Sector Representation on Social Enterprise Boards

Graham Bell OBE, former Chair of the Social Enterprise Academy board, reflects on his 12 years as a trustee and his hopes for the future of social enterprise boards in Scotland.

"In 2004 the Social Enterprise Academy was formed – another part of the emerging social enterprise sector in Scotland. It was new and its purpose was still being explored. But it came from the belief that learning in – and about – the sector needed to be taken seriously. As the old saying goes; ‘if you think learning is expensive, try ignorance’.

In 2006 I was approached about being board chair. I knew very little about it and what the ambitions for it were. It was only a couple of years before that I found out what a social enterprise is! And I had never chaired a board – not a very auspicious start. But I really believed in the power of learning. And I knew from my own experience that learning was what could build social enterprises. I wanted to do what I could to help.

Speechmarks TealBoard members are the guardians of the cause and ensure it remains for the ‘common good’. But that only happens when boards recognise that they have a part to play in leadership

I also believed that boards, especially in charitable purpose organisations, have a special role to play. They are the guardians of the cause and ensure it remains for the ‘common good’. But that only happens when boards recognise that they have a part to play in leadership – and the direction and tone they set can make or break a social enterprise.

Eleven years later I stepped down from being board chair. There are plenty of debates around ‘term limits’ and refreshing boards, and although I believe in these, I also recognise the importance of continuity. I hope I never over-stayed my welcome and I worked to keep learning – leading by example. And to provide a bit more continuity I served as a director for a further period finally leaving in September 2019.

The Academy has been fortunate in attracting people from different sectors and backgrounds, united by a belief that transformational change happens when learning is both head and heart. And the core focus of the Academy’s work – people in the social sector –strengthens the sector. That is why I am particularly keen to see people from the sector on the board of the Academy. Even better? Former programme participants, like Neil McLean, the current Chief Executive who experienced Academy learning before taking up his post.

A board with a learning mind-set is crucial – and the Academy board is looking for such people to guide and govern its work. You don’t need to have all the answers – no one can. But your experience of the sector can offer insights that will help sharpen the work of the Academy. And you will learn new skills – including how to be a better board member.

I have loved my time on the Academy board. I am proud of the work it is doing in Scotland and internationally. And it has a great team behind it. I feel as if I received much more than I ever put in – and I certainly learned! So why not consider it yourself?"

To find out more about voluntary board positions available with the Social Enterprise Academy, please visit:

If you’d like to have an informal chat with Graham about his time on the board, you can reach him at:

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Living Wage
Scottish Government