy by generating revenue that can be reinvested back into the business or used to support other social initiatives. The shift towards social enterprise represents a significant step forward in promoting great social change and empowering people with disabilities to reach their full potential.