A learning journey through Sweden

I’m a big believer that one can learn a lot about ones self by visiting other cultures, and last week I had the privilege to travel with Scottish Enterprise to Orebro, Sweden to attend an Interreg good practice meeting with other European countries as part of the RaiSE project, which compares social enterprise policy interventions across the EU. My role on the trip was to represent the Just Enterprise programme, of which Firstport delivers the start-up portion of.

We had the opportunity to hear from cooperatives in Italy, social financiers in Ireland, and social impact researchers in Vienna amongst others. But most exciting to me was spending time visiting 8 social enterprises in Region Orebro to see how they translated theory into practice. 

Visiting Miljovardscenturm reminded me of the Grassmarket Community Project with a restaurant, conference facilities, a wood workshop, and IT classes. Re:form reminded me of the work of the Remakery combined with Bike For Good and a charity shop.

While visiting Foreningen Funkis, we had the opportunity to hear about the joined up approach between the municipality (local authority) and the social economy sector with statuatiory work training programmes in the area being referred directly to social enterprises.

Mohass was particularly interesting as its model closely resembled that of the Workshop Aberfeldy who recently went through Firstport’s Launch Me programme. Mohass is a foam manufacturing business producing sponges and other products whilst giving work to young people those struggling with unemployment. And we even had the opportunity to visit and play at the Children’s Discovery House that, like The Yard, provides accessible play experiences for children.

But, my favourite of the trip was visiting Aniara Maskin och Fastighet because they successfully integrated employability training for disabled people alongside a professional ATV and scooter sales business. I liked this because it was just a business and without being told about the training and disabled people you wouldn’t be any the wiser. I loved being told that they try and act as if there aren’t disabled people, only businesses that aren’t accessible.

At the end of the tour we had the chance to sit down with the County Mayor and other politicians and digest some of our learning alongside a traditional Swedish Smorgasbord at Orebro Castle.

What I took from this entire trip was that countries across Europe are asking the same questions we are, only in different contexts. Understanding how they approach those questions and formulate their solutions can help us come up with innovative solutions here in Scotland. I loved how they incorporated Social Enterprise into the wider economic conversation politically and think Scotland has a lot to learn from that approach.  

I had a great time representing Scotland at over these few days and highly recommend a learning journey for anyone wanting to find new approaches to their work. 

In September the Interreg RaiSE group comes to Edinburgh, and we will have the opportunity to share our own context with the other nations. I can't wait to see what questions arise that can help us improve our practice.

Josiah Lockhart 

Chief Executive at Firstport, Social Entrepreneur & RaiSE Scottish stakeholder