We’re most grateful to Duncan Thorp for this wee guest post. Duncan works in the world of Scottish social enterprise as a policy and communications officer, working alongside social entrepreneurs, politicians, councils, the private sector and the media.
There’s a quiet revolution going on. It’s actually been building momentum for around a century but its time has now come. Firstly it’s a real and practical revolution i.e. it’s actually happening and it’s not just in some political theory book read by dreamers and idealists. It’s also a unifying revolution that can be supported by liberals, greens, socialists, conservatives, communists and anarchists. It ticks the boxes depending on which way you view it.
The revolution is of course social enterprise. That radical mix of social and community business models, including worker co-operatives, development trusts, green enterprises, credit unions, CICs, social firms, housing associations and others. Indeed any business with a clear social or environmental purpose and that exists specifically for that purpose.
Not many people know it but Scotland has an international reputation for social enterprise, others come here to learn, with recent study visits from e.g. Korea and Brazil. The Big Issue is perhaps the most famous social enterprise. But Scotland and the wider world have many more success stories in most sectors of the economy. The Wise Group, Divine Chocolate, Kibble Education and Care, Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op, Owenstown, Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, Link Group Ltd, the Eden Project, Capital Credit Union, The worldwide Grameen Foundation, Mondragon in the Basque Country and the Homeless World Cup. They exist and they work.
Social and community enterprises are by definition businesses that must spend every penny on their social and/or environmental mission and are not about making owners or shareholders rich. They must lock in all their assets for community benefit. See it as fundraising if you like – the more money they make the more they can invest in that social purpose.
Social and environmental businesses should enjoy making profit, they should be professional, they should understand marketing, efficiency and enterprise and they should offer quality goods and services to the community, to consumers, to councils and to anyone else. These are the keys to success.
Look at the old models of delivery. The private sector is always about making money – that’s its reason for existing. There are good private companies, that contribute a lot to their community, but this can never be more than an add-on to their mission to keep e.g. shareholders happy. The public sector is in crisis. Services are being cut, people are suffering and this slow, top-down, bureaucratic delivery is persistently a failing model. Paternalism can never really serve community need. The traditional voluntary sector is feeling it too. Budget cuts, extra demands on services, lower levels of public and corporate donations. To continue to succeed they must adopt (where possible and appropriate) a new enterprising mindset, where social mission is seen in the context of business opportunities. It’s fundraising but in a new and better way.
The central issue is to look at the long-term impacts and effects of social and environmental businesses. It’s still a relatively small community, still a bit of a secret, still needing to grow and contribute more to real sustainable growth, to fulfilling and meaningful work and to regeneration. But what we’re potentially talking about is a social enterprise society, where there’s a natural redistribution of wealth, where people are empowered to change their own lives, where we have an authentic grassroots democracy and where everyone benefits equally. Scotland has this potential and Scotland can deliver.
But this movement for change goes deeper into the human psyche. The old models of service delivery are unable to deliver for human fulfilment, for happiness and for human potential. They can stifle natural creativity, freedom and an innovative, enterprising spirit. Making money for the sake of it is actually quite pointless and that cold, uncaring capitalism is no longer an option. We have a new way of doing things. So let’s go and do it.