A dynamic and sustainable culture of social enterprise within the Highlands and Islands is set to play a crucial role in generating economic growth for Scotland.
Gearing up for Growth was the theme for this year’s Highlands and Islands Enterprise Zone (HISEZ) conference. HISEZ, itself a community interest company, was established in 2003 to promote and support the growth of social enterprise.
Chaired by Antonia Swinson, chief executive of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition, the 150 delegates heard from a range of experienced speakers about an increasing need for creative business development, the new opportunities for public tendering and how to grow community assets.
Geoff Pope, head of opportunities for growth team in the third sector division of the Scottish Government, spoke of the mounting support for the third sector. “Social enterprise is recognised for its innovation and growth potential. Its increasing role in providing public services, contributes to the Government’s strategy for sustainable economic growth in a wealthier and fairer Scotland.”
Creating sustainable local jobs, delivering vital public services and operating lifeline transport connections are just some of the valuable activities already carried out by social enterprises in the Highlands and Islands.
One such project, The Glenelg Ferry, was promoted as a good example of a community taking control of its destiny. With the threat of losing their vital ferry service link between the mainland and Skye, the communities of Glenelg and Kylerhea pulled together for a community buy-out.
“Social enterprise in the Highlands and Islands often starts as a solution to a problem in the community”, said social enterprise consultant Clive Sheppard, “but it’s important that we don’t forget our social mission. We should always take a business approach. Making a profit is a good thing – the difference is in deciding where the profits go”.
The value of proving social return was emphasised by Kevin Robbie, former chief executive of Forth Sector. “Organisations should be seeking to prove the social return or social value that they create, as this is of growing importance to those that purchase services, those that invest in the third sector and those that provide grant funding. Scotland has a dynamic and flourishing social enterprise sector and they need to demonstrate the wider impact of that dynamism”.
HISEZ is funded by the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Chris Higgins, HIE’s head of enterprising communities
said: “Growing community assets is one of the cornerstones in developing the Highlands and Islands as a competitive region that is home to strong sustainable communities, successful high growth businesses and offering an excellent quality of life.”
Kevin McDermott of Moray Social Enterprise Network, summed up the views of many of those attending. “An excellent event held with perfect timing, in the light of the Scottish Governments’ forthcoming plans for investment in the third sector. The workshops were informative; I learned about new opportunities in the sector and made contact with several social enterprises.