There is a revolution going on in the world of social enterprise where the lines are blurring between traditional companies and what were once described as charities, a space electrified by entrepreneurs with a social conscience like Josh Littlejohn at Social Bite and Alan Mahon at Brewgooder – channeling profits to homeless and clean water charities respectively.
In December, hundreds of CEOs slept out rough in Charlotte Square to raise funds to help build a village for the homeless on the outskirts of the city and it’s already become a seminal moment on the Scottish social enterprise scene. With recent news that Unicef is likely to launch a humanitarian data centre in Edinburgh, there is a real feeling that Scotland could be building a preeminent position in global terms when it comes to social enterprise.
For the last few years, the Scottish Business Awards, supported by the Tom Hunter Foundation, has brought A-list celebrity charity crusaders like George Clooney and Leonardo Di Caprio to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre for what has become the largest business dinner event ever held, channelling millions of pounds to charities across the planet and putting Scotland firmly on the map when it comes to business philanthropy.
Later this month, a guy called Barack Obama rolls into town for one of his first speaking engagements since leaving the Oval Office. This shouldn’t be a great surprise – we come from a storied stock in Scotland where human titans like Andrew Carnegie and John Muir have changed the way people think and tackled some of the largest societal, economic and environmental challenges of the day, backed up by the absolute determination to make monumental and lasting change. Scotland is on the verge of a new wave of modern-day social enterprise that may even live up to the giants of the past and I believe this could herald the dawn of a new Scottish Enlightenment period for our nation. If Scotland can become a beacon for social enterprise, the possibilities are endless.
Down in Leith, a former Standard Life fund manager, Kiki McDonald, is running Euan’s Guide, a kind of TripAdvisor site for disabled people, with her brother Euan and it’s a venture that could go global in a much bigger way than Social Bite – and it’s no surprise that Skycanner is partnering with the team on a number of initiatives.
However, perhaps our most exciting social enterprise venture to watch is Freedom Bakery, a bakery inside a prison near Glasgow run by Matt Fountain who left his PhD at the University of Oxford to found a venture that supplies sustainable bread to some of Scotland’s top restaurants – so watch this space, because Scotland’s social entrepreneurs are on the rise!
Nick Freer is managing director and founder of the Freer Consultancy