Getting to the Heart of Community Leadership

David is the Hub Manager for Highlands & Islands. He joined the Academy in 2009 from the Community Recycling Network for Scotland, where he was a Development Officer for the North of Scotland. This followed time working for a local rural partnership and Moray College.

(Image: David meeting with political leaders from KP Province, Pakistan at Thorn House in Edinburgh)

Earlier this year, we were asked to provide a programme on community led social enterprise in rural Pakistan. When we met with a group of local political leaders in February, the discussion reminded me of the revolution in community leadership in Scotland.

We explored the challenges of community led social enterprise there – the powerlessness felt by many rural communities, the challenge of supporting social entrepreneurs, and the cohesion of communities. The same discussion could have been had by community leaders in Scotland perhaps a generation ago. But since then a quiet revolution has happened in community based social enterprise. And it’s a revolution which is still gathering pace.

A few years ago the Carnegie Trust looked at community led social enterprise in Oban, and tried to work out why it was so successful there. (If you’ve not been there recently, look up Oban Phoenix Cinema, Atlantis leisure, Stramash, Lorne & Oban Healthy Options, Glencruiten Walled Garden just for starters.)

It turned out that there were three ‘bedrock elements’ – committed and skilled people, an identified community need and active community support. Then there were three operational requirements – developing assets, appropriate governance and financial sustainability. You might argue that sound finances result from the first five, but that’s a debate for another day. What was also really interesting was how the social enterprises all worked together, collaborated, traded together, shared directors and experiences. Success bred success, with investors and clients gaining confidence in the ability of the community sector locally to deliver.

So where does this upward cycle of capacity and growth begin? The answer lay in Carnegie’s first bedrock element – its people. Being a social enterprise leader in your community is not easy. You are probably the only person in your village or island doing the job. Everyone looks to you for just about everything in the community. You are never really off duty or away from the office – a walk to the shop of the post office is likely to resemble a series of impromptu meetings or a surgery with community directors or volunteers. Having the opportunity to connect with other community social enterprise leaders from elsewhere in Scotland is vital – for inspiration, mutual support and peer learning. That’s where we at Social Enterprise Academy come in. Our role is enabling social enterprise leaders to do more of the amazing things they are doing, like managing harbours, generating power, building schools, buying lighthouses, providing broadband …, things that a generation ago would not even have been dreamt of. (OK the internet was hardly invented then, but you get the idea!).

Back in Pakistan last month we designed a bespoke rural social enterprise programme for them, based on the Carnegie principles, and developed facilitation skills in key community leaders from all parts of the country. They are right now taking Academy learning methodology to their own rural communities, building capacity to grow social enterprise there. To consider where they might be in a generation is fantastically exciting, just as it has been and continues to be in Scotland.

We'll be exploring the skills and behaviours of enterprising leaders further on our Entrepreneurial Leadership programme in Perthshire later this month.

Supported by the Scottish Government, this programme available at no cost to learners & starts 19 & 20 April 2017.

Living Wage
Scottish Government