Social enterprise has long been considered a purely third sector concept. However, recent developments have seen social enterprise break through into the mainstream agenda, as both an alternative business model and an alternative public service delivery model. So how can we, in Scotland, ensure that the pervading optimism surrounding social enterprises delivers on its vision to create a better world, using core business principles as a foundation, but with businesses that behave responsibly, act ethically and with a social purpose?
Starting with government and the public sector, much has been made about important efforts to open up procurement channels for social enterprises. There is a broader opportunity here, I believe, where government can use the third sector to deliver services on its behalf. Some argue this is privatisation by the back door – we at SIS disagree. There are many other examples of where social enterprises can add value to the delivery of public services, such as the Spartans Community Football Academy in Edinburgh, which is now being contracted to deliver PE classes in local primary schools.
Moving to the private sector, I see two main ways corporates can accelerate the growth of social enterprise, and not just by investing cash. The first is by finding ways for social enterprises to access the skills and expertise within the private sector. The second is by helping social enterprises sell directly to consumers. Until the consumer has the option of choosing social enterprise over commercial alternatives, the model will remain niche and peripheral. There are simply not enough enterprises selling to the general public, locally or at scale. This needs to change.
Finally, an adequate supply of social investment is crucial. How can a social enterprise plan for growth without knowing the right capital is available to fund it? Social Investment Scotland is lending more than ever, but other sources of investment, from individuals, banks, corporates, charitable trusts and institutional investors, must be made available.
So let’s talk – government, businesses, investors and social enterprises – about how we work with each other, be more ambitious and accelerate the growth of social enterprise in Scotland.
• Alastair Davis is chief executive of Social Investment Scotland (SIS)