Social enterprises in the Highlands and Islands are helping Scotland tackle social issues, promote equality and achieve economic growth, a major summit on the sector heard today (Wednesday 10 June).
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.
Delegates at the Scottish Social Enterprise Summit in Inverness; the first event of its kind to be held in the Highlands, heard how the region is home to 20% of all social enterprises in Scotland; 70% of which pay the living wage. Across the region there is a 50:50 gender balance on the boards of social enterprises and 60% of them have a female as their most senior employee.
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.
Speaking at the Social Enterprise Summit, Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “It’s exciting to be here at Scotland’s first summit on social enterprise in rural areas as a keen supporter of social enterprise and the benefits it brings. The Scottish Government is committed to enhancing social enterprise and building communities. Thanks to a package of actions, funding and tailored support Scotland is now positioned as a world leader in social enterprise.
“The world is changing and the time is right to strengthen our approach. We need to make sure that we have the right framework so the sector can flourish. We are working with partners in developing a strategic approach to social enterprise up to 2025. Over recent months, social enterprises have been discussing their vision for the future. The results of that work will help us to determine our strategic approach and the measures that need to be put into place.
“It is important to be ambitious but also to recognise what is achievable. We must also remember that social enterprise matters to lives of people. Social enterprises make a real difference in their communities and offer opportunities to those most in need. At the same time, these endeavours are demonstrating tremendous talent and skills not to mention in some cases, producing great goods and products.
“In 2015/2016 funding of £24.5 million of direct support for social partners is maintained. Over 1,000 social enterprises in HIE have benefited from our Ready for Business, Just Enterprise programme and Social Entrepreneurs Find. In addition, 25 organisations from HIE were awarded a total of almost £1 million (£976,000) from the £6 million Enterprise Ready Fund.”
Around 200 delegates are attending the two-day Summit which is giving social enterprises 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 importance of social enterprises in promoting equality, creating jobs, developing skills and boosting the economy, is why it is a priority for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Director of strengthening communities, Rachael McCormack, has worked hard to bring this year’s 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.”
Recent research suggests the future looks bright for the social enterprise 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 growing the sector. 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.”