Building international relations and providing opportunities for knowledge exchange between different countries in one of the key aims of the Rural SE Hub.

There is much we can learn from relations with other countries and cultures. Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world in which we live and assists in dispelling negative stereotypes and personal biases. In addition, cultural diversity helps us recognise and respect ‘ways of being’ that are not necessarily our own.

From a community-led perspective, it is vitally important to encourage transnational relations between third sector organisations outwith our local area, state, country or continent. Listed below are past, present and future prospects for international knowledge exchange:


Prior to Britain leaving the European Union following the 2016 ‘Brexit’ Referendum, there were a number of existing programmes and schemes such as Erasmus, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. Erasmus provided students and staff with opportunities to study abroad across partner universities throughout Europe

LEADER was another programme which provided those living in rural areas to build transational relations. As a bottom-up method of delivering support to communities for rural development, LEADER was established with the aim to increase support to local rural community and business networks to build knowledge and skills, and encourage innovation and cooperation in order to tackle local development objectives. It did this by building co-operation with other local authority groups in Scotland, UK and Europe.



Across many countries, rural areas face similar challenges, such as diminishing local services, economic and employment issues, and demographic changes – with an increasing older population and out-migration of young people. Social enterprise is a tool which can assist rural communities to address these challenges and ensure sustainability.

Social and community enterprise examples from across rural Europe demonstrate a wealth of local potential, knowledge and skill for sustaining services and enhancing community life. However much of the learning resources, guidance and networking for social enterprise and community development have evolved from an urban perspective.

ViSENet is an Erasmus project and was established through co-operation with partners in Finland (University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute), Estonia (Estonian University of Life Sciences) and Romania (Bucharest University of Economic Studies). The main aim of the project was to develop tools, resources, guidance and networking in order to bring together examples of good practice in relation to rural social enterprise.


The Rural SE Hub recognises the value of programmes such as Erasmus and LEADER in providing support for the exchange of knowledge between social enterprises and the significant loss of these opportunities for organisations and communities across Scotland post-Brexit.

It is vital that support continues for both export and inter-trading from the perspective of generating revenue but the options for knowledge exchange are much more limited despite the value of sharing of knowledge and expertise being hugely important and providing long-term benefit.

We are currently looking to explore what is currently available to support international knowledge exchange and determine how can we engage with strategic partners to highlight the significance of the loss of opportunities for organisations and communities with the aim to find solutions.


In 2008, more than 400 delegates from 29 countries congregated in Edinburgh, Scotland with one goal: to raise awareness of social enterprise as an expanding global mechanism for social change. The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) was the first event of its kind. SEWF provided an opportunity for social enterprise leaders and practitioners from around the world to network and exchange ideas.

Spurred by the first event’s success, a steering group was quickly convened where it was agreed that there was potential beyond the initial experiment. They decided to hold an event on each continent before reviewing the need and value of SEWF to promote social enterprise internationally. Since then, SEWF has engaged with thousands of social enterprise leaders and practitioners from over 50 countries worldwide, holding forums in cities as diverse as Rio de Janeiro, Addis Ababa, Seoul, San Francisco and Christchurch.

The International Social Enterprise Observatory

The International Social Enterprise Observatory (ISEO) supports the growth of Scottish social enterprises internationally and enables inward international investment in Scotland’s social enterprise sector. Scotland is one of the world leading nations in social enterprise with over 6,000 social enterprises and a comprehensive ecosystem and policy environment. It has long seen strong overseas demand for visitors wanting to learn and understand more about the Scottish social enterprise environment.

ISEO support this external interest in Scotland by:

  • Ensuring visitors from a variety of backgrounds including social enterprise practitioners, policymakers, students, and other social enterprise support organisations make the most of a learning visit to Scotland.
  • Signposting and supporting guests to ensure a group can meet their learning outcomes while tracking group experiences to inform and enhance future visits.
  • Run online introductory events introducing the Scottish social enterprise sector highlighting practitioners, policy and ecosystem support.