Steve Lawrence’s tireless commitment to community development
Since my childhood, I have always been interested in how the world works and what makes people and communities be happy and successful – or why we have such a lot of wars and why people do such terrible things to themselves or each other.
Steve grew up as the eldest of six children and, from a young age, realised that social inequality was an unfortunate but inevitable fact of our modern existence.
In 1971, he began studying Social Work at the University of NSW. A few years later, he started a house and income-sharing community at Malabar/La Perouse. But later, becoming frustrated with bureaucracy, Steve left his government job as a social worker and spent time travelling to find alternative Christian communities. When he returned to Australia, Steve began what would become his life’s major work; a resolute focus on and commitment to community development and assisting marginalised groups.
Steve was a true leader and social entrepreneur. He firmly believed that training and employment provide longer-term solutions to improving a person’s social and economic situation than simply giving handouts. Starting with small community development programs such as painting outdoor murals and building a mud-brick village, he came to see employment as the key to overcoming the fundamental causes of disadvantage and in 1979, he helped found Peninsula Community Services which later became WorkVentures.
His insights about the importance of employment guided WorkVentures’ initiatives in technology, training and community centres as well as partnerships with business and government enterprises.
Steve worked tirelessly to achieve his dream and to this end, for over 30 years he helped establish over a dozen different non-profit organisations. Social Ventures Australia, CoAct (formerly JobFutures), United Way and Australian School for Social Entrepreneurs are still serving Australian communities to this day.
In 2005, WorkVentures and Microsoft were awarded the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership Award for Longevity in recognition of their 19-year collaboration in serving disadvantaged communities, a partnership which is still thriving.
In 2010, Steve was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia for ‘service to the community through leadership roles in the development and implementation of not for profit ventures to create social change, particularly for youth and the long-term unemployed’.
Steve’s final months were devoted to leaving a legacy so that other people could follow in his footsteps and continue his community development work. He established the Steve Lawrence Social Innovation Sub-Fund through the Australian Communities Foundation in order to make this possible.