Benevolent gang leaders, commercial escapees and sleepers: a conceptual framework for Scottish social enterprise leadership engaging with the ‘new society’.
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This exploratory research study examines the experiences of a purposive sample of leaders of Social Enterprises (SEs) in Scotland to discover how leaders deal with the challenges of running this type of organisation at a period of financial constraint, yet where SE is proposed by politicians as a panacea for dealing with social and community development. The method consists of semi-structured interviews undertaken with a purposive sample of leaders from a range of SEs. Findings suggest that respondents are aware of, and seeking to address, threats to their existence from funding cuts. There are differences regarding approach or emphasis, and the challenge of balancing philanthropy with commercial health seems significantly to impact on the design and purpose of organisations. The best leadership practice combines ideological fervour with commercial acumen. The ability of SEs to survive depends not only on the quality of their outputs, but also on flexibility of structure and culture and stakeholder commitment. Good leaders are aware of these complexities and seek to respond to them. Recommendations are made for development interventions to support SEs as they deal with the challenges described above. If the future of SE in Britain relies on its ability to operate commercially, this study offers original and useful insights into some of the challenges for leaders in achieving their aims, not least that of securing survival. At an early stage of the Conservative administration, and its promotion of the so-called Big Society theme, this study sheds unique light on the perceptions of those who might carry this vision forward, and the challenges they face. Further research with a wider sample is proposed to extend understanding of the issues.