Alastair Davis: Scotland is ripe for social business, so let's be bold

For a long time, entrepreneurs in Scotland have been faced with a potentially conflicting choice '“ between a focus on maximising profit or social purpose. A focus on purpose meant surrendering all but the most limited of profit; and focusing on both resulted in exclusion from the established social enterprise ecosystem.

Millennials believe that business success is not just financial
Millennials believe that business success is not just financial

But these conventions are increasingly being challenged, particularly by the next generation of mission-led entrepreneurs and consumers, who see profit and purpose not as a choice but as a symbiotic relationship. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) of millennials believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.”

Acclaimed economist Professor Noreen Hertz made waves in the past two years through her research into what she has called Generation K (‘K’ for Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games), the next generation of 14-21-year-olds. Through her research, Hertz has found that this generation of future employees has a mindset very different to that of older millennials. They have distinct ways of engaging, consuming and behaving, which are presenting significant challenges to business and education. Only 6 per cent trust big corporations to do the right thing and when asked what comes to mind when they think of global corporations, they typically cite terms such as exploitative, greedy and untrustworthy.

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Attitudes towards the role of business in society are clearly changing but is the business ecosystem keeping pace? Are today’s entrepreneurs competing in a world in which mission-led businesses can prosper on a par with any of their commercial counterparts? It’s fair to say that we’re still a long way from reaching this ideal.

However, I believe that here in Scotland we are uniquely placed to create an environment in which social entrepreneurs can thrive. With an agenda for inclusive growth, our society and economy is absolutely ripe for social businesses to play a pivotal role, whether they be social enterprises or mission-based businesses.

Where social enterprise has paved the way for an alternative way of doing business and providing public services within local communities, ‘profit with purpose’ now offers a chance to achieve the scale necessary to make a significant impact in tackling some of society’s most significant challenges.

At the moment, Scotland’s ‘profit with purpose’ movement is still very niche. What’s now needed to spur this movement on is closer collaboration between all parties involved with supporting the business ecosystem – from specialist advisers such as accountants and lawyers, to intermediaries, investors, and policy makers.

We need to raise awareness of ‘profit with business’ as a credible business model and ensure that any entrepreneur who chooses to follow this path has the right support in place to maximise his or her chances of success.

None of this is beyond the bounds of feasibility. In fact, many of the changes required are fairly simple. However, if Scotland is to truly embrace the inclusive growth agenda, we need to be much bolder in supporting and nurturing the growth of mission-based 
Alastair Davis is chief executive, Social Investment Scotland