Scottish summit set to focus on rural communities

Ahead of the social enterprise summit in Inverness next week, we look at why social enterprise can be of benefit to local rural communities.

On the face of it, Scotland and Canada might not seem to have much in common. In terms of land mass and population, it’s like comparing a minnow to a whale. With close to four million square miles of land, Canada is the second largest country in the world and is home to 35m people. Scotland has a population one seventh of that, with a land mass of just 30,000 square miles by comparison. But we all know that size isn't everything.

Look at it a little closer and the similarities become evident. Both Commonwealth countries boast stunning landscapes and by virtue of the wild geography, both are home to countless numbers of rural communities. 90% of Canadians live within 600km of the U.S border, with the remaining 10% spread sporadically throughout the rest of Canada. It is these local economies that stand to gain most benefit from social enterprises.

Just like in Scotland, many parts of rural Canada struggle with a disadvantaged social and economic infrastructure, pockets of extreme poverty, poor health, housing, and educational opportunities. David LePage is the chairman of the Social Enterprise Council of Canada and will be speaking at the summit next week. 

Naturally given his job title, David’s an advocate of businesses that create community value in rural areas, seeing them as a return to the ideals of the country’s forefathers. “The original Indigenous commerce of the period before the arrival of outside populations was the very foundation of the social enterprise model. They were trading corn and vegetables from one region in exchange for the metal ores and gems of another region. Their purpose of commerce was to share their local wealth to build healthier communities,” he says.

In Scotland, social enterprises generate £53 million for the Highlands and Islands economy and employ 1,700 people. It’s no surprise then, that Scotland is seeing it’s first social enterprise summit taking place in Inverness. One of the organisations behind the event is the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Their director of strengthening communities, Rachael McCormack, is as convinced of the value of social enterprise to rural areas as David LePage: “They create jobs, attract people and bring investment. Our region’s social entrepreneurs are very ambitious and optimistic.

"The sector is expanding and is well placed to drive further growth in areas such as creative industries, renewable energy, food and drink and tourism.”

Helping to bring the summit to fruition were CEIS, who were commissioned to organise the event in Scotland. A social enterprise themselves, CEIS were established in 1984 to support other community and social enterprises in Scotland. It works with partners across the world to share and develop new approaches and systems that support social enterprise development.

CEIS CEO Gerry Higgins thinks that, given the benefit to rural communities, other countries are looking closely at the social enterprise landscape in Scotland: “Scotland is one of the leading social enterprise nations in the world and there is much international interest in the experience of social enterprises here and also how, over the next ten years, rural and urban social enterprises will increase their economic and social impact to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous society.” 

With such a diverse range of speakers from all over the globe, the knowledge sharing on offer at the summit should prove fascinating. The event takes place at the Kingsmill Hotel, Inverness on the 10th and 11th June. For more information, go to the Social Enterprise Summit website.


Photo credit: Joe Dunckley