Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy

It’s finally here…..after significant discussion, debate and deliberation the Scottish Government released Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy for the next ten years on Wednesday 14th December. But the question is, does it live up to and meet the needs of social enterprises in Scotland?

Previously there was discussion around this strategy at the Yunus Centre’s annual John Pearce Memorial Lecture (see here for link), and the first thing that brings a little comfort is knowing that the 10 year strategy has been broken down into 3 year action plans. A previous concern was how would it be possible in a fast, dynamic and continually changing sector to put together a 10 year strategy? Even a 3 year action plan is ambitious for the social enterprise sector! But…it is more manageable, and the strategy identifies an understanding of the world as ‘volatile, complex and ambiguous’, instilling confidence that the strategy hopes to continue to be re-evaluated and adapted alongside the sector as it changes.

The document as a whole gives good identification of social enterprises work in their communities (and is an easy read compared to some Government strategies):

  • it realises the potential of the social enterprise sector and how they are part of a global effort towards social change;
  • it realises social enterprises contribution to economy;
  • it emphasises the importance of partnership and collaboration with others sectors;
  • it recognises that social enterprises represent an important part of business and community life and will contribute significantly to a more inclusive Scotland.
  • and it promotes the need to normalise learning about social enterprises while contributing to our ‘world class research capabilities’ within the sector.

It is refreshing to see significant recognition for the work that the sector delivers, as at times it can be perceived that their contribution can go unnoticed. It is well deserved and gives assurance that social enterprises work has been realised and their contribution has been incorporated into the new strategy.

The strategy draws on the vital research conducted that formed the first social enterprise census (find here). With integrative support from active social enterprises and extensive research it can be perceived that the strategy has been constructed from the most knowledgeable throughout the sector and has the potential to succeed with the correct execution.

The document after introduction breaks down the political, social, economic and technological ‘plausible’ trend ‘predictions’, and overall the ‘predictions’ can be evidenced from within the sector. Although this has been identified the strategy seems to have a few over ambitious ideas in regards to addressing these. This will be further discussed by the research team in the coming weeks.

Before breaking down the framework the economic strategy lays out four key areas that will be the focus going forward:

  • investment
  • innovation
  • inclusive growth
  • internationalisation

The strategy then continues to elaborate and describe the three priorities for the social enterprise strategy (although vaguely at times):

  • stimulating social enterprise
  • developing stronger communities
  • realising market opportunity

These broadly cover the goals of both the Government and social enterprises. The strategy lays out the Scottish Governments ambitions for Scotland, which are closely related and interlinked with numerous social enterprises aims and objectives for their organisations:

  • to increase sustainable economic growth;
  • to create a world leading entrepreneurial and innovative nation;
  • better and affordable public services that rise to the challenge of tackling inequalities;
  • to build stronger, more resilient and supportive communities;
  • to be a good global citizen by increasing international reputation and addressing global challenges.

The majority of these ambitions (3 out of 5 in particular) are things that social enterprises have already been striving for, they have been working hard to tackle inequalities, they have been committed to building stronger communities and their dedication and devotion to making a difference shows just how entrepreneurial and innovative Scottish social enterprises are (figures can be found in the Social Enterprise Census, 2015). So it can be perceived that they have to continue doing the significant work that they have been and will have done despite the strategy but hopefully with Government collaboration it will provide further opportunities for local communities.

Although the strategy reads supportively, optimistically and praises the work of the social enterprise sector there are still a number of uncertainties. There are some things that do not align with the strategy at all e.g. cuts in funding support particularly in rural communities. The strategy’s priorities that give what looks like a great structure in fact has some very grey areas regarding just how they are going to deliver on some elements. There is concern about how much is known regarding social enterprise operations. The sector may be understood but its extensive diversity and how it operates is a lost throughout the strategy….

So…..now that we have the strategy and we have had time to digest it, we as a research team plan to bring further critical discussion to you regularly over the coming months that link in with emerging findings from the CommonHealth project. So stay tuned…….

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