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… 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…….


Project update: Housing through Social Enterprise


You know what they say – how time flies when you’re having fun trying to understand the health impacts of social enterprises in the housing sector. We’re nearly at the end of the first full year of the Housing through Social Enterprise project (Commonhealth Project 7), so we thought it would be a good time to provide a bit of an update. It’s been a busy year, but it’s only going to get busier…which is exciting, if a little daunting too.


What have we done so far?

Since we first outlined the project back in March, we’ve identified the three housing organisations who will be our partners in the research:

Homes for Good – a Glasgow-based social enterprise set up in 2013 as a not-for-profit hfg-logoletting agency, with the aim of supporting vulnerable households to access quality rented accommodation and sustain their tenancies. The organisation also has an investment arm, which is using social investment finance to buy and renovate properties, which it then rents out to people on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness and/or have a variety of other social needs. Unlike most letting agents, Homes for Good uses some of its income to provide a tenancy support service, helping tenants to deal with managing money, looking after their home, accessing specialist services, or whatever else is needed to help them sustain their tenancy.

Y People – a charity providing a range of support services to vulnerable people across yp-logo2Scotland. We will be working with two schemes run by Y People in Glasgow and South Lanarkshire, which provide a rent deposit guarantee for people who are at risk of homelessness, but are unable to access housing in the private rented sector because they have no savings for a deposit. The schemes provide support to tenants during the first year of their tenancy, helping them to maintain their tenancy and build up savings for the deposit.

NG Homes – a large, community-based housing association, which provides social ngh-logohousing for a substantial part of North Glasgow. As well as housing, NG Homes provides a range of regeneration and support services in partnership with other voluntary organisations, from money advice to community development. It also operates NG2, a subsidiary which provides training and employment for local people.

Through the spring and summer, we interviewed key staff from each organisation to clarify exactly how they work and to identify the different ways in which they may have an impact on their tenants’ lives. Crucially, we’re trying to understand the specific impact of these organisations as social enterprises and to develop new ways of measuring this impact. It might seem obvious enough that having a home is likely to make you feel better than not having one, but the question for this project is whether the involvement of social enterprises in providing housing delivers anything extra. Each of the organisations can be characterised as a social enterprise, but they exhibit their social-enterprisey-ness* in different ways, so looking at the three organisations should help us to understand what it is about being a trading, not-for-profit organisation with a clear social purpose that might deliver health and wellbeing benefits for various groups of tenants.


What have we found out?

To give some examples of interesting interim findings, three issues emerged from the staff interviews which we would like to explore further in our research with tenants:

  • Tenancy support – all three organisations place a lot of emphasis on supporting tenants to sustain their tenancies, but they each approach it in different ways. We’re interested in the ways in which the organisations’ not-for-profit status may help with such support, enabling them to invest in services for tenants. And we also want to look at the ways in which the ‘social mission’ of each organisation filters down to frontline staff and tenants.
  • Affordability – not surprisingly, affordability of housing came up time and time again when talking to staff of all three organisations. The diversity of the participant organisations across the social and private rented sector should help us to explore different ways in which not-for-profit organisations can tackle the challenges of housing affordability for low-income households.
  • Neighbourhood and community – we all know that location is quite important in terms of how a house feels (isn’t there a TV programme which has something to do with location…?), but houses generally don’t move, so issues of neighbourhood and community can be thorny problems for housing organisations. Again, there are some interesting differences which arise from the different models of the three organisations involved in the research – we want to explore the ways in which their social missions play out in terms of community development or, in some circumstances, enabling tenants to choose their community.

We’re currently working on a full report of this scoping phase, which we’ll be publishing on the Commonhealth website early in 2017.


What are we going to do next?

Having worked out exactly how each organisation works and identified some of the key areas we want to explore through the research, we’re now starting to recruit tenants to the project. We’re hoping to find at least 30 new tenants from each organisation who would be willing to be interviewed two or three times over the first year of their tenancy, helping us to explore what changes happen in their health and wellbeing and what it is about their housing provider that makes a difference in their lives. If all goes to plan, we should be able to produce at least some initial findings in the second half of 2017, so keep watching this space…


Steve Rolfe, University of Stirling

Lisa Garnham, Glasgow Centre for Population Health


*social-enterprisey-ness is a new term we’ve invented to talk about the different ways in which organisations can be characterised as social enterprises, without delving into the heated debate about definitions of social enterprise. Some organisations may be more ‘social-enterprisey’ in terms of the strength of their social mission, whilst others may be more ‘social-enterprisey’ in the way they reinvest trading profits.



My journey through the Highlands & Islands so far…..


The Growth at the Edge project (aka ‘the rural one’) is all about building a picture of the health and wellbeing benefits of social enterprise activity in the Highlands & Island of Scotland. As I have journeyed to some of the most remote and rural communities in Scotland in the past few months, I have been keeping a photo diary of my adventures….

I’ve met the most amazing community spirited people dealing with major transport issues, lack of services and issues that us urban folk may take for granted, such as access to fresh fruit and vegetables, or being able to reach a doctors surgery. Some rural inhabitants see themselves as the ‘forgotten people’, with ever depleting populations and a lack of vital infrastructure.

A run down filling station in Helmsdale, the only one in the area


In spite of such challenges, the people of rural communities are defiant and resilient, both making the most of what they have and continually fighting for more. They are coming together and building new community centres to create meeting places and to provide activities for all ages…….

 Atlantic Centre, Isle of Luing and the Seaboard Centre, Balintore

They are encouraging people to curate their heritage, and are fiercely proud of their history….

The Mermaid of the North and Fish Sculptures, celebrating the fishing folklore of the Seaboard Villages

They are bringing education, arts and crafts to their communities, utilising and nourishing the skills that they have in their populations…

Art projects and handmade woodwork at Cantray Park, Cantray

As well as offering employment to people in the local community, including vulnerable groups and those in need……

Shetland Soap Company, Lerwick and The Elgin Youth Cafe, Elgin

They are encouraging people to ‘grow local, eat local’, with many communities investing in land for traditional crofting and market gardens and education to promote healthy living….

Blooming polytunnels at Cantray Park, Cantray and healthy living education at Elgin Youth Development Group, Elgin

And they are also investing in renewable energy and the recycling of materials to aid the sustainability of their communities for the future of their generations……

       Wind Turbines and a brand new ReStore furniture upcycle workshop at Cothrom, South Uist

I have met some very interesting service users along the way…….


Some happy ducks and geese using the pond at the aviary at Cantray Park, Cantray (some had flown all the way from Canada just to use their service)

And I’ve literally been to the very edge of civilisation…..


Views from sunny Lerwick, Shetland

But what is most exciting is that this is only the beginning of my project and I’m looking forward to uncovering so much more! My journey will be taking me to many more remote and rural communities, all with their own stories, of which I hope to share with you along the way!

Reflections on the Knowledge Exchange Forum

A special Knowledge Exchange Forum (KEF) was held on 18 November to celebrate the halfway mark of the CommonHealth research programme. It offered the chance to hear the findings of some projects and the catch up on the progress of others.


The day was introduced by Professor Cam Donaldson, CommonHealth Principal Investigator, followed by a presentation of related research by Michael Roy and Bobby Macaulay. Bobby talked us through his findings from Project 2, his contemporary analysis of social enterprise as a public health intervention.

Two break-out sessions split the remaining projects, with one presenting case studies exploring in detail the links between the work of social and community enterprise and health/wellbeing (Projects 3, 4 and 5), while the other discussed testing ways of measuring the impact of social or community enterprise on health and well-being (Project 6 and 7).

After lunch, the day was reflected upon in three provocations which left us with more food for thought. Dr Oliver Escobar, Co-Director of What Works Scotland, University of Edinburgh, asked us to consider not only social good, but also democratic goods, such as empowerment and its impact on confidence & agency, and the benefits of civic participation.

Professor Carol Tannahill, Director of Glasgow Centre for Population Health and Chief Social Policy Adviser for the Scottish Government, explained that the Scottish policy context is favourable and that the Scottish Government is committed to reducing inequality and increasing inclusion. Professor Tannahill suggested the future success of public health, and indeed the public and third sector more widely, might be increased by pooling resources and coming together as funding becomes strained across all sectors. For those of us working on CommonHealth projects, what was particularly reassuring was Professor Tannahill’s comment that we are providing valuable evidence which will be welcomed by policymakers, and her encouragement that we should keep working on generating a cohesive body of evidence to help discussions currently ongoing within government.

Leona McDermid, Executive Director of Aberdeen Foyer, summed up the experiences of many social enterprises, noting that not only are those working to support and sustain the organisation exhausted, they also have no time to reflect at length on their impact and outcome. She welcomed her organisation’s participation in the CommonHealth programme as an opportunity to tell the stories they are producing through their work.

The CommonHealth research programme team will continue to find ways to tell the stories of all we work with, and thanks to the input of participants of this (and previous) KEFs, we feel reassured that people want to listen.

fiona Fiona Henderson  clemmie Clementine Hill OConnor

Thanks to @dialectographer aka Mitch Miller for the fantastic visuals he produced on the day that we have used in this post

Project 6 – Meaningful Measurement?

meaningful-measurement-imageFor the past two months I have been immersed in Aberdeen Foyer getting to know everyone and everything regarding their impact measurement processes. It has been a fantastic experience and at times provided more questions than answers! But as a researcher it just sparks my curiosity.

Throughout the project we have been using the term ‘meaningful measurement’ as it fits well with what we are trying to establish through our research. Many social enterprises find measuring their impact a chore rather than a meaningful activity. Measuring soft outcomes can be particularly difficult. You may have a variety of colourful and visual reports, spreadsheets and statistics but does it really mean anything? There is always uncertainty around whether they are measuring too little or too much, and with most social enterprises they are measuring what is required by funders.

After an initial feedback session to senior management the project will now feedback to all staff, accompanied by a lean thinking session. A change team at Foyer will then be developed to lead on everything regarding measurement processes from within.

I look forward to providing further updates and to discussing the work with the other researchers on the project team.

Melanie Liddell


John Pearce Memorial Lecture

jp-imageEarlier this month the Yunus Centre held their annual John Pearce Memorial Lecture focusing on community and social enterprise in a Scotland within Europe, an insightful lecture that really got you thinking about the challenges of the sector and the diverse perspectives of the community.

Pauline Graham, Chief Executive of Social Firms Scotland (SFS), joined us this year to provide us with a great lecture drawing on her own experiences and involvement with the government and third sector. Before joining SFS Pauline managed the Social Economy Scotland Partnership at SCVO attracting over £5million in EU funding to support social economy developments in Scotland. Pauline is an inspirational woman representing Scotland at European Commission level, and social enterprise on a range of government and Third Sector fora. She is the founding director of Ready for Business Procurement LLP, and has co-authored several publications related to the sector. It was a great opportunity to hear her speak, providing the researcher brain with some food for thought….

An interesting development, but debatable win for the sector is that the Government have committed to a 10 year strategy for Social Enterprises reflecting the sector’s confidence and finally giving a baseline, this is due to be launched in November. It will be interesting to follow this development.

Some emerging questions from this development include: in a sector so diverse, dynamic and continually evolving is it possible to formulate a 10 year strategy? The sector could look completely different in the next year never mind the next 10 years. Any such strategy will need to be adaptable and flexible to the ever changing needs and developments within the sector. Will the strategy be able to adapt in a timely manner to the changing needs of the communities that social enterprises serve?

Last year’s Social Enterprise Census in Scotland turned a spotlight on the fact that 36% of social enterprises did not say that they identify as a social enterprise. This could make buy-in to the Governments 10 year strategy challenging. Having come across organisations that do not self-identify as social enterprises, it is an interesting perspective where more research could be beneficial to find out why these organisations do not identify as social enterprises. What do they identify as? And how do they see themselves within the sector? There are two sides of the government strategy: how will this 36% (an astonishing 1366 organisations) respond and relate to the strategy?

Graham also reflected in her lecture on the values that student work placements in social enterprises have, do such placements offer added benefits over placements in private and corporate organisations? How can students apply their ideas, knowledge, skills and learning to help social enterprises? Should schools and universities be providing more placement opportunities within social enterprises? What about the value of such placements for skills such as citizenship and innovation?

Pauline mentioned that a key focus for the future is collaboration. Think about what could be achieved if all the offices involved (including Government) could work together to address the needs of our communities!

Melanie Liddell

For more information on the 2015 Social Enterprise Census please follow the link:

Innovative ways to talk about innovation


The International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) came to Glasgow last week, bringing 236 delegates from 34 countries to hear 168 presentations on the latest research into social enterprise and innovation. It would be impossible to capture even a fraction of the conference in one short blog post, so I’m just going to outline one session – the CommonHealth panel (which was obviously the best session anyway…)

One of the strange things about academic conferences, even those that are focused on social innovation, is how inflexible they are in terms of structure – 20 minutes of incomprehensible powerpoint, followed by 10 minutes of questions, followed by 20 minutes of incomprehensible powerpoint, followed by…etc, etc. So it was nice to be able to break the mould just a little with the help of three social enterprises who are working with us in the CommonHealth research programme. Rather than dry academic presentations, we asked each organisation to talk a little about what they do, how they do it and why they do it – a direct and personal introduction to the reality of social enterprise in Scotland. Here’s a summary of what they said:

hfg-renovation-picsFirstly, Joey from Homes for Good told us how they work as a not-for-profit letting agent and landlord to give vulnerable households access to quality, affordable housing. In a world where people can wait up to 12 years to access social housing, the private rented sector is increasingly being seen as an alternative for people at risk of homelessness. But for many people private renting can be a nightmare of extortionate rent levels, poor quality housing and appalling service from letting agents and landlords. Homes for Good is trying to break that pattern by taking profit out of the equation and providing quality housing at affordable rents.

The Housing through Social Enterprise project is working closely with Homes for Good and other social enterprises in the housing sector to examine what impacts they have on tenants’ lives and wellbeing.

onc-picSecondly, Irene from Orbiston Neighbourhood Centre in Bellshill described the vast range of activities run by and in the Centre, bringing people together to tackle poverty, isolation and intolerance. From childcare to a service for older people; a food coop and café to befriending; volunteering to computer learning; not to mention providing a base for a plethora of other local groups and services, there’s not much that the Neighbourhood Centre doesn’t do. One of the big challenges for Focus 50+, the CommonHealth project which is working with the Centre and other social enterprises addressing the needs of older people, is just how to encapsulate the diversity of impacts.

wevolution-wheelLastly, Eleanor from Wevolution talked about the work that they do to support self-reliant groups (SRGs) across Scotland. SRGs enable people to come together, build a common purpose through socialising and saving collectively, and in the long run to start a small business. From very small beginnings, SRGs are now popping up all round the country.

Eleanor also reflected on the experience of being part of the CommonHealth research programme, now that Project 4, Passage from India, is coming to a close. One of the key challenges of such research is how to build on the partnership when the initial research project has come to an end.

And if all of the excitement of hearing from social enterprises wasn’t enough, the session finished up with an open discussion of where the rest of the CommonHealth research is heading and how it can best fit into the growing body of evidence about the impacts of social enterprise. We even moved the chairs into a circle, although that level of innovation was a bit much for some people!

 Steve Rolfe