The Audience for a Social Enterprise Strategy

The Audience for a Social Enterprise Strategy
January 2015


The third sector has a public benefit function in society. Social enterprise (SE) is an adaptation of the third sector which recognises that the market economy offers the potential of establishing certain social provisions on a sustainable basis – independent of external subsidy. Additionally – trading for public benefit rather than personal wealth challenges normal market assumptions – and demonstrates that society can be organised differently. Whenever it is clearly differentiated from private commerce, (asset locked) SE can be seen as a radical, alternative economic model.


In this context, a SE Strategy for Scotland can be expected to attract 3 bands of interest:
1.      the wider SE community.
2.      the wider third sector.
3.      wider civil society.


1.      The SE Community: the number of SEs in Scotland is normally stated at between 3,000 and 4,000. It is reasonable to assume that a clutch of half a dozen individuals attaches to each of these (workers, trustees, volunteers etc). We can thus estimate a core SE constituency of around 15/20,000 individuals.
2.      The wider third sector: SCVO estimates this at around 45,000 organisations – which (broad brush) employ  around 140,000 workers and engage almost 1.3m volunteers  – encompassing segments like the voluntary and community sectors; themes like social housing, community care, employability etc. We’re looking at quarter of a million people who can be assumed to have an interest in the financial sustainability of their services.


3.      Wider Civil Society: this third band of interest was seen to expand significantly during 2014 – but remains the most difficult to quantify in numbers. Focused around the generic issue of independence – many thousands of Scots became actively engaged last year with civil and political organisations – which were mostly new and self organising. Many citizens tried to imagine and articulate the kind of society they would like Scotland to become; some joined movements for change – and now campaign for all manner of social, economic and environmental justice.


No one can predict how the events of 2014 will play out – but asset locked SE offers an alternative economic model which seems to coincide with the mood of the present Scottish emergence. There are indications that our new citizen activists have an appetite for a fairer, more equal social order – organised for the benefit of all. This could bring SE more into the mainstream – as a normal organisational model.