Exploring the Geographies of Social Enterprise in the Highlands and Islands

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Research conducted by Ailsa Higgins, a student at the University of Glasgow, explores the geographies of social enterprise in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland. Social enterprise activity is known to be particularly dense in the Highlands and Islands, where growth conditions have been described as “fertile context” for the uptake of social enterprise and community-run organisations (Steiner et al., 2019).


The Highlands and Islands region has the greatest proportion of remote-rural areas, and features a diverse physical geography including island communities and isolated peninsulas. Despite having only 6% of Scotland’s population, the region is home to 21% of all social enterprises, contributing to the statistic that social enterprise are over-represented in remote-rural areas.


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The research informs on three major research objectives, firstly: To examine the distinct characteristics, drivers, and ownership models of remote and rural social enterprises. Secondly, to map the policy landscape and support mechanisms present in the Highlands and Islands, and lastly, to identify the everyday challenges and opportunities of operating in isolated spaces. The research used a mixed-methods approach, interviewing key stakeholders including social enterprises, support agencies, and policymakers from across the social enterprise sector.


The density of social enterprise in Scotland reflects a complex interaction of policy, people and place. The policies of recent decades have recognised the potential of people in the region to deliver on economic objectives within community structures. The people within rural social enterprises and their support agencies continue to advocate for greater recognition for community approaches.


It is undisputed that social enterprise in remote and rural Scotland is a success story, but all concerned with this study viewed this to be an area of untapped potential. Social enterprises have the potential to play an even greater role in the economic and social life of rural Scotland, and should be supported to so do.


Portrait of author


Author: Ailsa Higgins, Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow

Contact: ahiggins@inspiralba.org.uk