In memory of Steve Lawrence

(April 11, 1952 – May 22, 2012)

WorkVentures' Founder and CEO for over 20 years

Stephen Russell Lawrence was the eldest of six children of Douglas and Judith. From a young age Steve realised that social inequality existed.

“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 lawrence

In 1971 he began studying Social Work at the University of NSW. A few years later with his wife Anne Crawford (whom he was married with for over 20 years and have two daughters Suzanna and Rebecca), he started a house and income-sharing community at Malabar/La Perouse. Shortly after he became frustrated with bureaucracy, left his government job as a social worker and travelled trying to find alternative Christian communities. On this return he began his major life work of helping marginalized groups.

Steve believed that training and employment are better and provide longer-term solutions to improving a person’s social and economic situation than simply giving handouts. In 1979 he helped found Peninsula Community Services which later became WorkVentures.

Steve was a true leader and social entrepreneur. Starting with small community programs painting outdoor murals and building a mud-brick village, he came to see employment as the key to overcoming the fundamental causes of disadvantage.

His insights about the importance of employment guided WorkVentures’ initiatives in technology, training and community centres, as well as partnerships with business & government.

Steve worked tirelessly to achieve his dream to:

''…address some of society's more urgent issues by giving access to training, education, employment and networks that empower excluded communities to find self-sufficiency, and healthy meaningful participants as full citizens…”

and to this end, for over 30 years he helped establish over a dozen different non-profit organisations and many, like Social Ventures Australia, JOBfutures, United Way and Australian Social Innovation Exchange, are still serving the community today.

Steve was a national leader and speaker in the field of social enterprise and a co-author of the book ‘Non-Profits in Business’.

He was selected as 2004 Entrepreneur of the Year for the Social and Community, Non-profit Sector in NSW/ACT. In the same year he also married Prue Gregory, someone who shares his ideals.

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 remains strong.

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’.

Unfortunately in 2007 Steve was diagnosed with cancer; this may have slowed him down a little, but he did not give up and continued to work while fighting the disease for several years. He also took some time to travel with his family and was very grateful he was able to do this.

Steve’s final months were devoted to leaving a legacy to continue his work with the establishment of the Steve Lawrence Social Innovation Sub-Fundthrough the Australian Communities Foundation.