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Working with SIS: Social Enterprise Through the Eyes of a Chemistry Student

We had Cameron Wight join us for a three week placement in September. Social enterprise through the eyes of a 2nd year chemistry student can be rather enlightening… Check out Cameron’s thoughts below.

Prior to starting a 3-week summer placement with Social Investment Scotland, I had no idea how social enterprise worked. How do people make a living? Why make it harder for yourself? What is the point? With my lack of knowledge and understanding in all things business, let alone the apparent complexities of ‘impact-led’ business, I entered with an open mind.

Networking Event on Placement

Over my three-week placement with SIS, I learned plenty about what goes on in this extremely diverse ecosystem. Networking events in Inverness and Glasgow have helped visualise this and build on my understanding. From this, I thought I would share five things I have learned; hopefully providing insight to the uninitiated such as myself, but also long-standing members.

  1. Various business models: One of the key points that really took me by surprise was the different ways a social enterprise can have an impact. An organisation can be doing good in the community, for example, by providing jobs for disadvantaged individuals or perhaps selling a great product for profit, then using this to fund high impact projects locally or worldwide. It seems trivial but often not well understood in the definition of a social enterprise.
  2. Great products: A social enterprise must not only have a great social impact but also be able to compete with competitors in the market. In retail, for the business to make the most impact the product must be fantastic.
  3. Support network: Perhaps I was naive to think that individuals starting out had to make it totally own their own. The government funded initiatives as well as other charities and social enterprises set up to boost growth in this sector is remarkable. From initial start-up through to using loan funding to grow, there is no shortage of help (at least in Scotland!).
  4. Corporate Social Responsibility: One of the research tasks I have carried out in the last 3 weeks found me reading about CSR. It is a clear sign that the market is shifting from a tick-box add on of CSR towards a more sustainable and skills-aligned social enterprise focus. Although to many it may seem that ‘corporates’ are putting on a show, but perhaps the demands of the consumer are not being met with a simple CSR policy. I just found this interesting as it shows promise for the social enterprise sector!
  5. Social media: The use of social media in the social enterprise sector is far greater than I expected. Social entrepreneurs have to make the most of every penny and the prolific use of free platforms like Twitter, Instagram and blogs is great to see. Getting the message across to the consumer is perhaps the biggest make or break for social enterprises.