The Scottish Social Enterprise Academy

Posted by editor 26/09/2013 0 Comment 2863 views













The Scottish Social Enterprise Academy’s David Bryan talks to Jenny McBain about the making of social entrepreneurs. 

Please describe the career path which has led to your current position

I’ve always worked in rural development. I’ve been with the Academy for four years. My last job was Development Officer with the Community Recycling Network for Scotland. In this job it became obvious that social enterprise was the business model for any community recycling organisation aspiring to growth. Before that I managed the Sutherland Partnership, putting together a wide range of partnership projects in learning, economic development, community planning, childcare and the like.

Presumably social entrepreneurs have to be fired up with passion, mixed with a bit of altruism.  What other personal qualities would you say are essential to their success?

Innovation – the ability to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems. I often find that marine engineers make excellent social entrepreneurs. They are accustomed to turning their hands to a wide range of skills and finding ways of getting the job done, often in isolation and with few resources to hand. That s a lot like developing a  social enterprise.

A good business brain is essential. Most important is sheer bloody mindedness. Its been said that a marathon runner runs the first ten miles on their training, the next ten on their stamina and the last 6 on sheer bloody mindedness. The early days of setting up a social enterprise can be a lot like those last six miles!

What type of training do you offer those who work in social enterprise?

We call it learning rather than training. Learning is open ended, and not limited to a fixed outcome. Running a social enterprise is unpredictable, you never quite know what is around the corner, so its important to be on a permanent learning journey. Our learning falls into enterprise, leadership and social impact measurement skills.

If someone signs up to a training session what can they expect?

To enjoy themselves. Learning is fun, it has to be fun otherwise we stop learning. Our learners are encouraged to share their own experiences and ideas. They learn from eachother as well as from the tutor, who is a social entrepreneur him/herself.

It would appear that the pursuit of personal profit has never been trendier.  What persuades talented individuals to look to the fourth sector?

Social entrepreneurs are driven. Driven by their values, their vision for society and often by the absolute need to provide services for their community. This is much more powerful than the instinct to make money, which in itself has never brought happiness or satisfaction to anyone. People often find themselves developing a social enterprise by accident, perhaps because its the only way to ensure their disabled child will have meaningful work, or because their community desperately need a lifeline bus service.

Who is the most inspiring social entrepreneur you have come across and what have they done?

That’s a tough one. There are so many who are have achieved great things, built really big enterprises and whose impact is vast. But I’m most inspired by people who work in the most difficult circumstances, with people in the most need of help – the social entrepreneurs whose mission is to ‘put the last first’. A great example is Robert Sinclair of Hebrides Alpha. His social enterprise provides work experience, support and a focus for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in Stornoway. Hebrides Alpha does all sorts of things that generate an income – recycling, gardening, power-washing your drive and more. They often work with people who the rest of society have given up on.

What are the most common pitfalls in running a social enterprise?

A disconnect between the directors and the chief executive. The relationship between the chair and chief officer in particular is crucial. They need to share a vision, and be clear about their mission. Often social enterprises suffer from mission drift, they find themselves doing all sorts of things which have nothing to do with their core purpose.

Are there any eye-wateringly funny moments you can recall?

One investment programme steadfastly refused to fund a building, or anything vaguely resembling a building. You could buy equipment, vehicles, or  just about anything but absolutely not a building. One social enterprise getting into biodiesel needed a building for their biodiesel equipment, and it had to be about 10 feet high. There was nowhere on their small island to put it. ‘Will they give us money for a shipping container?’ they asked me. ‘Yes.’ Can we have two shipping containers?’ ‘Yes!?’ ‘Then we will put one on top of the other and cut a hole in the ceiling so we can fit the biodiesel kit in’. And they did. The funder never did find out why they wanted the shipping containers.

Which business could be considered the most unexpected success?

None are unexpected, because successful social enterprises don’t happen by chance. But if I had to choose one, Made in Tain is a new social enterprise which makes high quality greeting cards and candles, beautifully packaged and presented. The goods are selling well in local shops. The work is done by children with additional support needs at a special school. They are very talented young people.

Do you think that the public needs to be educated about the existence of social firms, so they can offer them custom?  How can this be done?

I’m not sure people will ever buy goods and services from a social firm just because it is a social firm, not in any significant numbers. If a social firm is to be successful it must compete on price and quality, it must find a place in the market. The social enterprise tag – the small print at the bottom of the menu or receipt, is an added extra. If the product or service is good, that might be enough to ensure repeat business.




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