Social Innovation Challenge: Introducing the Shortlist and Panel

Meet this year’s shortlist

The Social Innovation Challenge funds and supports innovators to kick-start solutions that tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our time. The programme will address a new theme every year and in 2022 we looked for innovative solutions to climate change issues faced by rural communities in Scotland. This was in response to the increasingly worrying climate emergency and its effects on the most at-risk communities within Scotland. 

We received 13 applications in response to the Challenge, from the south of Scotland to the very north. We were thoroughly impressed by the caliber of the applications we received, as well as the passion demonstrated by the innovators behind these ideas. Over the last two weeks, our shortlisting panel had the very difficult task of selecting the strongest applications. This has led to four projects being progressed to the final stage of the Social Innovation Challenge. The four shortlisted solutions are: 

  • The Farr North Community Development Trust are looking to ensure that everyone in Farr can get to the places they need to get to, when they need to get there. Their aim is to establish a Community Transport Enterprise, utilising volunteers to drive pool electric vehicles. It will be an on-demand service offering affordable door-to-door transport across a very rural, sparsely populated and challenging geography which features in the worst percentile for geographical access. The solution will address rural inequalities and deprivation, as well as delivering significant carbon savings through the use of the electric fleet of vehicles. 
  • Iona Energy Ltd (IEL) is a community-led company on the ‘island off an island’ of Iona, which is a two-ferry three-hour journey from the Scottish mainland. IEL will install a ground source Heat Network, which will provide energy efficiency and affordable, sustainable low-carbon heat for a remote, fragile island community. The Heat Network will deliver a single-step transformation of over 40% of the combined residential, business and visitor heat-load of this globally renowned island. The Network will increase energy security, reduce bills, boost businesses, retain energy revenue, generate permanent community income, and catalyse further expansion of Iona’s Roadmap to a comprehensive cross-island low-carbon energy transition. 
  • Propagate are looking to grow the Local Food Hub in the Glenkens by creating a thriving, producer-led but community-involved sustainable and local supply chain. The Food Hub will address the challenge of availability and accessibility of locally produced good food in the local community. It will do this by cooperating as a producer-led collective, combining resources on a shared platform to offer a wide range of products. Produce will be delivered within a defined radius, partnering where possible with the local community transport company using electric vehicles.  
  • Ullapool Unpacked C.I.C. is set up to address the challenge of access to sustainable shopping options in a rural, Highland community. They want to help people produce less waste with a focus on reducing single use plastic consumption. They want to expand upon their existing service (currently a small refill trailer) and open a large Bricks-and-Mortar Refill Shop and Community Climate Hub. The Hub side of the enterprise will offer educational workshops and events around sustainability, as well as providing a space for food preservation and mending. 
Ullapool Unpacked
Ullapool Unpacked

The innovators behind these ideas have been invited to pitch to our expert Award Panel on 18 October. The Award Panel is made up of five individuals who between them have years of experience in innovation, social enterprise and green initiatives:  

  • Steve McQueen is one of the two founders of Sustainable Thinking Scotland CIC (STS), an environmental social enterprise based in the Falkirk area. It was set up in 2016 in an effort to tackle local food poverty, which then drove Steve and his colleague Sean to put their efforts into a venture that allows them to give back to the environment, their community and beyond. STS are particularly innovative through their use of biochar: a highly porous form of carbon obtained from baking wood within an oxygen-depleted environment that has the unique ability to draw and lock in nutrients and toxins from its environment. Find out more about STS by reading their Firstport case study. 
  • Ruth Milliken is a Firstport Board Member, as well as the Executive Assistant at Dunelm Energy & Campaign Coordinator at Scotland Lights up Malawi. Dunelm Energy are a Consultancy and Investment Company with an interest in supporting individuals, companies and social enterprises. Ruth herself has studied social enterprise as part of her MBA, which looked at the needs of the Scottish social enterprise sector in order to achieve superior performance, sustainability and provide maximum impact. She is therefore passionate about assisting social enterprises to succeed. 
  • Peter McColl is also a Firstport Board Member, as well as an innovation consultant with a particular interest in public engagement and participation in digital, data and AI applications. He has worked for Snook, Nesta and a variety of third-sector organisations. Between 2012 and 2015 he was Rector of the University of Edinburgh. He is particularly interested in matching social innovation with new technology to transform the economy, and in how we can design challenges to meet social needs. 
  • Margaret (Mags) McSporran has worked for Highlands and Islands Enterprise since 1995 in several different senior roles. She works closely with stakeholders, clients and communities, supporting them to develop and expand their businesses, and manages complex projects which contribute to the growth of Scotland’s economy. Currently Head of Social Enterprise Development, Mags is focused on developing policy mechanisms to promote the growth of social businesses, and supporting third sector clients with complex and challenging issues in the Highlands and Islands region. 
  • Finally, Kirstie Penman is Firstport’s Head of Programmes. She has many years of grant-making experience, which inform her decision-making at panel level across all Firstport’s awards programmes. Kirstie has previously worked in providing public and third sector legal support and was also a founding director of two start-ups, including an award-winning social enterprise and the first Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. This means that Kirstie has a particular understanding of the challenges facing individuals setting out on this journey and is keen to use what she learned to help them on their way. 

Despite having a panel with such vast amounts of experience between them, it will undoubtedly be a very difficult task to decide who will benefit from the £50,000 Social Innovation Challenge award. Nonetheless, we are committed to working with all four shortlisted applicants to help them develop their ideas further and find the support they need to take them forward. 

In the meantime, good luck to all the applicants from all of us at Firstport!