Social enterprise

Social Enterprise

Social benefit at the heart of business.

A growing sector in the region

Social enterprises are big business. Over 88,000 jobs are supported by the sector in Scotland and it contributes £2.3bn GVA. Around a third of Scotland’s social enterprises are in rural areas. There are more than 1,200 in the Highlands and Islands. 

Social enterprises trade just like any other businesses, but at their heart they have a social purpose. They trade for social, community and environmental benefits rather than distributing profits to shareholders or owners.

Across the HIE area social enterprises own and manage land, including whole estates and islands, harness renewable energy technologies, create employment, undertake infrastructure projects and provide an increasingly diverse range of essential services.

We work with around 150 social enterprises across the Highlands and Islands through our account management approach.

Support for Social Enterprises

As a business with a social purpose you have access to all our business support programmes, and a bit more. We are able to help earlier with developing your idea, and support you with various stages of development. Find out more here.

Social Enterprise in the Highlands and Islands

Some key facts from the Social Enterprise Census 2019


of our region's social enterprises are in rural areas


GVA social enterprise economic contribution


of social enterprises pay at least the living wage to employees


of our social enterprises are led by women

Support Network for Social Entrepreneurs 

We are currently lead partner in an exciting 3 year Interreg North West Europe funded project, focused on providing support to nurture and grow social businesses across North West Europe.

The Support Network for Social Entrepreneurs (SuNSE) is made up of nine organisations, from eight countries, together representing a diverse range of economies and geographies.

The project is creating an international network of hubs across Europe. Each one supports people to establish locally-based social businesses. This is great for community resilience - the new enterprises create career opportunities, and deliver what are often vital local products and services, regenerating communities with market failure.

Check out our latest newsletter to read what we were up to in 2019.

Social Start-Up School

Our hub model, being launched across the Highlands and Islands, is known as Start-Up School. Our hubs in Sutherland and Wester Ross are up and running. The Easter Ross and Outer Hebrides hubs are coming soon. You can find out more in our product page here.


Read more +

Community-owned development

In addition to the business services available to social enterprises, we also work with community led organisations to support community project planning, asset ownership, fund management and more.

If your enterprise is part of a wider community-led development find out the others ways we can help.

Support for community organisations

Enterprising communities

Meet some of the fantastic social enterprises and organisations already working in Scotland. They all have a great story to tell, and may provide some good ideas as you develop your plans.

Case studies of our remarkable communities