Social Enterprise FAQs for Scottish Journalists

Posted: 15 January 2018, in Press Release

As media coverage of social enterprise increases across Scotland and beyond, we answer some of the more common questions about social enterprise raised by journalists.


Social Enterprise FAQs for Scottish Journalists

What is a social enterprise? Social enterprises are innovative, independent businesses that exist to deliver a specific social and/or environmental mission. This could be employing homeless people, providing social housing, recycling waste or something similar. They aim to make profit like any other business, but invest 100% of it in their social purpose. Social enterprises in Scotland are “asset locked” (all property, money etc. can only be used for their social mission). They’re a more ethical and sustainable way of doing business. Social enterprises are not charities that get most income from grants/donations and they’re not a business simply behaving ethically or an arms-length company of a public body. The definition of social enterprise varies across the world and even within the UK. A robust debate about definitions, within a constantly evolving business landscape, is something to be welcomed. There is no legal definition covering all types of social enterprise.

What examples are there?
Diverse examples include: The Big Issue, The Wise Group, Social Bite, Divine Chocolate, Cornerstone, Kibble Education and Care, media co-op, Glasgow Housing Association, Street Soccer Scotland, Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, Link Group Ltd, the Eden Project, Capital Credit Union, The Grameen Foundation, Mondragon Corporation and the Homeless World Cup.

Are social enterprises not-for-profits?
No. All social enterprises aim to make profit, just like any other business. The only difference is that they invest 100% of profit into a specific social and/or environmental mission.

So what’s the difference between a social enterprise, a social business and a social firm?
Sometimes different phrases are used but for clarity we use the specific term “social enterprise”. With no legal definition this helps distinguish authentic social enterprises. A social firm is a specific type of social enterprise that employees people with disabilities or other similar challenges. We sometimes use “more-than-profit”. We also support the Voluntary Code of Practice for Social Enterprise in Scotland.

How many social enterprises are there in Scotland and how big is their impact?
We’re a relatively small part of the wider economy but growing fast. The latest comprehensive research, launched in 2017 showed: 5600 social enterprises now operating in Scotland (up from 5199 in 2015), 64% of Scotland’s social enterprises led by women, £2bn GVA, the economic contribution of social enterprises to Scotland, 34% of social enterprises located in rural Scotland, 599 social enterprises formed in the last two years, 81,357 full-time equivalent employees in Scottish social enterprises and 1:2.5, is the average differential between the highest and lowest paid worker.

How is Scotland doing in terms of social enterprise?
Scotland is leading the way internationally in terms of social enterprise support and development, this eco-system of support is sometimes referred to as “the Scottish model”. There’s currently strong policy support from The Scottish Government and Parliament and all political parties at Holyrood.

What models of social enterprise exist?
The more-than-profit approach is used by many organisations, of every size, operating in every corner of Scotland and in many sectors of the economy. A social enterprise is often just a Company Limited by Guarantee with an “asset lock” and social mission. It could also be a registered charity, Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), Co-operative, Mutual, Social Firm, Community Interest Company (CIC), Development Trust, Credit Union or Housing Association (Registered Social Landlord / RSL). A social enterprise can be a combination of these models. Together they make up Scotland’s social enterprise movement. Read more about definitions.


Read the Complete Guide to Social Enterprise in Scotland. See our Live 24/7 Twitter newsfeed – news stories direct from over 650 Scottish social enterprises. Please get in contact with questions or requests for articles or commentary. We’re keen to hear from local as well as national print, broadcast and new media outlets: Duncan Thorp, Communications Manager, Social Enterprise Scotland, 0131 243 2650 / 07501 221 581,, Thorn House, 5 Rose Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PR. Social Enterprise Scotland is a Company Limited by Guarantee: SC294227. See: