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Scotland has a great enabling environment for social enterprise

March 19, 2014

Social Traders’ Mark Daniels reflects Yvonne Strachan’s visit from Scotland

Around the world, we see a broad range of Government approaches to the way in which social enterprise is supported. A recent visit to Australia by Yvonne Strachan, a senior official responsible for the Third Sector and social enterprise with the Scottish Government, provided insight into how social enterprise in Scotland has been proactively integrated into the Government’s mainstream economic strategy. Yvonne’s visit highlighted that Governments here in Australia could create a supportive environment that would accelerate the number, scale and impact of social enterprises providing significant benefits to citizens.

Yvonne’s discussion of the Scottish approach provided a clear argument and model for government to support and enable social enterprise. The Scottish Government sees social enterprise as the most flexible instrument for change in the third sector because it can significantly leverage government funds while directly delivering the social and economic benefits that all governments seek. Social enterprise is not on the fringe but rather integrated into the Government’s national economic policy settings. This approach has been building since 1999 and has accelerated since 2007, with bipartisan support. John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth takes the lead in championing social enterprise within the current Scottish Government. He will be a keynote speaker at the 2014 Social Enterprise World Forum being held in Seoul (14-16 October, 2014).

The Scottish Government’s commitment to partnership was an ongoing theme throughout Yvonne’s visit. Government works with the Social Enterprise Coalition and directly with social enterprises and other third sector organisations to identify needs and develop strategies. The social enterprise strategy includes funding for specialty tailored programs to provide capacity building and investment at various lifecycle stages, support for funded peaks and intermediaries, and there is work underway to change government procurement so that social benefits are recognised.

Interestingly, Yvonne was very encouraged to see the increasing role played by philanthropy and corporates in the social enterprise sector in. Some of the lessons for Scotland as highlighted by Yvonne include case studies in relation to social procurement along with more progressed guides and resources. Corporate involvement in mentoring, procurement and investment and the range of non-government investors are all areas that present opportunities for the Scottish government.

Yvonne’s visit provided a valuable learning exchange between our two countries. In Scotland there is a greater emphasis on the partnership between government, social enterprise and third sector organisations to enable development and growth of the sector. The Scottish Government also supports a variety of strong and specialist intermediaries focused both on capacity building and financial investment. In Australia there is currently a less coordinated policy framework for the sector. The vacuum left by government in Australia is in part filled by corporates, philanthropy and, to a lesser extent, larger social enterprises and not-for-profits, not as replacement for government but as creators of opportunity that in some cases would be inaccessible through government.

Increased government support for social enterprise and intermediaries to build the capacity of the sector, based on a strategic framework like Scotland’s, will accelerate the growth and impact of social enterprise in Australia. Government will benefit through strengthened delivery of economic and social outcomes and local communities will be the winners with solutions developed to directly address social issues. It is also evident however, that an Australian social enterprise strategy needs to mobilise the players of the broader economy who have been increasingly prepared to support social enterprise.

By Mark Daniels, Head of Market and Sector Development

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