Scotland can lead the way on social enterprise

As featured on Third Force News.

Through the haze of a hot summer (yes, for once, even in Scotland!) and set against prospects of storm clouds hanging over global collaboration and international trade, there are bright prospects for the ever more prominent field of social enterprise and Scotland is taking a lead.

September will see the Social Enterprise World Forum returning to be hosted in Scotland after a decade – where it all began.

The voyage around the world over the last 10 years for the Forum has taken in (in no particular order) countries and cities as diverse and far apart as: Italy (Milan), Brazil (Rio), Canada (Calgary), South Korea (Seoul), South Africa (Cape Town) and New Zealand (Christchurch). Each Forum has taken its own form, but all have seen a rich sharing of approaches and models, from across the globe, in how to trade for and/or with social purpose.

Along that voyage, the Forum has witnessed discussions on the comparative merits of: various co-operative trading models, micro-financing schemes, various structures that lock-in or asset lock surpluses and assets for social purposes (ranging across charities, community-interest-companies and other less regulated and/or yet more flexible forms of structure).

On its journey, the Forum has seen sharing experiences of what has and has not worked well in countries, in terms of different national approaches to nurturing trade for social good, be that legislative measures (German approaches to company law and worker shares to Indian approaches to mandatory social responsibility contributions, for example), or legislating for bespoke legal entities such as British Columbia’s legislation permitting the creation of Community Contribution Corporations (CCCs) around the 2013 SEWF in Calgary, or bespoke structures designed (not always with success) to lock-in the benefits of trading activity for social purposes.

And all the while on that journey, the national and international context for social enterprise has continued to evolve. Taking the investor perspective: with an outlook 10 years ago almost entirely in financial-returns-only terrain, increasingly this has become one to which a greater number of investors look for social return, in addition to the financial return, on money they invest – though many still say investors have a way to go. This pushes interest in investment opportunities which then pushes interest in enterprises structured to lock-in a social return. Taking the entrepreneurial end, an increasing number of people are looking to create structures for new ideas that not only benefit them but also, if successful, lock-in a benefit for all.

In the mid-ground, countries from all across the range noted above, and more, are exploring regulatory regimes, potential tax initiatives and wider initiatives within remits of possible government intervention, to support the social enterprise movement. It is fair to say that Scotland is amongst the leaders in all of the above areas and leads the pack for some things, in a way that involves not only social entrepreneurs and those core to the social enterprise movement but also draws in the financial, private and public sectors too.

I find it can help to think of social enterprise as falling within a spectrum, running from regulated charities at one end to out-and-out money-making businesses at the other and with a variety of structures/options in between. Going back on the 10-year journey, some were struggling with achieving enterprise within regulatory structures at the charity end, whilst the culture at the business end didn’t have much of a social focus to speak of. Now, in 2018, and across the globe, shared ideas, thoughts and practices are blurring the end spectrum binary clusters and creating a more vibrant range of global enterprises – focused on locking in social objectives.

At MacRoberts, we’ll be delving into what is happening within that vibrant range, both in advance of and during the Social Enterprise World Forum. Get involved.

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