Social Enterprise: When Money Is Not the Bottom Line

Posted: 26 December 2015, in Sector News

Social Enterprise: When Money Is Not the Bottom Line

SES interview and information as part of The Courier newspaper supplement on social enterprise – pages 4 and 5.

Published in The Courier newspaper at on Saturday 26 December


When was Social Enterprise Scotland founded and why?

An emerging need for businesses to contribute more social value and a gap in campaigning and profile raising on behalf of social enterprises, led to the launch of Social Enterprise Scotland in 2005 (originally named the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition). The aims were to promote social enterprise as a dynamic business model, championing the benefits of social enterprise to a broad range of people and as a member-led organisation represent the interests and views of social enterprises to policy-makers in Scotland. The original aims included commitments to “promote social enterprise as a means of relieving poverty and to advance education in Scotland in respect of social enterprise and its values and benefits”. Today these original aims remain but within an evolving and fast-changing social enterprise landscape.

What has it achieved to date?

Social Enterprise Scotland has helped raise the profile of social enterprise in Scotland from a starting point of virtually no public awareness to one where it’s mentioned in mainstream, specialist and social media on a daily basis. Alongside the vital work of our partners in Scotland, the UK and overseas, dedicated practical business support, an ongoing policy focus at all levels and greatly improved public engagement, is now the norm. We’ve established many forums that have brought people together to support and develop social enterprise, including practical trading opportunities and networking to learn about best practice. The significant growth in social enterprise activity, as evidenced in the recent Social Enterprise Census, has happened during the period in which we have been established and campaigning.

How does social enterprise actually impact on the life of the man or woman in the street in Scotland?

Every time you buy something from a social enterprise it’s society that profits – it benefits every one of us. Ethical shopping is not just a nice thing to do, it’s good for you and me, our families and friends. Social enterprises operate in nearly every part of the economy and across the length and breadth of the country. They’re a vital anchor in every Scottish community, both rural and urban. Whether it be in housing, financial services, food and drink, architecture, private security, creative industries and transport, social enterprise is more consumer-facing than ever before. Close to 70% of all social enterprises in Scotland are now selling direct to the general public and the option to choose to buy products and services from a social enterprise is now more widely available than ever. Social enterprise is making a significant contribution to local economies, providing jobs, regeneration and community empowerment. With 22% of all social enterprises in Scotland located in the Highlands and Islands, the contribution of social enterprise in rural communities, in particular, shouldn’t be underestimated.

What are the plans for the future for Social Enterprise Scotland?

Social Enterprise Scotland will continue to campaign with key partners at national, regional and local levels, to deliver policies that create an environment where social enterprise can flourish. We’ll continue to influence legislation and, for example, guide the implementation of the Scotland Bill, as we did with the Community Empowerment and Procurement Reform Acts. We’ll continue to be member-led and will continue to champion social enterprise, as a better way of doing business, with the media, with business and with the general public. Social Enterprise Scotland will promote the benefits of social enterprise as a key part of the mainstream business community in Scotland, helping others to come over to the social enterprise way of doing business. We’ll aim to deliver the key message that business and competitiveness goes hand in hand with tackling inequality and social exclusion.

Background information: What exactly are social enterprises?

Social enterprises are innovative, independent businesses that exist for a specific social or environmental reason. This could be, for example, employing former offenders, helping homeless people, providing elderly social care or recycling waste. There’s probably a social enterprise running a shop, art gallery, sports centre or cafe in your local area. Social enterprises trade in all markets, selling goods and services. They aim to make a profit just like any private sector business. However, 100% of profits are always reinvested back into their social or environmental purpose. Social enterprises have what’s called an “asset lock” on all their buildings, land etc so it can’t be sold off for private gain. They shouldn’t be confused with private businesses that simply operate in an ethical way, charities that don’t do business or public sector arms-length companies (ALEOs), though some of these may be “emerging” social enterprises. Credit unions, social housing providers and some charities are social enterprises. Examples include The Big Issue, The Wise Group, Divine Chocolate, Cornerstone, Kibble, media co-op, Glasgow Housing Association, Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, Link Group Ltd, the Eden Project, Capital Credit Union, The Grameen Bank and the Homeless World Cup. Scotland is a big success story in launching and supporting social enterprises. According to the latest 2015 Social Enterprise Census we now have over 5,000 such businesses across Scotland. Over 200 new social enterprises are formed in Scotland each year. The Highlands and Islands has 22% of all social enterprises, with Edinburgh and Glasgow accounting for 26%. 60% of social enterprises have a woman as their most senior employee and 68% of social enterprises pay at least the recognised Living Wage. They provides over 112,000 jobs, with £1.15bn in combined traded income, Net collective assets of £3.86bn and with a Gross Value Added (GVA) figure of approx. £1.7bn.