This article is part of the Thomas Reuters Foundation.
When an 87-year-old man fell down outside their primary school, the children brainstormed how to help elderly people in their Scottish village. And their conclusion was to start a business.
Going door-to-door, the children had already noticed that old people, often living alone, appreciated a chat more than the free lettuces they were giving away from their school garden.
So the students set up a community cafe in their school hall where everyone could congregate – one of more than 1,000 ethical businesses that children have created and run in Scotland, a global leader in fostering young social entrepreneurs.
“Lots of people have passed (away) relatives so they are all alone in the world,” said Rory White, an 11-year-old at Dairsie Primary School, some 50 miles (80 km) north of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, smartly dressed in his blue school jumper.
“By including them in our actions, it helps them and makes their day and life better.”
As youth unemployment and the gap between rich and poor grow globally, campaigners say social entrepreneurship should be taught in all schools to equip the next generation with skills to solve pressing social and environmental challenges.
With social entrepreneurship already being offered by several prestigious universities, including the London School of Economics and Harvard University, campaigners in Britain are lobbying for the subject to be added to the school curriculum.
Scotland is already a trailblazer. It aims to have a social enterprise – or business that seeks to do good while also making a profit – in every school nationwide by 2026 as part of its 10-year plan to promote the sector.
More than a dozen countries around the world have national social enterprise policies but Scotland is unique in having a long-term strategy, according to Juliet Cornford, an advisor with the British Council, which promotes British culture abroad.
“Teaching social enterprise in schools provides young people with the sense that, even from a really young age, they can do something to affect change where they see a social problem,” she said.
Learning is easy
All of Dairsie Primary School’s 52 pupils – aged between 4 and 11 – have become social entrepreneurs, either growing or cooking food, or serving soups, cakes and hot drinks when the cafe opens once a month for two hours after school.
The students also manage stock, keep spreadsheets of accounts and ensure that health and hygiene regulations are followed, said their teacher Ruth Selbie.
Running the cafe has given the children a passion for learning, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s real life maths, money, business, technology, outdoors, home economics … (every subject) seems to be covered by something they are actually bothered about,” she said.
“It’s hard to get them to care. But if they already care, then the learning is easy.”
In September, the cafe had more than 100 customers in a village of 400 people, said Selbie.
Residents from Northeden House, a nearby care home run by local authorities, visit the cafe and the children’s families bring their own elderly relatives.
After opening the cafe, the pupils began visiting Northeden House regularly, making soup and practicing chair yoga with the elderly residents, who offered gardening advice in return.
“It has opened up our school to the wider community, allowing the children to gain a confidence in speaking to elderly people,” said Selbie.
“You’ve got this 87-year-old and this 9-year-old and they are laughing at the same thing.”
About 1,000 schools in Scotland – or two in five – have taught their students how to run a social business since 2007, says the Social Enterprise Academy (SEA), which has largely driven the trend in Scotland with its nationwide tutor network.
SEA – itself a social enterprise – trains teachers and provides lesson plans and entrepreneurs to help students choose a cause they care about and run a business for at least a year.
It received 660,000 pounds ($862,092) funding from the government in 2016 to expand its work, communities secretary Aileen Campbell said in emailed comments.
“The Scottish government is inspired by the power of social enterprise as a tool for positive social change,” she said.
Scotland, a country of 5 million, has almost 6,000 social enterprises, providing about 80,000 jobs, the government says, many of them in poor rural communities.
SEA has global ambitions. It went international in 2012, rolling out social enterprise education in schools in Kazakstan, Greece, Australia, Malawi and Pakistan.
“It’s about developing a young workforce, preparing young people for work. The skills they’re developing have got to match the economy that is out there,” said Emily Mnyayi, SEA’s head of education in schools.