Creating the next generation of global changemakers - Neil McLean

In November, Scotland hosted the COP26 climate summit which brought the need for businesses, government and individuals to encourage, promote and focus on social change. The Covid-19 pandemic has also had an unprecedented economic and educational impact on our young people.

Neil McLean, CEO at the Social Enterprise Academy
Neil McLean, CEO at the Social Enterprise Academy

That is why equipping young people with the skills and mind-sets needed to become job creators not only job seekers, is an essential component of Scotland’s economic recovery.

Café Connect was a social enterprise created by a group of primary seven pupils at St Albert’s Primary School in Glasgow. On a weekly basis around 120 to 150 people joined the pupils to connect new arrivals to Pollokshields. At the time over 60% of pupils had parents who spoke little English so it became known as the place to go for families to meet people who were kind and spoke their own language, as well as having a context to practice English.

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It was sustainable, run by pupils and was created for the social purpose the young people cared about: namely welcoming new families to the area with food and a friendly environment. It had a hugely positive impact on the young people and also the customers – but mostly it had a hugely positive impact on the wider community. They also collaborated with local social enterprises like Milk Café, which supports refugee and migrant women in Glasgow.

These young people created their social enterprise as part of Social Enterprise Schools - a pupil-led programme that empowers young people to create a business to solve the social and environmental issues that matter most to them. The programme offers young people the real life experience of running their own social enterprise while allowing them to develop essential skills for life, learning and work.

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Supported by the Scottish Government, our vision is to offer the Social Enterprise Schools programme to every school in Scotland by 2024. The programme has already engaged more than 50,000 pupils from 938 schools (around 38% of all Scottish schools) across all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. This will ultimately change Scotland for the better - a whole generation of young people using enterprise to solve a social issue they care about while learning entrepreneurial skills along the way.

As part of the COP26 summit, the Social Enterprise Academy held a special Dragons’ Den-style event in Glasgow to encourage young people across Scotland to bring forward their ideas in relation to climate change. It was invigorating to see so many pupils so passionate and engaged about tackling climate change through their social enterprises.

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I was particularly taken by the entry from St Denis’ Primary School in Dennistoun. Their idea to repurpose old cans and containers into plant pots, which would then be used to grow vegetables that could be distributed to the local community foodbank was incredibly innovative.

It started with a climate change focus to reduce waste and increase the amount of plants in the local area, but then evolved thanks to pupils’ desire to reduce hunger in their local community. This is a perfect example of young people having the enterprising mind-set that no matter what they go on to do in life, they can always use their skills in a way that is creating a positive impact in their community and beyond.

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Scotland is leading the way in building social enterprise into the curriculum, and since being developed here in 2007, Social Enterprise Schools has now been replicated internationally in Australia, Malawi, London, Malaysia, Egypt and South Africa.

As part of this replication, pupils in Scotland connected earlier this year with pupils in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to share their experiences as social entrepreneurs and share best practice between the two countries. Experiencing from young age the value of collaboration between peers in their own country and abroad.

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At the Social Enterprise Academy, we believe in the power of learning and development to transform people of all ages to become changemakers. While we know that reaching every school in the country is a bold ambition, having access to programmes like this are crucial to empower young people to create innovative businesses that will not only catalyse our economic recovery from Covid-19 and create jobs, but ultimately deliver a fairer, inclusive, more sustainable Scotland.

Neil McLean, CEO at the Social Enterprise Academy

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