A SCOTTISH delegation travelled to Australia, where the tropical climate of Queensland hosted the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF). More than 2000 in-person attendees from 93 countries and another 1000 online assembled in Brisbane for the largest event of its kind worldwide.

Ideas presented and debated become dispersed throughout the planet for adoption, implementation, modification and replication by social entrepreneurs across the globe. The seeds of the Brisbane SEWF will disrupt traditional for-profit business models and provide consumers with alternative options.

The forum is more than a meeting place, a conference, or an exhibition – it is an opportunity for Scottish entrepreneurs, supported by the Scottish Government, to demonstrate their pioneering leadership qualities and expand their social benefits throughout the planet. It is within this forum that Scottish social enterprises (SE) lay the foundation for their expansion to foreign markets near and far.

Key change-makers within the Scottish social enterprise ecosystem travelled to the event. The delegation consisted of a mix of social entrepreneurs, senior management from social enterprise support organisations and Scottish Government officials.

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They included CEIS, Community Enterprise, Community Land Outer Hebrides, Edinburgh Social Enterprise, Glasgow Social Enterprise Network, Hey Girls, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Inspiralba, Social Enterprise Academy, Social Enterprise Scotland and STAT SALUS – all there to learn and collaborate with the best minds in the social enterprise ecosystem worldwide. I started and run STAT SALUS is a social enterprise which sells toilet hygiene products, and in return, freely and sustainably supports children with bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and bowel cancer.

I want to help children who face the terrible trials I did. At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s. For the next 10 years, I struggled to cope with life. Crohn’s, like the majority of bowel disorders, can be incurable, debilitating, and a force to destructively shape a young person’s life and future prospects.

Sixteen delegates from within the Scottish social enterprise ecosystem descended on the Brisbane Exhibition Centre. The event was an assembly of some of the best SE thinkers and practitioners in the world all sharing knowledge and experiences for the betterment of all within the SE ecosystem worldwide.

It was my second attendance at such a key international convention. On each occasion, it was clear to me that Scots were not just attendees but actually key players on a world stage of experts. This was no doubt a reflection on the commitment by the Scottish Government to support and develop Scottish SEs.

SEs play a key role in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for the Scottish economy and can benefit from the tremendous support of the Scottish Government, its agencies and its network of social enterprise support organisations, all there to help in the most appropriate way they can to develop a prosperous social economy.

In particular, the International Social Enterprise Observatory (ISEO) offers invaluable support to any SEs looking to expand internationally, both outward to foreign markets and inward to Scotland. Although all delegates had social entrepreneurship in common, we each had our own specific reason or reasons for being there. One of mine was to learn more about how SEs operated across borders. I also extended my stay to include some business meetings in both Brisbane and Sydney.

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Learning from, and exchanging ideas with the best business-disrupting minds in the world, together with networking and business expansion meetings were not my sole reasons for being in Brisbane.

In addition, I was there as a moderator and hosted a session on healthcare. It was exciting to be facilitating challenging approaches towards contributing new solutions to traditional business concepts and their incorporation into the social community environment.

There was so much to be crammed into each day. In addition to the presentations by the speakers and an exhibition area, there were organised tours with businesses based in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, many of whom have expanded across Australia. These were golden opportunities to be escorted around Queensland’s SEs, to see what they do, how they do it, ask the questions and come away wiser and with food for thought on how those same principles could be applied within Scotland.

On your own, you would be unable to gain such access. Reading about these practices is no substitute for witnessing them.

There was even a youth forum at the conference where delegates were full of new exciting ideas on how to upset traditional models of for-profit businesses and do things differently.

As with my previous attendance at a SEWF event, I went to learn and came away with not just colleagues but with friends.

Much publicity has recently been given to bowel conditions through the wonderful work of Bowel Babe (the late Dame Deborah James), illusionist Dynamo (Steven Frayne), TV personality Sam Faiers and others.

However, more needs to be done to support children with bowel disorders. Away-from-home toilets expose these children to dangers through their suppressed immunity to germs as a side-effect of their medication. STAT SALUS gives them free on-the-go toilet hygiene products to liberate them from the confinement of their own home so that they can rejoin their social communities and achieve their true potential in life.

Everything I gained from SEWF2022 was about me learning how to help these kids in a bigger and better way. There’s so much more that can be done to help them. Around 95% also suffer stress and even clinical depression through living in isolation at home away from their friends.

After the main SEWF events, many of the Scottish delegation headed to Beechworth in rural Victoria, where they learned that support for social enterprises in rural parts of the state is lacking compared to the larger cities, and community buy-backs need to be funded through community investment and philanthropy. Again, this learning was vitally important for bringing back to Scotland to look at how we support SEs in rural communities.

Some stayed on in Australia to pursue further business opportunities, and it’s safe to say that everyone clearly made the most of being at the forum. Repeat and new delegates are guaranteed SEWF 2023 in Amsterdam.