By Michelle Ferguson
Director of Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company
Why would I want to fly around the world to be part of the SEWF 2017, especially as I don’t enjoy flying? Wouldn’t it be just another conference where you scribbled down some notes and collected business cards from people you would never hear from again?
I can say a definite no, that wasn’t the case.
Scotland has made a huge headway in terms of social enterprise with a national 10-year strategy, business support programme, social investment, and education and leadership initiatives. But I saw first-hand how much we can learn and gain from spending time with other people making change around the world.
The experience of networking and collaborating with other social enterprise leaders has fundamentally changed the way I think about my social enterprise. Although we are a small enterprise in the West of Scotland we are very much part of a global community of social enterprises, and my experience at SEWF has been transformational.
Yes, we have a lot to share but the knowledge, passion and experiences that come from hearing from other nations, leaders and practitioners about their developments and the impact they are making to their communities is both insightful and inspiring.
It wasn’t just the keynote speeches, the shared understanding and purpose that made the Forum stand out for me – it was actually the discussions at coffee stands, the people who in normal circumstances you wouldn’t get the opportunity to speak to.
I was having a quick bite of lunch on my own one day when I was joined by Wan-Ju Yu, a legislator from Taiwan. We chatted about our countries and the difference social enterprises can make to economies, in addition to the positive benefits to cultures and to society. She had set up her own social enterprise and due to her success had been approached to stand for government. She is now influencing decision making at a senior level.
I don’t think I have spent time with anyone as unassuming and inspiring as Wan-Ju Yu. She made me realise the impact we can make and that governments around the world really are focusing on what our sector is delivering.
Another day, standing waiting to join one of the facilitated sessions, I met Lucretia de Jong from Try Australia, the oldest non-profit/social enterprise in their country. They have really innovative ways of working which improves the lives of their beneficiaries, offers new skills, valuable work, and training and gives them the opportunity to build a home. Their team-centric approach really struck a chord with me and in my new position as Director of Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company, I am going to implement many of the strategies she shared with me. In fact, a lot of the things we are putting in place here are because of what I heard and learnt in New Zealand.
Those were just two of the remarkable people I met. I also made connections with many others whom I continue to be in contact with – not just from around the globe but from Scotland and the rest of the UK. The most difficult thing was choosing which sessions to attend. My advice is to book as early as possible.
So if you are like me, you want to hear from the most influential speakers, leaders and politicians who are involved with the worldwide social enterprise movement I would wholeheartedly recommend that you attend the World Forum in Scotland.
It is an experience which will change your perception and invigorate and challenge you in a way that no other event of its kind will.