Earlier this month the findings of the latest census of social enterprise activity in Scotland was published (www.ceis.org.uk). From the many facts and figures presented in the census report it is clear that the number of social enterprises has continued to increase since the 2015 census, reaching a current total of 5600. The positive economic contribution those enterprises make remains considerable. As the census report also highlights, there are social enterprises of all shapes, sizes and forms across Scotland. However, the majority are small-scale ventures. Many are based in rural locations and have been set up to meet the needs of those communities.
If you delve into the story behind the development of many of the social enterprises in Scotland, you will learn about the support and guidance provided by Firstport. This organisation was established in 2007 to help social entrepreneurs turn their ideas into action. Over the past decade Firstport has gone from strength to strength, and I am quite sure the social enterprise scene in Scotland would not be as flourishing and vibrant without the committed work of Firstport’s staff encouraging, energising and guiding dedicated and passionate people to build sustainable organisations to help individuals and communities across the country. As an academic, I am deeply grateful to Firstport for inspiring and supporting some of my students to think about how they can put their knowledge, skills and experience into action to make a difference in their own communities.
Earlier this week I received a copy of Firstport’s report “Learning to start something good”. This was produced to commemorate the first 10 years of Firstport’s operation in Scotland. The brief film accompanying the report is both insightful and inspirational. You can access a copy of both the report and the film via the Firstport website (www.firstport.org.uk). Like the census document, the Firstport report is packed full of facts and figures about what has been achieved over the past decade. The report also looks forward and incudes some clear aims for Firstport’s further development.
Reading both the 2017 census findings and Firstport’s commemorative report this week, I have been struck again by the difficulties associated with providing a comprehensive account of the impact that social enterprises are making across Scotland – the difference being made to the lives of individuals within our towns, cities and rural areas. For many social enterprises recording, measuring and reporting impact is a considerable challenge, particularly during times of limited or diminishing funding sources. Some aspects of the work of social enterprises are easy to count and report in neat charts, graphs and tables, but so much of the real “difference-making work” is much harder to account for and present.
In Project 6 of the CommonHealth Research Programme (Aberdeen Foyer – An Impact Journey) we are wrestling with precisely that recording, measuring and reporting challenge. Working in close collaboration with staff at Aberdeen Foyer, the project team is currently knee-deep in exploring and reviewing a wide array of existing tools and techniques designed to address aspects of impact measurement and/or reporting. In the midst of ploughing through the reviewing and research process, it has been uplifting this week to be reminded, through the Firstport report, that social enterprises across Scotland are truly making a difference, and that organisations like Firstport are enabling and equipping social entrepreneurs to make that difference.
Happy birthday Firstport! Thank you for the difference you have made over the past decade. I, and I am sure many others, look forward to hearing about your journey over the next 10 years!
Professor Heather Fulford
Aberdeen Business School,
Robert Gordon University