Third sector

Social enterprises

Social enterprises are businesses with a social or environmental purpose, and whose profits are re-invested into fulfilling their mission. They empower communities, tackle social problems, and create jobs - particularly for people who are at a disadvantage in the standard jobs market.

We support social enterprises by offering free business advice, leadership programmes and affordable social finance.

Consumers are increasingly seeking out socially responsible products and this is helping Scotland's social enterprise sector to grow.

Social enterprise strategy

In 2016 we worked with the social enterprise community to co-produce Scotland's Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-2026, which sets out our aims for the sector. Its priorities are:

  • stimulating entrepreneurship
  • strengthening organisations
  • realising market opportunities

In April 2017 we launched the first of three action plans for achieving these aims: Building a sustainable social enterprise sector in Scotland: 2017-2020. This plan sets out 92 actions that include expanding our schools programme, doubling seed funding and extending our community shares programme.

Social enterprise census

We are committed to conducting a national census of the social enterprise sector every two years to help us understand the size, shape and needs of the sector. The 2017 Social Enterprise census recorded that:

  • there are 5,600 social enterprises operating across Scotland (an 8% increase on the last census)
  • the social enterprise workforce exceeds 80,000 people and is 64% female
  • the social enterprise sector contributes £2 billion to the economy
  • Rural Scotland accounts for 34% of Scotland's social enterprises, despite being home to only 18% of the country's population
  • the highest densities of social enterprises are in the Highlands and Islands

A technical report has also been produced which provides further information about the methodology behind the census, including the basis for identifying social enterprises.

Supporting social enterprises

We help social enterprises to network, develop, collaborate and grow by working with:

  • Social Enterprise Scotland, an independent membership organisation that promotes and campaigns on behalf of all social enterprises in Scotland
  • Social Firms Scotland, the national support body for social enterprises whose social mission is to create opportunities for people disadvantaged in the labour market
  • Senscot an organisation that supports local and national networks for social entrepreneurs
  • Social Enterprise Academy, which delivers the Social Enterprise in Education programme and delivers learning and development to the third sector

We also directly fund:

  • the Just Enterprise programme, which provides tailored business support to social enterprises and entrepreneurs (£5 million from 2014 to 2018)
  • the Developing Markets for Third Sector Providers programme, through which the Ready for Business consortium provides support for public social partnerships (PSPs) and the implementation and use of Community Benefit Clauses (£3.5 million from 2014 to 2018)
  • the Social Growth Fund delivered by Social Investment Scotland (SIS) which offers access to loans for social enterprises (we have allowed SIS to use £8 million in repayments from 2014 to 2016 to loans from the Scottish Investment Fund)
  • Business Gateway and our enterprise bodies, who provide support to all types of business
  • Firstport which provides support to new and emerging social entrepreneurs to set up and run a business with a social or environmental purpose. Since 2009, we have provided Firstport with £5m in order to deliver the Social Entrepreneurs Fund 

Supported businesses

Supported businesses are social enterprises whose main aim is to integrate disabled or disadvantaged people socially and professionally.

Their workforce must be at least 30% disabled or disadvantaged, as specified in EU Directive 2014/24/EU.

It is our policy that every public body should have at least one contract with a supported business, and we encourage private sector companies to buy goods and services from them too.

Further information:

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