Heading for the highlands: an Aussie's odyssey to Inverness

For an Australian, the Scottish Highlands are a long way away – nearly 10,000 miles to be precise. David Brookes of Social Traders explains why he thinks the long trip to the Social Enterprise Summit in Scotland is worth it.

98% of Australia’s 23 million people live on or near the coast. The remaining 460,000 Australians are dispersed across a huge landmass, 15% bigger in size than mainland Europe. Interestingly, almost the same number, 448,000 people, live in the Highlands and Islands Region of Scotland.

In less than a week from now, I’ll be leaving Melbourne for my trip to the other side of the globe to participate in the Social Enterprise Summit in Inverness, Scotland.

This will be my first visit to the UK’s northernmost country. The summit is a great opportunity for me to learn and share. Firstly, to learn about the dynamic and innovative social enterprise movement in Scotland and the Highlands Regions. And secondly, to share some insight about the state of social enterprise in Australia.

Many of Australia’s estimated 20,000 social enterprises operate in regional, rural and often remote locations. Australia’s “Tyranny of Distance” is a phrase coined by Geoffrey Blainey in 1966 from his book of the same name, to depict how distance from UK, Europe and the rest of the world has shaped Australia’s history. It is also apt in terms of the issues and challenges faced by local communities, businesses and enterprises operating in regional and rural areas of the worlds’ largest island continent.

At Inverness, I intend to share stories of some of the successful and innovative social enterprise models operating away from our large metropolitan and more highly populated coastal areas. Some case studies will be used to highlight the positive economic development and social benefits that social enterprises have been generating for decades throughout regional Australia. In indigenous communities, social enterprises have produced a broad range in benefits not only in terms of cash income and employment, but also self-determination and protection of cultural and environmental heritage. 

I’ll also take delegates at Inverness on a quick tour of Good Spender. It is a new initiative that is a partnership between Social Traders and Australia Post designed to help social enterprises, particularly those without ready access to consumer markets, to promote and sell products via a new online platform. Started in 2008, Social Traders is a social enterprise development organisation based in Melbourne. They make it easy for people to learn about, start, grow, buy from and invest in social enterprise in Australia.

Launched less than 12 months ago, Good Spender already has over 900 products and has attracted 30,000 visits since it was launched in late 2014. As winter arrives in Melbourne town, I’m looking forward to visiting the thriving city of Inverness for an exciting social enterprise exchange.


Preparations are underway in Inverness for the inaugural Social Enterprise Summit hosted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

The event will take place on 10th-11th June and will mark the organisation's 50th anniversary. Over the two days speakers from Canada, Australia and the UK will discuss innovative solutions to tackle rural challenges. To find out more, click here.

Photo credit: Chris Golightly