Make a profit… and make a difference
Highlands and Islands Area Chairman, SCDI
WHAT do the World Cup for homeless people and community land ownership have in common?
Well, they are examples of social enterprises — businesses with social aims.
This kind of enterprise is increasingly at the centre of political attention and expectation at Westminster and Holyrood, especially with challenges such as protecting the environment, care for the elderly and improving public services high up the agenda.
It was therefore timely that Mel Young, probably Scotland’s most prominent social entrepreneur and co-founder of The Big Issue in Scotland and the Homeless World Cup, addressed an SCDI Influencers’ Dinner in the Inverness Marriot Hotel last week.
Social enterprises occupy the space between traditional charities and private businesses driven by shareholder value.
They trade in competitive markets and reinvest their profits in communities. The sector includes co-operatives, credit unions and housing associations. Recent studies suggest that there could be more than 3,000 social enterprises in Scotland, employing at least 30,000 people and adding £1.25bn to the economy.
These figures are expected to increase. There seems to be particular potential for growth in the Highlands and Islands in industries in which we have challenges and opportunities, such as recycling, renewable energy and social care. That is why a new company HISEZ (www.hisez.co.uk) was formed last year to support the sector, with backing from SCDI’s partners for the dinner, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Communities Scotland.
A major reason that government is now giving the sector its full attention is the challenge of improving services in communities at a time when government spending is being squeezed.
Social enterprise is seen providing quality, value-for-money, locally-based public services. But can the sector deliver and how should it be supported?
The evidence presented by Mel Young was certainly compelling that it can. Research conducted one year after the 2005 Edinburgh Homeless World Cup revealed that 77 per cent of the players reported that the event significantly changed their lives forever.
Mel’s theme was that the social entrepreneur can deliver and inspire social change because they are more innovative, dynamic and concerned about the environment.
But he also highlighted that they face a number of problems in raising their profile among public servants and in getting access to funding and government contracts.
The sector’s umbrella body, the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition (SSEC), is calling for Scotland’s politicians to deliver 10 per cent of public spending through social enterprise by 2012, and create new investment funds for businesses that deliver social or environmental benefits.
For example, it wants to make it easier to secure community renewable energy projects.
The SSEC is organising an event at the Inverness Town House on 15th February to promote the sector to public sector procurement officers.
SCDI believes that there is merit in considering these ideas. Social capital and environmental sustainability are increasingly regarded as fundamental to long-term prosperity. They are two of this region’s main strengths.
If social entrepreneurship is to play a growing role in global economic, social and environmental policy then it is certain that Scotland, and the Highlands and Islands in particular, are well-placed to benefit.