Toby Johnson
21 January 2015

Scotland’s Social Enterprise Academy

The Social Enterprise Academy was founded in 2004 to fill a gap in the existing provision of training for entrepreneurs. Whilst business management skills were already well catered for, what was missing was training in the practice of leadership and social entrepreneurship. Its purpose is to invest in developing people so that they can lead change.

It enables non-academic learning styles, develops multiple intelligences such as emotional intelligence, responds to learners’ needs, strengths and contexts, and prioritises personal development alongside skills and knowledge. It is accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and provides qualifications based on the application of learning. Its main asset is its ‘associate tutors’ who are practitioners who teach through peer learning.

From 2008 onwards it used ESF support, matched with bursaries from the Scottish government, to deliver a programme in the sparsely-populated north-western region of the Highlands and Islands. Since 2011 it has been part of a consortium of third sector organisations which has won the Scottish government’s contract to provide business support to the third sector. It also works with schools, colleges and universities. This ensures that its work is well integrated with other aspects of support to third sector.

The academy specialises in supporting personal growth based on strengths, self-awareness, clarity and confidence. It works by creating a safe, participative and supportive learning environment. It focuses on four areas – leadership, entrepreneurship, personal development and social impact – and uses three techniques:

  • action learning – which helps learners to find solutions to the issues they face while also helping to develop them
  • co-coaching – which enables participants to obtain fresh insights into their work and personal development
  • peer support – which consolidates the learning experience and builds confidence

The academy is based in Edinburgh and has two regional hubs. It is replicating its model internationally through social franchising, and partner hubs are being piloted in northern England, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Australia.

Each year it works with 1,200 learners all over Scotland. It now has 18 staff and 30 practitioner and specialist associates.

Lessons of the social enterprise academy in Scotland

  • Training for social entrepreneurs should be part of a comprehensive ecosystem of support. Governments can ensure that support for social entrepreneurs is well coordinated by including training as part of a global contract with a consortium of specialist support organisations;
  • While the existing training on offer in business management skills may be sufficient, there may be a gap concerning the capacity to lead change. This capacity is a practical not an academic one, and needs to be built on personal development and self-confidence.
  • Leadership training for social entrepreneurs should be learner-centred and tailored to individual needs and circumstances. It should be based on the learner’s strengths, build their self-confidence, and be based on peer learning led by experienced practitioners.
  • There is gap in the market for such a leadership-based approach, and the Scottish model is being franchised across the world.