The ripple effects from a vibrant third sector

24th September 2021
Written by: Fiona Curr, Interface

So how have the last 18 or so months changed things for you? It’s a question I’ve been asked frequently.  I think I’ve survived home schooling, something I hope never to experience again, yet my youngest still fancies it as an option, and now most of my activities from work to socialising are centred around my home.  In fairness, having children prepared me well for that.  But since the world has been turned upside down with Covid-19, so many wonderful people and organisations have shone through highlighting the enormous difference they are making to society, the environment and the economy.  Indeed, many of the hidden heroes support every sector imaginable.  And I’m now lucky enough to work for one such organisation that helps others daily delivering for society and the economy.

I can honestly say, I had never really considered the full spectrum of activities the 3rd sector and voluntary organisations delivered and it’s staggering.  Since coming to work at Interface I have had the pleasure of meeting, over a screen from my dining room, some of these exceptional people who have had an inspirational idea, brought to life though connecting them with Scottish academia. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Interface, we are a free service for businesses, including SMEs, public, private and 3rd sectors, matching them to Scottish academics.  Whether it involves knowledge exchange, business and product development, process or service improvement, analysis and testing or supporting workforces – our team, based across Scotland, can help you. Interface delivers right across Scottish Government priority outcomes, including health, environment, communities, education, young people, and international development.

In the last 3 years alone, we have worked with 125, 3rd sector organisations/social enterprises, helping create 98 jobs and leveraging almost £630K of funding from a range of bodies.  Encouragingly, three quarters of businesses reported ongoing relationships with universities because of Interface brokerage, demonstrating the strength of the connections and collaborations made.

One of the first partners I worked with when I started at Interface was CEIS, the UK’s largest and most experienced social enterprise support agency.  Together we’ve been organising a range of Inclusive Innovation webinars, targeting third sector organisations to help them access support and funding options to make ideas that do good a reality.  

It’s been a hugely enjoyable learning curve – who knew about biochar?  Well, me now we’ve delivered the webinar. It’s a bit like charcoal but has the potential to draw and lock in nutrients from wood waste and remove toxins from the environment. Sustainable Thinking Scotland Community Interest Company (STS C.I.C) were matched by Interface to the University of the Highlands & Islands (UHI) and the University of Strathclyde to test biochar production from wood waste and investigate its potential use as a nutrient. They have now successfully secured £190K investment from Firstport and Social Enterprise Scotland’s Catalyst Fund to enable them to bring their technology to market.

We also heard from Floco, and their plight to abolish period poverty and stigma through the development of reusable pads that were more affordable and environmentally friendly.  Over the years we have nurtured the company supporting their scale up and growth by brokerage with Heriot Watt University, University of Stirling, University of Strathclyde and Ayrshire College to name a few.  The reusable pad was launched to the market in July 2020.  Which means the UK sales are now subsidising Floco’s work internationally to ensure no one is limited by their period.

In our up-and-coming webinars we’re looking forward to hearing how modern slavery is being tackled, how with the use of Artificial intelligence (AI) a foodbank has identified those at risk from food poverty, and how disseminating advanced farming solutions to developing farmers in Rwanda are decreasing levels of malnutrition amongst other exciting case studies.

In short, 3rd sector organisations and social enterprises are helping the world go round.  In February 2021 we engaged a leading independent economic consultancy BiGGAR Economics Ltd to find out the contribution of Interface to sustainable and inclusive economic growth. They established the contribution to the Scottish economy from research and development projects between businesses and academics enabled by Interface was £88.9m GVA (gross value added), and supported 1,595 jobs, with expectations to reach £222.3 million GVA and 3,193 jobs. 

Can you imagine the affect if more third sector organisations reach out to access support from Interface? The ripples we’ve enabled could become a torrent accelerating seismic impacts locally, nationally, and globally. #NeverMoreNeeded