Jim Dinuccio reflects on 20 years of Clean Force.
Twenty years ago, Jim Dinuccio and his colleague, Paul Fraser, founded the social enterprise, Clean Force. They set out with the mission to provide those living with mental illness and other disabilities the chance to gain valuable skills and confidence through stable employment.
Since then, Clean Force has grown significantly, broken numerous stigmas, and won several awards. Now Jim is nominated for the Pro Bono Impact25 Awards, an award which ‘honours leaders in the Australian social sector’.
The origins of Clean Force
Clean Force started in 2001 under a disability services company known as Lifecare, which had some success of placing people with disabilities in cleaning roles. Jim was hired to grow this idea into a business.
“When we started, we didn’t have an office or cleaning supplies; we had nothing”, reflects Jim. “I was handed a pen and pad and set out to make a business. Me and Paul would go out together, I would teach him how to clean, and he would give me guidelines on social aspects like how we can help overcome the barriers of peoples’ disabilities. And that’s how it grew, teaching one person at a time.”
It took a lot of determination to break down societal barriers for Clean Force to become what it is today. In 2001, there were strong stigmas and misunderstanding around disability. Plus, social enterprises were not well known and sometimes referred to as social workshops, many of which took advantage of those with disabilities.
Jim knew Clean Force would be different.
“We employed people and paid them to the award [rates] they were entitled to. We supplied real jobs, real hours with the support that wasn’t tokenistic,” says Jim.
Clean Force continued this mission after the organisation merged into WISE Employment in 2005. With the extra support, Jim and Paul set out to change the meaning of social enterprises, giving businesses the chance to be part of the story.
“The social enterprise scene has really changed since then. It took a lot of education for organisations to overcome the stigma of people with disabilities coming into their office to clean.”
“We would go to companies and say, ‘we don’t want your charity, we want an opportunity to provide you with a service you’re already paying for. You have the chance to become part of the story to help us achieve something.”
The Social Enterprise today
Today, Clean Force has a wide range of customers, including both social and commercial organisations. The enterprise has proven its credibility, winning contracts against tier 1, ‘main stream’ cleaning services.
Clean Force’s core mission has remained at the forefront of the business as it has grown into what it is today, supporting 15 full-time staff and over 350 employees.
“We don’t want to grow big and lose sight of who we really are,” said Jim. “We want to increase the number of supported employees throughout the three social enterprises, all while staying true to our vision and mission”.
This mission is evident in the recent report conducted by Social Ventures Australia, which highlighted the positive impacts Clean Force has on the community. Findings include that for every $1 invested in Clean Force, $6.50 is returned to the community and staff retention is significantly higher than average in the cleaning industry. The mental health and overall wellbeing of Clean Force employees has also grown considerably since starting with the company.
While Jim is proud to be nominated in the Pro Bono 2021 Impact25 awards, he believes the nomination is recognising the whole business.
“The nomination is more a recognition for Clean Force. For people to gain a further understanding of what a social enterprise is, how they’re run, how they benefit the employees, and how it benefits the community,” says Jim.
He believes Clean Force would not be where it is today without the strength of its community.
“There’s no way Clean Force got to where it is without the employees and the supporting management.”
Jim will be celebrating 20 years with the Clean Force this year. He explains the employees make up a large part of why he loves his job.
“I love what I do every day. Yes, you have your bad moments, but the satisfaction of seeing my staff starting to meet their life goals and hearing their stories, they’re the sort of things which makes you say ‘this is what we do and why we do it’. ”
Due to Clean Force’s high retention rate, Jim has seen employees celebrate their 10, and even 15-year anniversaries.
“They’re so appreciative, and we’re like, guys, you’re the ones who did the work. You deserve all the recognition.”
“At the end of the day, Clean Force would be nothing without their employees.”
Vote for Jim
Votes for the Pro Bono Impact25 Awards are open until 5pm AEST on Wednesday, 17 February 2021. Please vote for Jim below.