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What are the Anthill Cool Company Awards?
The Cool Company Awards were launched in 2006 as a way for Anthill to acknowledge and celebrate Australian organisations that are doing things differently to bring about positive change. Cool Companies stay one step ahead of the rest. They breed leaders who are rule-makers and rule-breakers. They are trend-setters in attitude and action. Quite simply, they are … cool! More.
Company: Doin Time
And here’s our shining example that the entrepreneurial spirit can rise anywhere, anytime. Because we can guarantee you’ve never seen another designer T-shirt manufacturer like this. Ever.
The men who make the Doin Time line of tees live in the Youth Unit of Port Phillip Prison, a maximum-security facility in Truganina, Victoria. All profits from the shirts go to charity. Since the creation of Serving Time Inc. in 2007, about $150,000 has been donated. And then there are the intangible profits earned by the inmates: pride, self-worth, teamwork and the skills to run a business.
We’ll stack up Doin Time against any multimillion-dollar, Silicon Valley-invested money-making machine of a company. Any day. In a heartbeat. Because Doin Time deals in a level of human currency others can’t touch.
“It has proven to be a very successful business due to the dedication and hard work of the young prisoners,” says Anne Hooker, the youth development officer at Port Phillip who was instrumental in getting the business started. “Doin Time teaches young offenders responsibility, how to make decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions.”
The business, which won Anthill’s Cool Company Social Capitalist Award in 2008, has attracted some high-profile mentors. Sir Richard Branson came to offer his advice, as have Toll Holdings managing director Paul Little and Melbourne Football Club chairman Jim Stynes. A worker at a local radio station also mentors the inmates, and provides free advertising for the shirts.
Running a business out of an incarceration unit brings its share of unique challenges. Any purchase of equipment must go through a long vetting and security process. Physical expansion of the shop is out of the question. And staffing is a double-edged sword, as some of the best-trained inmates can be transferred or finish their prison time. Doin Time has a website that sells the company’s story and offers page from where buyers can order products, but inmates are banned from Internet use, so they map out content, which is then plugged in by staff.
That doesn’t prevent outside companies or organisations such as Virgin, The Big Issue and the Australia Breast Feeding Association from contracting with Doin Time to print some of their T-shirts. Cool stuff.
“At Doin Time we have a firm belief that anything is possible,” Hooker says. “We try hard to ensure that every member of our team knows they are a part of something really important and add value to what we are trying to achieve. We never give up and understand there is always someone out there doing it tougher than us.”
The last part of that creed is seen in the recipients of their charity: The Royal Children’s Hospital; Kids Under Cover, an outreach program for at-risk youth; and Whitelion, which helps young people leaving the juvenile justice system reconnect with their communities.
And what do the inmates say about all of this? The website offers some excerpts from prisoners’ evaluations of the business program. Here’s what one of them, Dion, said: “The skills I have developed are communication and learning how to work as a team. And knowing that, as prisoners, we are giving something back to the community, and this is the best feeling.”
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