Key learning from Scottish Government and Quebec Social Economy Policy Exchange

In May, Co-operative Development Scotland team leader, Darah Zahran, was invited to participate in the Scottish Government’s and Quebec Social Economy Policy Exchange Led by Social Enterprise World Forum and hosted by Chantier de L’Economie Sociale We caught up with Darah to find out more about what her key takeaways were from this insightful and inspiring programme.

Image of Darah Zahran

Quebec is a beautiful Province in Northeast Canada where Quebecers pride themselves on their heritage, culture and deep-rooted sense of fairness and integrity. In many ways this was a home from home for our Scottish delegation as we benefitted from the genuine warmth and welcome of Quebec’s key Social Economy flag bearers. This 6-day study visit at the end of May was a valuable opportunity to understand the Quebec inclusive models ecosystem and policy landscape. The programme was as varied as it was busy and included meetings with key stakeholders and intermediaries including, senior civil servants, the Quebec Federation of Co-ops, and visits to a range of working social enterprises and co-ops based in both Montreal and Quebec City. We also were fortunate to meet with Quebec’s Minister for the Economy – Christopher Skeete, who shared his enthusiasm for the value of private, public and third sector collaboration in the growth of Quebec’s economy.

We were a group of 7 – with Scottish Government’s Social Policy Team and the Social Enterprise World Forum leading the way. HIE, SOSE, Firstport and Social Investment Scotland were also represented as we spent a packed week engaged in non-stop learning, discussion, questioning and strategizing.

Scotland prides itself on having one of the most advanced policy landscapes and supportive ecosystems in the world for social enterprises and co-operatives but Quebec is undoubtedly on a par, if not slightly ahead. This has mainly been achieved through their decisive move, approximately 10 years ago, to place the Social Economy portfolio (similar to Scotland’s inclusive models descriptor of co-ops, employee owned businesses and social enterprises) into the main Economy Directorate. This allowed social entrepreneurism and shared ownership business models to go from strength to strength with Quebec’s economy currently benefitting from over 11, 200 inclusive model enterprises providing overall sales that exceed $47,8 billion (more than the construction, aeronautic, and mining industries combined). Over 220,000 people work in the social economy every day, in all sectors of activity from retail to the emerging technologies.  2,410 of these enterprises are non-financial co-ops with a further 350 operating as financial or mutual co-ops.

Given Scotland’s focus on developing a wellbeing economy and growing our inclusive models sector in line with our National Performance Framework, this visit was an opportunity to learn more about Quebec’s support for social investment, progressive socioeconomic strategy and policy, business support, social procurement, legislation and legal forms. The ground-breaking introduction of a Social Economy Act drives a 5 yearly Social Economy Plan which is presented to Parliament and owned by the Economy Minister, giving it real weight and validation in terms of economic development consciousness and commitment. Indeed, while we were there the Regional Government announced a $2,350,000 non‑repayable contribution to our hosts, the Chantier de l’économie sociale, in support of their mission to create favourable conditions and public policies for stronger social entrepreneurship and raise awareness of its valuable contribution to a more democratic, sustainable, and fair economy.

There were so many incredibly successful and passionate entrepreneurs willing to share their insights and experiences during our week but what struck me was the sheer scale of some of the projects we visited. Like Scotland, Quebec has a number of large buildings and disused sites, in prime locations, and at risk of long-term abandonment and dilapidation. Many (but not all) of these were religious property assets of a significant size which have recently been transformed into multi-faceted hubs, accommodating a range of socially-led, commercial businesses and facilities. These provide many services, products and community impacts for residents and consumers through strong enterprising models.  

We saw  innovative approaches in operation, bringing together regeneration initiatives, social impact, entrepreneurial expertise and creative design through effective co-operation and collaboration. Maison Mère Baie St-Paul, a large, converted convent in a small community outside Quebec City was one of three similar enterprises visited, and demonstrated the economic value of combining place-led opportunities with strong business acumen and purpose-led culture through a café facility, concerts, art exhibitions, business offices and commercial venues.

In the heart of Montreal we visited Angus, an old Canadian Pacific Railway site which has been renovated into an entire social innovation district and includes executive business premises, a shopping arcade and food court, a medical centre, student accommodation, a museum, and many other business outlets. This renovation, led by the social economy sector, has transformed a disused industrial site which was previously the workplace of 1000 people. Strong partnerships, investment and multi-stakeholder co-operation has resulted in a bustling, award-winning, purpose-led, and sustainable urban eco-district fit for the future and has breathed life back into an area of Montreal that was previously at risk of severe decline.     

 CETAL and PRISE in Quebec City were also great examples of strong manufacturing businesses employing disadvantaged workers to fulfil competitive contracts (including Starbucks and the national school bus service). Ensuring meaningful work is available for people furthest from the labour market has created a strong dedicated workforce which enables these organisations to both support their worker communities appropriately and successfully deliver services and products commercially.

My time in Quebec reminded me of the art of the possible and what can be done at scale to deliver real economic outputs and commercial success without compromising value or social impact.

In Scotland we have the history, passion and policy instruments that favour a strong and fair economy and can easily match Quebec’s proven ability to turn progressive thinking into purposeful action on an industrial scale.  Having seen the strong positioning of the social economy in Quebec’s policy landscape and its positive impact, I am excited to see how the collective might of all our inclusive model actors and ambassadors in Scotland can drive a national mindset that embraces sustainable and responsible economic growth – achieving the ideal balance between commercial success and social stability for our economy, people and planet.

Inclusive Models in Scotland

Find out more about support for inclusive business models in Scotland available via Co-operative Development Scotland