Social Enterprise

The North East of Scotland has become something of a breeding ground for entrepreneurs. Aided in no small part by the North Sea oil and gas boom of the 1970s, the region has produced some of the most successful business men and women of our generation. For the past 12 years, the Grampian Awards for Business Enterprise have been recognising entrepreneurial achievements in all spheres, but just when we are beginning to understand conventional entrepreneurship a new and complex individual has entered the picture.

For the first time in the history of the event, all three finalists in the running for the Alick Buchanan Smith Spirit of Enterprise Award are third sector organisations: social enterprises and charities that show exceptional business acumen to benefit their communities as well as their own bottom line. The award is made in memory of the former Kincardine and Deeside MP, who was committed to enterprise and to the small businesses in his constituency. The award has never been specifically targeted at social enterprises, more at those who have the community at the heart of what they do. This year’s finalists have shown they can operate as viable commercial enterprises that can adapt to change and react to opportunities in innovative ways. I believe that social entrepreneurship can be a transformational force in society. It can often be driven by a love of community, the demand for fairness and equity or an environmental conscience: whatever the trigger is, we need more of these people around.

The three finalists excel in their respective fields. The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Traditional Boat Festival was originally held as a one-off community event to mark the 300th anniversary of the village harbour at Portsoy on the Moray Firth coast, but is still going strong 18 years later. Held this year on July 2 and 3, the celebration attracts over 16,000 people and is one of the region’s main visitor events. Not content with that, the volunteers have also carried out a £400,000 restoration of the historic Salmon Bothy in Portsoy to create a fully accredited museum, centre for genealogical research and community facility. Other developments on the horizon include the launch of a catering venue, the restoration of a redundant harbour side property to offer year-round courses in boat building, restoration and sailing, and management of the local caravan park which is being outsourced by Aberdeenshire Council. Learn more about the Festival at www.scottishtraditionalboatfestival.org.uk

The cuts in social funding have had a massive impact on the operations of third sector organisations, with staff often bearing the brunt of the shortfalls. Befriend A Child has weathered the storm better than most thanks to a bold strategic move to recruit more staff when other charities were cutting back. Taking on two employees with responsibility for fund-raising and marketing involved considerable investment and risk, but it has paid dividends, with relationships set up by the charity reaching an all-time high of 167 in the past year. It also carried out a detailed study of the children being supported and with 45% of cases showing backgrounds of substance misuse, it realised that it would be able to access new pockets of funding from the Lloyds TSB Partnership Drugs Initiative. That breakthrough attracted further funding from other organisations with similar aims and allowed the charity to take its work outside of Aberdeen city. More information about the charity’s work can be found at ww.befriendachild.org.uk

At Enterprise North East Trust we hear from organisations operating within the social sphere which struggle to be regarded as relevant in a corporate environment. For 2ReUse, a recycling initiative spearheaded by development trust Peterhead Projects Ltd, convincing the public and other businesses that they were not ‘just another charity shop’ was a major hurdle to overcome. In a six month period 2ReUse has achieved a turnover of £18,000, diverted 45 tonnes of waste from landfill and set up several training places for local people who, for a variety of reasons, face significant barriers to employment. The forward-thinking volunteers are now looking at other ways to generate income from other people’s unwanted goods and they are about to become one of very few outlets – possibly the only one in the UK – offering a recycling service for video cassettes. More information about 2ReUse is available at www.peterheadprojects.co.uk

Conventional entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs share a passion. They have the same drive, enthusiasm and energy, and I believe that they are learning to co-exist and understand each other. The social entrepreneur has high levels of drive, dogged persistence, strong values, incredible focus and a sense of responsibility for others. However, these attributes can also be damaging if not controlled. For social entrepreneurship to work, we need more skill and more layers of leadership: we need to think about how we equip emerging social entrepreneurs to build robust, sustainable enterprises. If we get this right the results will be stronger, more resilient communities taking ownership and playing an important part in the economic recovery.

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