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Tackling Scotland’s deepest inequalities

The 2024 Social Innovation Challenge seeks to tackle the core inequalities preventing disadvantaged individuals from living well.

How can we create the most impact we can with £50,000?

This is the question we ask ourselves every year ahead of launching a new edition of our Social Innovation Challenge(SIC). With each edition, the programme seeks to offer grant funding and tailored support to an innovative solution to one the most pressing challenges of our times.  

But before we can identify and assess solutions, we need to understand the problems we are looking to address. From its very beginning, one of the core principles of the SIC was that it seeks to tackle challenges at the root – we want to look beyond projects that simply alleviate societal ills; ideally, we want to fund solutions that completely dismantle them or even prevent them from taking root in the first place. We believe that over time, approaches like these will be more likely to deliver tangible, long-lasting positive impact.  

Identifying the challenge 

So, how do we select a theme? After two successful editions that looked for solutions to climate change challenges faced by rural communities in Scotland (2022) and addressing the rising cost of living for Scotland’s most disadvantaged groups (2023), it was once again time to put our ear to the ground to find out what’s at the forefront of people’s thinking in 2024. Our first step was to run a visioning exercise at our stand during SCVO’s The Gathering event in November 2023. Visitors were invited to share their thoughts through post-its and a collage board, which gave us a sense of the key themes of concern. 

Image with post its with ideas from an event
The board with ideas from The Gathering

Our next step was to follow up on this exercise with some desk research and internal debates. Looking at risks and challenges on a global scale, the climate crisis seems to dominate the longer-term risk landscape. On a UK level, the economic downturn and the rising cost of living remain key concerns. And how does this translate to the Scottish context? The issues mentioned above (which also happen to align perfectly with our previous two themes) are very much present within Scotland and continue to pose pressing challenges.   

But the more we looked at the issues, the more we found it impossible to ignore how interconnected they were. For example, climate change will predominantly affect those who are already living within disadvantaged communities. Similarly, poverty deeply affects all areas of individuals’ lives, often to the detriment of their life quality and expectancy. Looking at the challenge from this angle and cross-referencing the evidence with what people told us at The Gathering, we were able to spot a deeper challenge which permeates across Scottish society: deep-rooted inequity and inequalities driving adverse health and wellbeing outcomes. 

Understanding the issue 

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of data to back up the severity of this challenge. Reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show that ‘hardship is intensifying’ at a UK level, due to various contributing factors including job insecurity, rising housing costs and poor mental health. Some of these issues are more likely to also affect already disadvantaged groups. For example, Shelter Scotland report that ‘If you have a disability, receive benefits, are a refugee or a person of colour you are more likely to face discrimination or struggle to find a decent home’ and adequate housing is a core building block of good health and wellbeing. 

There is also data to show that individuals living within Scotland’s most deprived communities face the highest health and wellbeing risks. Children growing up in deprived communities show ‘lower attainment while in school, were less likely to undertake physical activities in their early teenage years and recorded greater difficulties with their mental health.’ Disadvantaged communities are also more likely to be classed as ‘food deserts,’ which are areas where it is difficult to access affordable fresh food. This is contributing to ‘diet-related health inequalities in Scotland’s population’ as proven by the fact that two-thirds of people living in Scotland are overweight or obese, ‘with a higher proportion of people living with obesity in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.’  

And, of course, there are further complexities involved when individuals present multiple characteristics which increase their risk of disadvantage. Public Health Scotland reports that societal racism can affect multiple aspects of individuals’ lives, which in turn leads to ‘inequalities in many health outcomes that are evident across minority ethnic groups.’

Even more concerning is the fact that women belonging to ethnic minority communities ‘experience the compounding impact of multiple and intersecting barriers’, particularly in relation to their experiences of violence or abuse. These are just a few examples, as compounding inequalities sadly affect many other groups with protected characteristics. 

Whilst this data is more than sobering, it is just a snapshot of the various health and wellbeing inequalities that exist in our society. These inequalities are defined as the ‘unjust and avoidable differences in people’s health’ across various groups, which are caused by factors that are largely beyond the control of the individuals themselves, such as the environment they live in, access to transport, essential goods and services, opportunities for education, employment and so on. These inequalities drive life-long, compounding negative consequences, with Scotland having the ‘lowest healthy life expectancy in the UK’ and the burden of disease in the most deprived communities being ‘48% higher than the overall population rate.’ 

Can social enterprises help? 

We strongly believe that social enterprise can (and does already) play a role in addressing these inequalities. Social enterprises benefit communities by building more equitable systems and strengthening local economies through profit reinvestment, but they often also deliver activities which challenge those systemic barriers at the root of these inequalities. For example, Elect Her has supported women from all backgrounds in starting their political journeys by providing training and removing barriers such as lack of money or political connections. Or Invisible Cities, who have been training people with experience of homelessness as city tour guides and gain employability skills. And Homes for Good, who are the only property management company and letting agency that specialises in providing homes for people on low incomes or benefits.  

These are just a few examples of the many that exist within Scotland and beyond. With this year’s SIC, we would like to invite our bright and ambitious social entrepreneurs to turn their focus on this challenge and put forward new ideas for how we can break down the barriers driving these inequalities. As before, the challenge winner will receive a £50,000 grant and tailored support to help them kick-start their solution. The other finalists will also receive bespoke advice in the form of additional signposting to alternative sources of funding or support. To help with this aim, this year we have partnered with our colleagues at The Ventures Lab to explore the opportunity for our eligible SIC finalists to join their support pathways.

What we look for in an application 

In terms of what we are looking for in an application, it is important to remember that the SIC is not about alleviating crises but preventing them at the root. We believe that for this to be true, we need two elements in particular: innovation and lived experience. We have a broad understanding of what social innovation means, but it ultimately comes down to ensuring that there is an element of trying something new which has the potential to unlock great positive social impact. We are looking for the involvement of lived experience in the shaping of the solution because we are firm believers in grassroots approaches, which are based on an intimate understanding of the complex issues they seek to tackle and the communities they want to serve. Ideally, the project would also show potential for scale or replicability, allowing other communities facing similar challenges to benefit from the learnings. 

Of course, as this is a Firstport challenge, the solutions need to be delivered through a social enterprise entity. This means that we will look for direct social impact, a mechanism for generating income, and the potential for the enterprise to become financially sustainable over time. Last but not least, we will also keep an eye on how environmentally sustainable the proposed projects are, with a preference towards projects which consider their impact on the natural environment and alleviate any negative consequences as much as possible. For help with any of the elements mentioned here, we strongly suggest that all applicants seek Just Enterprise support before applying to the SIC.  

Could you be our next Social Innovation Challenge winner? 

If you have an idea that meets the above criteria, get in touch. Expressions of Interest for the SIC will open on Tuesday 28 May. Between June and July there will be several opportunities to access further support, such as group Q&As and webinars which will provide further explanation on the criteria and the application process. 

Applications will be open for 4 weeks between Wednesday 7 August and Wednesday 4 September. 

Please see our Social Innovation Challenge page to learn more about the theme, eligibility criteria, and key dates. If you would like to speak to someone about this programme, get in touch with Carmen, the Social Innovation Challenge Programme Manager, at carmen@firstport.org.uk.