Social Enterprise

What is a Social Enterprise?
Social enterprises are innovative, independent businesses with a social and/or environmental purpose, working all round the UK and internationally. They trade for the common good rather than unlimited private gain, addressing social needs, strengthening communities, improving people’s life chances, enhancing culture or protecting the environment.

They aim to make profit like any other business, but invest 100% of it in their social purpose. Social enterprises in Scotland are “asset locked” (all property, money etc. can only be used for a social mission/impact). They’re a more ethical and sustainable way of doing business.

Many have traditionally been run as a charity that have been encouraged to be more enterprising to ensure sustainability, while others are small businesses with a social purpose. However, the term “social enterprise” shouldn’t be confused with private businesses that simply operate in an ethical way, charities that don’t do business (or trade very little) or public sector arms-length companies (ALEOs), though some of these may be on a journey as “emerging” social enterprises.

Social enterprises often provide inventive solutions to society’s problems and are relied upon to reach communities that others can’t. Social enterprises are slowly changing the face of how we do business throughout the world, providing a refreshing and empowering alternative.

See Social Enterprise: an idea whose time has come.


Local and National examples;
The social enterprise sector is incredibly diverse, encompassing co-operatives and mutuals, development trusts, community enterprises, housing associations and social firms. Some well-known examples include: The Big Issue, The Wise Group, Divine Chocolate, the Eden Project in Cornwall, Jamie Oliver’s Restaurant chain Fifteen, Café Direct, The Grameen Foundation and Mondragon Corporation




Useful Resources:


We are here to support people and organisations enabling social change.

We do this through learning and development programmes focused on leadership, enterprise, personal development and social impact.

* We work at local and national levels

* Our programmes enable learners to share and learn together, at all stages of personal and organisational growth

* With a successful track record in Scotland, we are now replicating internationally as a social franchise




Social Enterprise Scotland is The Voice of Social Enterprise – uniting social enterprises and their supporters into a strong campaigning force. We’re your gateway to Scotland’s social enterprise community.

Social Enterprise Scotland is an independent, Scottish, membership-led organisation, built and controlled by social enterprises. We’re the first point of contact for the media and public and promote a positive vision for social enterprise. Membership is open to anyone. Join online today in a few easy steps and discover the great package of benefits and how to access our influential networks.

We’re based in Edinburgh city centre with a staff team of four, three full time and one part-time, plus two or three volunteers at any one time. We have 12 Board members and a large social enterprise membership, both very active and involved in the organisation. See all staff and Board details and all members.

We’re a registered Company Limited by Guarantee: SC294227. We were originally incorporated in 2005 as the ‘Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition’ and rebranded at the end of 2011 as ‘Social Enterprise Scotland’.

We pro-actively engage with our social enterprise partners, the public sector, the media, the private sector and the wider public. We work in partnership with many other organisations in and outwith the broad social enterprise movement, with The Scottish Government and Parliament and local authorities.

We offer a wide-ranging membership package and help you navigate the world of social enterprise. See all social enterprise business support and information, including start-up, funding and procurement guidance. To find out everything we do in detail see leaflet What Does Social Enterprise Scotland Do? Please contact us at any time for more information or just to have a chat about social enterprise in Scotland.

Watch a short film about social enterprise in Scotland.

Take a look around the website and discover something new today!






Whatever stage you are at in your social enterprise journey the programme creates a unique opportunity to grow your business and includes training opportunities to improve skills for individuals of all grades. These comprise but are not restricted to workshops in Finance, Sales, Procurement , Market Research, Social Impact Measurement and Demystifying the web





We equip people to transform their communities and improve the lives of others

We can’t fix all of society’s problems by ourselves.

That’s why the School for Social Entrepreneurs brings together people who want to change things for the better. People tackling urgent issues like poverty, education, inequality, health, climate change and much more.

Every year, we help more than 1,000 people learn how to transform their communities and help people in need.

We support social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and charity leaders. We run courses that equip them with the skills and networks needed to create lasting change. We help in other ways too, like connecting them with funding and mentoring.






We work to ensure that social enterprises in Scotland have the support they need to deliver positive outcomes in their communities.

Acting on behalf of front line social enterprises, we liaise with the Scottish Government to ensure that policy creation is both fair and effective.


Our main activities involve informing; connecting; and developing our social enterprise community:

  • We ‘inform‘ via a popular weekly bulletin and other newsletters as well as a supporting website.
  • We ‘connect‘ through the encouragement and support of for 18 local and 6 thematic Social Enterprise Networks (SENs) – independent forums of peer support, collective action and market development for Scotland’s social enterprises.
  • We ‘develop‘ by working with others to identify gaps in support and seek to develop and incubate new services designed to strengthen Scotland’s social economy. In time, these services float off as independent bodies.







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






Firstport is Scotland’s development agency for start-up social entrepreneurs and social enterprise

When Firstport started work in 2007 as Scotland’s social enterprise development agency, our aim was to help social entrepreneurs – people who have an idea to help their environment or their community – develop those seeds of ideas and make them happen. With our help, people can make changes in the way they do business, help their communities and make a tangible difference.

We provide a full package of support that includes seed funding, business advice and connections to help social entrepreneurs make their ideas a reality.

We manage the Scottish Government’s Social Entrepreneurs Fund which provides small grants for people looking to test out an idea. Check out our funding page for more information. We are also the start up delivery partner for the Just Enterprise consortium – through this we provide free business support for people looking to get started. Since April 2009 we have made over 1000 awards and distributed £7 million across Scotland. Our funders include Big Lottery Fund, Scottish Government, Resilient Scotland and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.



What is a Social Enterprise?


Directory of Scottish Social Enterprises:

Social Enterprise Scotland – A Complete Guide:


Third Force News