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Leadership Through Rural Social Enterprise

THE BENDIGO BANK COMMUNITY BANK INITIATIVE

Background to the Bendigo Bank Community Bank initiative

Bendigo Bank (previously Bendigo Building Society) was built upon principles promoting ‘personal responsibility, self-help, and providing protection to members’ (Jain, Keneley & Thomson 2015; 468). The building society converted to a bank in the mid 1990s amidst the restructuring of the Australian financial system and rationalisation on behalf of banks that saw, among other things, the reduction of branch banking services across Australia. With a history of supporting communities to support themselves stemming from its days as a building society, Bendigo Bank moved in both to return face-to-face financial services to communities and to secure itself a place in a very competitive market.

The Bendigo Bank Community Bank model

The key features of the Bendigo Bank Community Bank model revolve around the ownership of Community Bank enterprises and the manner in which these enterprises distribute any profits made. With regards to the ownership of a Community Bank enterprise, there are severaluniquefeatures:

  1. The constitution of a Community Bank enterprise structured as a public company limited by shares states that it must have at least 299 shareholders to ensure a broad shareholder base (Allens Arthur Robinson 2005).
  2. The constitution states that these shareholders must have a close connection to the community where the Bendigo Bank Community Bank branch is located (Allens Arthur Robinson 2005).
  3. The constitution of Community Bank enterprises states that no individual should hold ten percent or more shares in a Community Bank enterprise (Allens Arthur Robinson 2005).
  4. In addition to the above, the constitution of Community Bank enterprises states that each shareholder is entitled to only one vote regardless of the size of their shareholding (Allens Arthur Robinson 2005).

Many of these requirements are reinforced by the franchise agreement with Bendigo Bank that Community Bank enterprises operate under, which also states that Community Bank enterprises can only propose an amendment to their constitution if Bendigo Bank agrees (Bendigo Bank 2015). Other key features of the Bendigo Bank Community Bank model relate to the manner in which any profits generated by a Community Bank enterprise are distributed. Community Bank enterprises structured as a company limited by shares are required by the franchise agreement with Bendigo Bank to limit the amount of profit distributed to shareholders to approximately twenty percent as determined by a complex formula (Bendigo Bank 2015). Therefore, the majority of the profits generated by Community Bank enterprises are used to make contributions to the local community.

‘Bringing back the bank’: Volunteers as leaders in the community

Non-executive directors play a key leadership role in Community Bank enterprises. In 2014, Cutcher (2014) asked who it was that volunteered to co-produce a banking service by taking on the role of non-executive director and why they did so. In regard to the question of who, she finds that ‘a member of a community bank board is most likely to be male, a small business person, and middle aged’, drawing upon statistics included in 38 Community Bank enterprises’ annual reports (Cutcher 2010; 85). In answer to her question of why these individuals volunteer, Cutcher (2010; 88) demonstrates:

‘that their involvement in the co-production of the community bank service allows them to co-produce an “ethical surplus” of self-authenticity and connectedness to their local community. As co-producers of the banking service, they are helping their communities regain financial viability and social continuity. As co-creators of the…histories, they are staging a self-narrative as “local heroes”’.

Linking to the work of Cutcher (2014), the literature on rural social enterprise also discusses who becomes involved in co-producing a social enterprise. In their study of Scottish social enterprises, Smith and McColl (2016) find that there are knowledge and skill shortages in some rural locations and, as such, many rely on in-migration to supplement the existing human capital.

In an Australian context, Barraket et al. (2019; 7) find that ‘rural social enterprises [are] largely founded and managed by local people’ who are leaders and demonstrate leadership in their community. This, for them, may have been due to ‘Australia’s population scarcity relative to land size and population distribution; in scarcely populated rural areas, community self-reliance and innovation are regularly described responses to thin markets and limited public services’ (Barraket et al. 2019; 7). Thus, there are contrasting findings in the literature on rural social enterprise as to who it is that co-produces social enterprise, in particular whether the requisite human capital is actually available in these communities. It is as if those who are leaders in rural social enterprises must be both transactional and transformational which means they must be adaptable in the way that they leverage their unique blend of leadership traits andcompetencies.

The theme of leaders as ‘heroes’ also emerges in the literature on rural social enterprise. For example, Munoz, Steiner and Farmer (2014) find that the existing literature on rural social enterprise emphasises the role of individual heroes in community-led rural social enterprise development processes. Through their study of Tasmanian social enterprises, Eversole, Barraket and Luke (2013; 252) find that rural social enterprises are ‘underpinned by a strong passion, either of one person or of a group, to create social change at the local community level’. This sees the concept of a solitary hero expanded to a group of people.

In subsequent research, Barraket et al. (2019; 3) emphasise that community or social entrepreneurship is ‘distributed and collective, rather than enacted by heroic individuals’. Thus, practitioners emerge as heroes in both the Community Bank and rural social enterprise literature, but this is tempered by the need for social entrepreneurship to be recognised as involving distributed leadership rather than being an individual pursuit. Therefore distributed leadership is an important part of the success of rural social enterprises.

In maintaining the focus on the practitioners involved, a core theme in the literature on rural social enterprise is the embeddedness of those practitioners in their local community and the effect of this embeddedness on their actions. According to Smith and Stevens (2010; 582), ‘the primary argument of embeddedness is that actors’ purposeful actions are embedded in concrete and enduring relationships that affect their motives, behaviours and decision making’. The literature indicates that embeddedness can have both a ‘supporting and retarding’ effect (Smith & Stevens 2010; 582). On the supporting side, the embeddedness of practitioners in their local community provides their social enterprise with the resources and legitimacy necessary to generate social benefit (Barraket et al. 2019; Zahra et al. 2009). For the most part, however, the effect of embeddedness is retarding. According to Smith and Stevens (2010; 583), ‘as the degree of embeddedness increases, the range of available courses of actions becomes more restricted’. Similarly, Hindle (2010; 607) says that ‘an entrepreneur who is and wishes to remain a member of a particular community is subject to many limitations’. This is because of what Flora and Flora (1993; 52) refer to as role homogeneity, which is ‘the extent to which community members interact with one another across a wide variety of settings – not only at work but also at school events, in civic organizations, and at the local grocery store’. Flora and Flora (1993; 52) say that ‘because of role homogeneity, rural communities tend to suppress controversy’. Thus, the rural social enterprise literature indicates that the embeddedness of social enterprise practitioners such as those involved in Community Bank enterprises can have both positive and negative effects on their actions.

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