Our head of social enterprise development, Margaret McSporran, has been working with local communities and for HIE for more than 25 years. She was invited to speak at the global Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Brisbane at the end of September.  

Mags and Finlay MacLennan from Community Land Outer Hebrides, shared our communities experiences on how Scottish legislation, institutions and initiatives can empower rural and remote communities. Aimee Spence from Inspiralba in Kintyre was also part of the Team Scotland representation. 

Here Mags shares reflections on some of the global thinking on issues shared by social enterprise and community-led organisations across the globe. 

A global approach to social enterprise 

HIE has a 50+ year track record in economic and community development; I have many years of working across our region in that field; so, I was delighted to be asked by Scottish Government to speak at this year's Social Enterprise World Forum; sharing HIE’s experiences and learning from social enterprise entrepreneurs and ecosystem colleagues and peers from across the globe. 

“A single idea, with the right conditions, can ripple across the World. 

One connection can trigger a movement; one story can dismantle broken systems. 

A solution shared can create new futures; 

When a movement is building and all the elements come together; change is possible.” 

These were the inspiring opening words at the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) 2022 in Brisbane - the largest social enterprise conversation in the world. The event was incredible, the agenda and logistics a feat of co-design planning that brought together 93 countries and more than 2,770 participants virtually and in-person.  

The connection achieved across so many nations was inspiring. As was the line-up – there were 34 countries represented by speakers including from across Australia, as well as Cameroon, Costa Rica, Fiji, Ireland, The Netherlands, Palestine, Pakistan, Scotland, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Vanuatu and more.  

The Conference more than evidenced that around the world social enterprise continues to grow as a force for good.  Over 70% of speakers had not spoken at SEWF previously, 60% of speakers identified as women or girls and around 20% of speakers were under 30.  

SEWF established in Scotland in 2008 and has worked over the last 14 years to create a better tomorrow; widening the tent of social purpose activity, inspiring and establishing, communities of practice. 

Hélène Malandain, SEWF Chair, set the scene in the delegates welcome: “As a movement, we’re the most global we’ve ever been, and we have the greatest sense of place we’ve ever had. To transition to a new impact economy we need greater, faster innovation, deeper connections and more effective collaboration. And we need to hear the voices of the communities – because they know best what a thriving life in a thriving place should look like.” 

Climate solutions; policy and systems; excellence and failure; indigenous social enterprise; youth; business development and training; rural; and finance. The themes discussed highlighted that as nations and regions our social enterprise movement challenges are similar; it is culture that differentiates. Our cultural differences are so important to our respective people, places and prosperity and those underpin the essence, necessity and value of community led development of solutions.  The conference evidenced the value of knowledge and ideas sharing to that community led development.  

Key reflections: 

Private sector and social enterprise – a relationship worth pursuing 

There was an inspiring session delivered by three social purpose organisations who are working with large corporates in New Zealand and Australia. The development of each was such a strong fit, that the impacts and gains of the partnerships were dramatic in: 

  • taking social responsibility goals and reinvestment of surplus funds to a new level; 
  • building scale and sustainability for the social enterprises;   
  • delivering the socially focused activity be that care, education or support to disadvantaged groups.    

In a world where corporates are advancing and shaping their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies to embed positive impact in the actions of their businesses, social enterprises have the potential to provide support that can define and meet ESG goals. 

What was also interesting to hear was corporate based colleagues reflecting that such partnerships worked best where there was mutual respect in such collaborations to “unleash the talent of people” and “not hierarchy bound” and that through these collaborations progress is being made on the serious business of making change, be that social or place based.  

Parallels in Place 

We were fortunate to see some of that work on the ground and hear and see organisations impact in Place. In Place terms I was particularly interested in the parallels of some of the international community (place) land-based enterprises and community land ownership projects in the Highlands.  

The funding models differ due to legal structures and the options open to the respective projects for taking on debt or equity but nonetheless the social impacts being generated in terms of the economy and wellbeing were remarkable.  

Local procurement and supply chains can  bring corporates and social enterprises closer together to facilitate the benefits for each.  The benefits of this are not just the direct economic growth but also community benefits from procurement adding value locally and contributing to corporate ESG goals.  Some of the learning from Australia will feed into these conversations with colleagues supporting social enterprise development over the coming months.   

Building capacity for social procurement: global perspectives on supplier development  

Social enterprises participating in procurement: how far can we go? There was acknowledgement that unbundling is not a sustainable way forward (where larger contracts are divided into smaller contracts).  

Discussion concluded that there is a need to increase corporate/social enterprise networking and partnership working. With a longer line of sight provided on contracts coming up the focus is on potential suppliers be they private, social or a JV of both ensuring that they prepare well in advance to be tender ready and fit to contract. In Scotland 14 waste focused entities have formed a collaboration and taken on a contract in the circular economy. Positive news but evidence that more social participation and impact can be achieved if the collaborative approach can be successfully achieved more widely). 

Municipal and rural government: creating supportive ecosystems  

The experience of social enterprises wishing to collaborate was that there can be starkly different perspectives between local authorities and economic development agencies. Discussions highlighted some local authorities’ relationships predominantly remain formed on commerciality, scale and value for money; whereas economic development relationships appear to give more cognisance to wider impacts to be generated. With the growing awareness and focus on wellbeing across the globe it was clear that both perspectives can work together to develop ecosystem support that benefits supply chains and increases social participation.  

Following the conference itself there was an opportunity to meet some of the local organisations to explore on the ground approaches to community-led rejuvenation in rural communities.  Community land and asset ownership and development was at the core of discussions of the multicultural group. As ever, in good communication and collaboration, there was a great deal of value in understanding each other’s community led approaches and sharing appreciation of the wider cultural and legal environments and opportunities and challenges we work with.  

Just one of the organisations we met was SevGen, short for Seven Generations. Native American tribes and Australian clans hold dear the concept of seven generations planning, (that the impact of decisions should be considered seven generations into the future, about 150 years!). The idea being that our decisions today should consider the potential benefits or harm that would be felt by seven future generations. They deliver a range of social enterprises all of which have learning at the core for those of us who have been ‘dis’sed: disconnected, disenfranchised, disempowered people who are seeking a deeper meaning and sense of purpose in their lives.  

In closing SEWF 2022, Gerry Higgins, Founder and Managing Director, SEWF noted: “Our movement is stronger, more global, more diverse and far more impactful due to the tireless work of social enterprise leaders and teams, effective intermediaries, grassroots networks and all those who support them to achieve their social impact. Our mission at SEWF is to grow a global impact economy and this feels far more realisable as we now work with an increasing group of strong allies.” 

The connectedness and alignment of the conversations certainly demonstrated a strong will and force to work to achieve global impact whilst acknowledging and respecting cultural, and contextual differences. That learning will contribute to activity as we drive forward in building inclusive growth through social enterprise, stimulating enterprise, developing stronger organisations and realising market opportunities in the Highlands and Islands. 

Registration for 2023 SEWF in Amsterdam is now up on the SEWF site.  

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