More than 200 delegates from three continents will gather in Inverness next month (10-11 June) for the Scottish Social Enterprise Summit; the first event of its kind to be held in the Highlands.
The summit will give social enterprise practitioners from across the country the opportunity to learn about, network and trade with third, public and private sector organisations from the UK and overseas.
The sector currently generates £53 million for the Highlands and Islands economy and employs 1,700 people. In addition it provides opportunities for 8,700 volunteers whose work is valued at £10.8 million.
Policy makers in the UK and beyond increasingly recognise the direct contribution of social enterprise to economic growth, social well-being and improvement of public services.
The importance of social enterprises in tackling inequality, creating jobs, developing skills and boosting the economy, is why it is a priority for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), one of three organisations behind the summit.
HIE this year marks the 50th anniversary of its predecessor, the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB). Director of strengthening communities, Rachael McCormack, has worked hard to bring the summit to the Highlands.
She said: “Social enterprises bring far reaching economic and community benefits to many of our most rural areas. They create jobs, attract people and bring investment. Our regions social entrepreneurs are very ambitious and optimistic. The sector is expanding and is well placed to drive further growth in areas such as creative industries, renewable energy, food and drink and tourism.
"Hosting this international summit in the Highlands offers practitioners and social businesses the chance to showcase their products and services, learn about and share what’s going on in the sector, and explore potential partnership and collaboration opportunities with other delegates.”
Social enterprises trade like any other business, but at their heart they have a social purpose; trading for social, community and environmental benefits and reinvesting their profits to deliver their social purpose.
CEIS, itself a social enterprise, has been commissioned to organise the event. CEIS was established in 1984 to support other community and social enterprises in Scotland. It works with partners across the world to share and develop new approaches and systems that support social enterprise development.
CEIS chief executive, Gerry Higgins, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this event; the first of its kind in the Highlands and the first UK event to focus primarily on rural social enterprise. When CEIS works with social enterprise partners around the world, we have a special regard for the contribution of rural social enterprises to improving the wellbeing and sustainability of the communities where they are based.
"Scotland is one of the leading social enterprise nations in the world and there is much international interest in the experience of social enterprises in Scotland and how over the next ten years, rural and urban social enterprises will increase their economic and social impact to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous society. The Summit in Inverness will offer a great opportunity for lively conversation, good business and expanding horizons for all those participating in the conference and attending the trade fair.”
Social Enterprise Scotland, the membership organisation representing the sector, is the third body behind the event. SES chief executive, Fraser Kelly, said:
"Rural social enterprises lie at the heart of community-led regeneration, meeting local needs through innovation and enterprise. Living in a rural community I understand the issues, including the pull of the big city regions, which offer both opportunity and challenge. Economic growth, housing, health, employment and the environment are relevant in both urban and rural communities but the solutions to address those challenges are very different. The Social Enterprise Summit 2015 is an outstanding opportunity to understand the contribution of locally owned and locally controlled social enterprises to Scotland's economy. Whether your interest is learning about approaches from around the world or in seeing best practice in a local setting, this event should not be missed."
A ten year vision for social enterprise will be discussed at the summit. This draws on recent research, which suggests the future looks bright for the sector.
Nearly two thirds of social enterprises expect their turnover to increase in the next three years, and a quarter of them expect it to remain steady. Over a third also expect to increase the number of paid employees.
There is also a strong sense of entrepreneurial spirit among practitioners in the Highlands and Islands. The skills and experience, especially among older people involved, are of a high standard.
Rachael McCormack is very clear about HIE’s role in achieving that vision. She said:
“The social economy in the Highlands and Islands continues to demonstrate outstanding innovation in overcoming many of the region’s challenges. We will be working alongside social enterprises to support this remarkable entrepreneurialism and the powerful contribution it makes to strengthening communities and local economies across the region.”