Social enterprises have been around for a long time, from the early growth of the co-operative movement, through the development of community business in the 1980s to the establishment of the social enterprise concept we understand today through our Social Enterprise Voluntary Code of Practice. Successive Scottish Governments have seen the unique benefit of social enterprises and how they can contribute to the objective of inclusive economic growth.
The support agencies and intermediaries of the social enterprise world have responded to the need they have seen by establishing initiatives to nurture particular elements of the sector. These many initiatives, supported by financial and political support from the Scottish Government (and others), have led to what has become known as the Scottish Social Enterprise Eco-system. New support needs have emerged from the sector as it has matured, leading to some parts being lost, added and amended. The support eco-system is therefore truly organic and it changes rapidly with a plethora of initiatives, programmes and delivery agents. A good relationship in Scotland between policy makers and funders, and the sector itself allows for innovation to happen relatively quickly.
When an infrastructure gets to this stage there are two key challenges that start to emerge. Firstly it starts to look messy, with a multitude of players and accusations of duplication and a “cluttered landscape”. Secondly, existing and emerging social enterprises who need the support often report they are struggling to find what they need because it can appear so over-whelming at first glance.
There are two ways to address this. Either tidy it up, or find a way to help people to navigate the system to get the support they need. It is always tempting to do the former, through mergers, closures and re-structuring. If that had been done, there would be a lovely simplified eco-system, probably with a single lead representative body (maybe a division an existing umbrella body), business support as a branch of the Business Gateway network and a single training provider. We would lose the vibrancy, passion, drive, variety of approaches, collaborative methodologies, niche intelligence and specialisms. We would lose the multiple entry points that suit different social enterprises from different circumstances and at different times in their development.
In a much bolder move, the sector and the Scottish Government, as a core part of the 10 year social enterprise strategy, has chosen to invest in the latter approach. As a result, mapping has started to help the existing and future social enterprises and entrepreneurs, find the support they need quickly and easily. This map has been developed by Community Enterprise and designed by BOLD, and it has been a truly co-produced effort by the wider sector and the Third Sector Division of Scottish Government. Thousands of printed copies are being posted across Scotland this week and it can be seen at this link.
More importantly there is an acknowledgement that the map itself, like the sector, is responsive and organic. A simple but interactive version of the map is being completed now and discussions are starting to consider the way forward for the long term evolution of the eco-system map. Digitising this will help people find their way more easily and opens up opportunities to add thematic and geographic maps.
As thousands of maps wing their way around the support infrastructure of Scotland, we are celebrating the fact that Scotland’s social enterprise sector sees this not as a cluttered landscape, but as a vibrant, responsive and changing map to help navigate a vibrant, responsive and changing sector.