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April 13, 2021

Rural dances to a different tune

When the concept of ‘social enterprise’ first entered the world of the voluntary sector there was a fair amount of resistance. The business culture – making profit –  seemed alien and an unwelcome import from the private sector. Gradually though, that resistance has softened although debates still rage as to the legitimacy of the asset lock. One area of more subtle debate is around the nature of social enterprise in a rural setting as opposed to urban. Does a rural social enterprise dance to a different tune than its urban counterpart. Some interesting research commissioned by Inspiralba suggests it does.

Cat Aitken for Inspiralba

Introduction  to full report

Rural areas have been identified as an ideal context for studying social enterprise because 33% of Scottish social enterprises can be found serving 17% of the Scottish population (Social Value Lab, 2019). For these reasons, the rural context is considered fertile ground for social enterprise (Steiner, et al., 2019).

This report seeks to understand the ways a rural context influences socialenterprise and highlights the characteristics of rural, remote and island social enterprise in Scotland.

This report will explain how our mixed-method evidence base led us to draw conclusions about the shape of the model and its key characteristics. We have identified the following features to be of importance; a community development lens, collectively led, well connected social capital, provide vital services, small markets but innovative and diversified income streams as the key characteristics of a rural social enterprise and will refer to this cluster of characteristics as the rural social enterprise model.

In order to set the parameters of this research we infer that a high number of rural social enterprises may adopt this rural social enterprise model, but do not believe that all adopt this interpretation. Nor do we assume that individual characteristics cannot be found in urban areas. We do not seek to make judgements on that, rather see it as a potential source of further research.

However, we do believe the cluster of characteristics that create this model are heavily influenced by the structural factors of rurality and that context matters. Although this research was limited by a 3-month funding budget, and was executed remotely during national lockdown, we believe these preliminary findings are accurate and comprehensive. Moving forward they will create the seedbed for future research.

Read full report