Last week we brought you the first instalment of our reflections from our recent Knowledge Exchange Forum. This week we follow up with more detailed comments on social enterprise support and structure.
Thanks again to everyone who came along and shared their experiences and proved that there’s a lot we can learn in the city of Discovery!
The strength of many social enterprises is their flexibility to be responsive to peoples changing needs
For many people working in the sector the central strength of social enterprises were considered to be their responsiveness to the needs of the community and the changing market, particularly in this time of austerity. The group agreed that while one size (or type) of social enterprise doesn’t fit all, catering for the diversity within our communities through this wide range of social enterprises is also a core strength of the sector. One participant felt that social enterprise can quietly challenge services and push them to be better, and her group agreed social enterprise can be a vehicle for small organisations to empower themselves.
However, the issue of delivering specific services also offered by the NHS was a controversial one, with the recognition that it could lead to a more joined-up, effective service delivery, but also could risk the state gradually retrenching support and funding as a cost-cutting exercise.
Social enterprises were also discussed as a test-bed for new ideas. One participant noted that the building of the Bluebell Flats in Dennistoun, Glasgow in the 1970’s resulted in the Council trying to persuade people to leave their homes in the tenements and move in to the new high rises. People were unhappy and one woman in particular resisted. From her resistance and subsequent community support, one of the first housing associations in Scotland was born. Today that housing association is still going strong and residents continue to enjoy tenement life. The Bluebell flats are being demolished as we write this…
Support for Social Enterprises
A major theme within the discussion groups was the need to support individuals attempting to sustain social enterprises who are struggling with the pressures of workload and uncertainties over funding. It was suggested that a network of peers would be valuable. This situation was seen to arise as a result of the often isolated nature of social enterprises and the lack of support offered by government or local Third Sector Interfaces.
Participants also talked about the ways that they are seeking to provide support for future social enterprises through colleges. Participants working at Dundee and Angus College described classes that they deliver for students involving social enterprise activities. Their aim is to engage young people with ideas around the meaning of social business and the value of money; allowing students to set up a mock social enterprise café on the campus, getting them to shop for ingredients and place a price on each item. Through this simple approach students learn about the significance of work, entrepreneurship, and the amount of effort that is needed to create something of value. Students are able to add these skills to their CV, but the experience also gives them an insight into setting up a social enterprise and, importantly, that they are capable of building something for themselves and their communities.
The idea of giving something back was one that powerfully united the Forum.
Bobby Macauly, Clementine Hill O’Connor, Danielle Kelly, Fiona Henderson, Gill Murray