Hollie Gordon – founder of Milaana

Hollie Gordon is a young Australian working to increase community engagement through Social Enterprise. Originally hailing from Brisbane, she developed a passion for social entrepreneurship and community engagement during her post-high school travel experiences, particularly in India.

I had the idea in late May, registered the business in July and had the first functional version up and running at the beginning of September!

This year, along with completing her Bachelor Degrees in International Relations and Business, she founded a social enterprise called Milaana, meaning “to connect people” in the Hindi language. Milaana does exactly that, connecting passionate individuals with community oriented organisations by promoting project-based, impact placement opportunities.

Milaana.org blog @milaana_org @hollie_gordon facebook

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

Milaana is a social enterprise that increases community engagement amongst university students whilst also helping community-oriented organisations further their great work and engage with the next generation.  The online platform www.milaana.org is the hub for posting and applying for project-based, impact placement opportunities.  Impact placements provide students with valuable experience whilst helping community-oriented organisations to engage with skilled and motivated young individuals. This mutually beneficial partnership creates significant value for all parties, as well as the broader community.

Milaana Terminology 

Impact placement: The student obtains valuable skills and experience and their efforts will directly contribute to the community in a meaningful way.

Community-Oriented Organisation: This term encompasses the spectrum from not-for-profits and profit for purpose organisations (aka social enterprises), through to commercial organisations that want interns to help run social programs (e.g. fundraising, pro-bono skills workshops).

A university student myself facing a tough job market and looking for meaningful work experience, I figured that if the importance of unpaid work experience was the new reality for most students, we might as well be doing it for worthwhile causes and the organisations that support them. University students and community-oriented organisations have SO much to offer each other; they just needed a platform to better facilitate their engagement. As I couldn’t find a platform suited to this niche, I created one.

Please explain your business model.

Milaana aims to be a self-sustaining social enterprise and its core revenue streams are through annual registration fees and featuring projects. Once organisations have registered with Milaana they can post as many projects and positions as they’d like for the registration period. For Charities, they can choose to make a contribution, Social Enterprises get a 50% discount and Commercial Organisations pay the full fee. All organisations can pay to feature their projects on the front page as well as through Milaana’s social media channels and monthly newsletter. This has a similarly staggered pricing structure depending on the organization type.  Milaana also offers consulting services to commercial organisations that would like to create their own impact projects, but aren’t sure of the best way to do this.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

Right now almost all of my brain space is focused on Milaana (with a bit of room for my final semester of uni!). It is still early days; I had the idea in late May, registered the business in July and had the first functional version of www.milaana.org up and running at the beginning of September! I am currently peddling around Brisbane speaking to organisations to get them on board and help them engage with students. In the next few months Milaana will be developing a big awareness campaign to roll the site out to students in early 2014 and is looking for interns keen to help with this impact project. In breaking news, I have also just been selected as a “Young Challenger” for the 2013 Grameen Global Social Business Summit to be held in Malaysia in early November!! It’s very exciting stuff as I will be presenting my idea to Muhammad Yunus!! It has been an incredible adventure so far with so much more to look forward to as Milaana gains momentum and grows!

How do you make ideas happen?

I just jump straight in and start working on the idea and when I am confident, I think of the smartest people I know with the relevant skills, and hop on my bike to see if they are interested! When you believe in something, your passion inspires others and it is amazing how people aligned with your goals come into your life at just the right time.

What does your typical day look like?

I am currently living between Currumbin (Gold Coast) and Brisbane so it varies quite a lot. At Currumbin Mondays-Wednesdays, I typically start the day walking on the beach with Panda (my brother’s beautiful American Staffie) and after getting organised I head into university to stretch out my brain and set to work finishing my final semester. Thursday and Friday I’m up in Brisbane and as Milaana currently requires meeting with lots of organisations, you’ll most likely see me peddling around on my blue bicycle with my little suitcase tucked into the basket! I am nice and busy but it’s the “energising” kind of busy! The wonderful individuals I am fortunate to meet who are so passionate about their work and the causes that their organisations support are a constant source of inspiration. To keep the balance though, weekends are sacred and typically involve packing up the van with my partner and setting off on little adventures along the coast or into the hinterland.

Hollie's Workspace - her bike!
Hollie’s Workspace – her bike!

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

To be honest the process so far has been incredibly smooth. I have been blown away by the support I’ve received from all directions from business advice to legal support and pro bono design services. Brisbane is a network driven city so once you tap into they key networks and people believe in your idea, your only limited by the opportunities you can keep up with. On that note this support is largely due to the fact that Milaana is a social enterprise, if it were a standard business that didn’t focus on community engagement, it would have been a much harder process.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Go Social! Businesses can generate so much goodwill and attract the best graduates by creating utilizing their core competencies to contribute to their community through impact projects! Going social is without a doubt a competitive advantage, differentiating you from other businesses, increasing customer loyalty and energizing your employees who know that their work is contributing to something really great!

 What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment?

Wow, where do I start! Buffed is a great social enterprise offering shoe-shine franchise opportunities to long term unemployed and refugees, and its founder Peter Ball has been an incredible mentor to me on this journey. Indeed in Australia social enterprises are blossoming all over the place (OzHarvest, Seed, Food Connect etc), which is fantastic to see. In terms of online platforms, Kickstarter is fantastic and was a source of inspiration for being ‘Project Based’. Organisations working to help other young change makers, like Ashoka and the Grameen Foundation, are doing really important work internationally as well. This industry really is more of an eco-system of like-minded individuals sharing their diverse skills to support each other, which means lots of innovation and collaboration.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

I jumped the gun by talking about this previously but businesses can do so much by utilizing their core competencies in order to contribute to the community. This can be done be creating their own impact projects, encouraging their staff to engage, encouraging social intrapreneurs and donating a percentage of their profits to worthy causes. The most rewarding for all parties though is definitely when businesses get involved themselves and become leaders of community engagement.

Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support? 

Oh dear that’s a tricky one, you’ve certainly got an impressive list there! Having personally worked with refugees through St Vincent’s Volunteer Refugee Tutoring program (Vortcs) there is a lot of work done to help refugees transition into Australian life and increase community integration. This important area of work is often overlooked so I’d support MDA, the Multicultural Development Association.

Shout for Good Web_Button

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

A Well Traveled Woman is a photo journal of visual inspiration from vast travel adventures to little objects beautiful in their simplicity. When I get a bit flustered it always ‘zens’ me out.

Social Enterprise Buzz is a great platform that shares all the latest developments in the social enterprise world.

Smith Journal yes, I know it’s aimed at men, but these guys (and probably gals!) are cracking journalists who seem to know all the things I want to read about. From quirky historical figures to the latest innovation in tea production! Their site is constantly updated with tasty snippets of information to supplement the print journal.

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

Ehon Chan – @ehon

Jeremy Liddle – @Jeremy_Liddle

Yassmin Adbel-Magied – @yassmin_a

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

YES! Milaana is currently assessing different ways to raise capital to undertake the next round of website development. I am looking for interns to help drive the awareness campaign (http://www.milaana.org/projects/11) or who have skills they would want to contribute (graphic design, web development etc). Also, if your organisation and any you know might be interested in posting an impact project on Milaana to engage students, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

How do we remove the double standard surrounding employee salaries from non-profits/ social enterprises working towards important causes vs. the larger corporations that are actively decreasing the vitality of our world?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

My lovely little local coffee shop – “Good Day Coffee” at Tugun always puts a smile on my dial.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

What a great idea! I could offer to help their organization develop an impact project? Or if they are already doing great things socially, I love to give people plants as presents so I’m sure we could figure that out.




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