By Ian Williams
As one of Adelaide’s most experienced events organisers Sarah Gun knows all about generating wow factor.
But after 15 years in the industry the GOGO events founder realised that was no longer enough. She was frustrated that events go up and are often ripped down the same day with little to show for all the effort.
Sarah wanted to leave some kind of personal legacy – and she hit on a solution that is winning her international accolades.
For the past three years GOGO events has been hiring the homeless and disadvantaged to produce decorations and help set up and dismantle displays for major events, including large-scale conferences and dinners.
What some might consider a business risk is making a difference for dozens of underprivileged people who’ve had the good fortune of joining her team.
“The seeds were planted some time ago because my brother had mental health issues and was homeless through parts of his life,” said Sarah. “I had this idea that if I could employ homeless people it would help their confidence and self-esteem and put something on their resume.”
Sarah was also motivated by data that showed the biggest cause of homelessness in South Australia is unemployment.
She already had contacts in the social welfare area through her role on the fundraising committee of the Big Issue and reached out to the Catherine House women’s support shelter and the Hutt Street Centre, where she recently became a board member.
Before starting her new venture though Sarah first had to check with her clients. She had nothing to worry about.
“They include Toyota and Food South Australia who have shown incredible support and really wanted it to work,” said Sarah. “I’m now trying to extend the program by encouraging other SA organisations to have items such as Christmas gifts made by our team.”
Homeless people working for GOGO can be unskilled and are given paid training in addition to a wage.
One woman who is in recovery from mental illness and being homeless thought mainstream employment was out of her reach.
“Working for GOGO events though is achievable and feels meaningful and very positive,” she said. “I no longer feel outside of my comfort zone.”
Last month Sarah’s efforts were recognised on the world stage at the prestigious South by South West interactive festival in Austin, Texas where she won an award for the Most Innovative Social Enterprise.
Her trip to the US was the result of winning another prize – a Gold ENVie Award and scholarship from Flinders University’s New Venture Institute where she was developing a biodegradable alternative for floral foam.
“All our displays are handmade and we have a real environmental focus to try and reuse everything,” said Sarah. “Floral foam is quite hazardous so we’ve come up with a prototype made out of agricultural waste.”