This website uses cookies for anonymised analytics and for account authentication. See our privacy and cookies policies for more information.

The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Social Enterprise Academy is exporting its expertise

This feature is over 8 years old

Scotland’s Social Enterprise Academy is sharing its approach to learning by franchising its model to partners around the world.

In 2012 Mel Young founder of the Homeless World Cup told a conference: “If you are doing something good you have a responsibility to share it.”

Neil McLean, chief executive of Social Enterprise Academy and Sam Baumber, the academy’s chief operations officer, were in the audience that day and left feeling inspired.

Just over three years on and the pair, along with their colleagues, are living up to their responsibility having replicated the academy internationally as a social franchise.

Two learning and development hubs modelled on its Scottish approach have been established in Australia and South Africa and the academy has directly delivered its programmes across much of Europe.

We are genuinely here to support people who are involved in leadership with social purpose achieve social change in sustainable business

It has also had interest from over 20 countries and is working to develop hubs in places such as China, Pakistan, India and Malaysia.

Put simply the academy has embraced its responsibility to share.

“We don’t recognise how fortunate we are in Scotland,” Baumber, who has been a social entrepreneur for the past 17 years, says.

“Social enterprise as a movement here has had significant investment from the Scottish Government over the last 10 years and has had people driving it probably for the last 50.

“A lot of places haven’t really got the infrastructure investment to really support social enterprises in the same way.”

What Social Enterprise Academy’s “something good” is, is its methods of making the third sector in Scotland more sustainable by skilling up social entrepreneurs and those working for organisations with a social purpose.

The academy’s unique selling point for its programmes is that learners are all from the same background, as is the facilitator.

For example, its programme for chief executives, run in partnership with the Association for Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations, is only for chief executives and is facilitated by a chief executive.

Social Enterprise Academy is exporting its expertise

We have a good model worked out as to how to run this thing in terms of the business, the product range and how to grow it

Social Enterprise Academy in Pakistan

The idea is to create a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable and share their experiences and learn from one and another.

Programmes, which are accredited at the same level as a university degree, are often run over a period of weeks or months and focus on leadership development, entrepreneurship and social impact measurement.

Chief executive McLean, who took over the reins of the academy eight years ago after initially serving on its board, is their biggest cheerleader.

“On a regular course you would expect people to apply what they have learned afterwards in the first week, the second and so on but with diminishing effect over time,” he says.

“What we are seeing is the reverse of that. More people are applying the learning after six months and a year than they were at the first month.”

For the past three years the academy has been working to franchise both its approach and its programmes with potential international partner organisations.

The way it is working is by teaching its partners about its programmes and then helping to train local practitioners to deliver them rather than just parachuting its own team in to take over.

“We have a good model worked out as to how to run this thing in terms of the business, the product range and how to grow it,” Baumber adds.

“Initially we are telling partners a lot about how to run the model but in time that will shift and they will start to run it themselves and contribute products, innovations and ideas back to us.

Learners in China
Learners in China

“It takes a while to build up but if it’s going to be a success it has to operate at a scale where it can generate profit for the partner organisation and also be able to sustain some sort of fee back to us.

“We’re at crunch point now. The next year or two is vital to really bed in the replication model.”

To set up the franchise arm, the academy had to raise around £300,000 in the form of investment from the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise as well as securing social investment loans for the first time from Social Investment Scotland and Big Issue Invest.

“The aim over the next five years is to get to 20 to 30 hubs internationally,” McLean says.

“The main driver for it is sharing something of value but also for our own financial resilience we have to walk the talk.

“We’re trying to support third sector organisations and social enterprises become more sustainable so we need to demonstrate that we are doing it.

“We have borrowed money for the first time, we’ve invested, and we are aiming towards our own financial sustainability in the long term.”

A learner in South Africa
A learner in South Africa

Since its launch in 2004, Social Enterprise Academy has supported over 10,000 learners in Scotland and last year it ran 117 programmes where 92% of participants said they had changed their behaviour based on what they had learned.

What the academy also does well is take its programmes where they are needed – for example, in the last couple of years, it has delivered programmes on 24 islands.

Despite the expansion of the business internationally, Mclean promises the Scottish side hasn’t been neglected. The opposite in fact.

“The impact on our own business at home has been brilliant,” he says.

“We have now got a very well-articulated package and our local partners look at us and see there are people all over the world doing what we are doing.”

In the long term, the hope is that profit from the franchises will benefit Scottish social enterprises and third sector organisations.

Currently the academy subsides around 40-50% of its programmes through grant funding from the likes of the Robertson Trust.

It also operates a bursary scheme on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Should any of this funding drop off in the future it is hoped the franchise income may be able to pick up the slack.

“We’re not here to become bigger or try and do something that is self-serving,” McLean adds.

“We are genuinely here to support people who are involved in leadership with social purpose achieve social change in sustainable business.”

For more information on Social Enterprise Academy’s international work, visit For Scotland, visit

How the model translates world-wide

Social Enterprise Academy is exporting its expertise

Matt Phalert, founder of the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship, (ACRE), wants to give young people in rural Australia opportunities to embrace entrepreneurship as a career. Much like the Highlands and Islands, the wider social issues faced by rural areas include the exodus of young people and high unemployment.

“Youth unemployment is at 20% in rural areas, compared to 12.6% elsewhere, so we want to help develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem that enables people to become job creators, not just job seekers,” he says.

“We also want to show that social enterprise can be key in rejuvenating rural communities, as has happened in Scotland.”

The Social Enterprise Academy and ACRE have been piloting how learning and development programmes developed in Scotland can meet local needs in rural communities north of Melbourne. Focusing on expanding the understanding of social enterprise among social organisations and school teachers, the pilot has shown a huge appetite for entrepreneurship in education and beyond.

He added: “The academy has been developing, testing and delivering learning programmes for organisational and personal impact for over 10 years and we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. The style of learning was a key factor in deciding to become partners – we both believe in the power of people learning from each other.

“We’re bringing our insights to the academy as well, so that we continually learn from each other and create something that will really work here.”

The impact of learning and development

Social Enterprise Academy is exporting its expertise

Ayrshire Children’s Services works with children with additional support needs, tailoring activities to enable them to develop social and personal skills and grow up to become independent.

Managing director Marianne Greenway faced a huge range of challenges when she founded her social enterprise, but on reaching a crunch point decided to look at developing her leadership approach.

Over two years, she attended a 12-day leadership programme, an advanced leadership workshop and four coaching sessions.

Marianne said: “Making time for learning and leadership development was a big decision. I was working all hours, it felt like no one believed in what I was doing, and I wasn’t really sure if it could help me.

“But from the first day, being in a room with people in similar situations, facing the same issues, was a revelation.

“I’d felt so isolated and uncertain but working through the nature of leadership on live issues meant I could adjust and adapt, and experiment and reflect as I went through the programme.

“I used to work ‘in’ the business too much, doing absolutely everything, whereas now I work ‘on’ it by leading and empowering others.

“Strategic planning means we’re more effective and I continually develop my leadership skills. We’ve grown in size, impact and confidence because we’ve changed how we do things.”