The Way forward for Social Enterprise in Scotland: Reflections on a recent speech by Dr Michael Roy to the Cross Party Group on Social Enterprise, Holyrood (15 March 2016)

Dr Michael Roy is a senior lecturer at the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at GCU and has a supervisory role on the CommonHealth team. Recently he was invited to present his thoughts on the way forward for social enterprise in Scotland, based on his many years’ experience working in the sector and as an academic, to the Scottish parliament.

Here we pick up on some of his thoughts and reflect on the links with the emerging findings of the CommonHealth researchers.

The most supportive environment in the world for social enterprise?

Dr Roy suggested that Scotland has a highly developed system of support for social enterprise:

This ‘ecosystem’ of support enables the sector to develop and provide input to policy initiatives and exert influence at various levels of government. As pressure on government budgets grows, it is important, in my opinion, to maintain the level of support to the sector, particularly given the role that social enterprise might play in alleviating some of the symptoms of austerity measures, which are already being felt most keenly in our most vulnerable communities.

Here Dr Roy was referring to both geographical communities and ‘communities of interest’.

Doing social enterprise

Emphasising the importance of the act of establishing a social enterprise for communities, Dr Roy believes that:

Doing social enterprise –people coming together to solve a particular problem in their own local community –is a profoundly political (some might say radical) act. Doing so means that you have chosen to address some sort of problem within your own community and not left it to the state, or indeed to the market, to solve it for you.

Thus, although there is often a focus on social enterprise as a deliverer of public services it is also possible to examine the act of social enterprise as an alternative way of organising the economy. This chimes with current debates that the economy is supposed to work for society, not the other way around.

An intrinsic contribution to community?

In closing, Dr Roy suggested that there needs to be a greater recognition of the ‘wider –intrinsic- contribution of social enterprise to community and individual wellbeing in and of themselves’.

The CommonHealth programme is focused on beginning to unravel what exactly the intrinsic quality or qualities that social enterprises contribute to health and wellbeing in Scotland. Reflecting on the points above, research so far suggests that a commitment by practitioners to network and share their knowledge and experience at regional and national levels (for example through Community Business Scotland and later Senscot) have been an important factor in raising the voice of a diverse range of organisations working in both rural and urban contexts; an important foundation for today’s ‘ecosystem’. Likewise, a feature of the sectors’ work has been to find ways of operating that assist communities to identify ways through the social and economic challenges they face.

We hope that as our work develops to connect the values that have been historically important to the sector with findings on the latest challenges and opportunities facing practitioners.

We even dare to hope, like Dr Roy, that this may assist in maintaining political support for social enterprise in Scotland.

Dr Michael Roy and Dr Gill Murray