Yesterday it was announced that Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) board was safe from centralised control thanks to U-turn by Scottish Government – and today (Friday, March 31st) the development agency launched a new pilot project to help strengthen the capacity, capability and governance of social enterprises in the Western Isles.

Teaming up with the Bank of Scotland, HIE are set to provide highly qualified and experience individuals to serve as non-executive directors on social enterprise boards.

Eight social enterprises from Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross, Outer Hebrides, Argyll and Bute, Caithness and Sutherland, Moray, Orkney and Shetland are all taking part in the six-month pilot which will bring skills from a range of backgrounds, including commercial, retail and private banking, alongside those in project management, leadership, finance and commercialisation.

The idea for the programme came from Bank of Scotland's Shona Austin, area director SME Banking, Scotland, during a secondment with HIE to develop links between the agency and the banking sector.

The proposals were then developed by HIE ScotGrad placement, Catriona Mallows.

Catriona said: “Behind every successful social enterprise is a board providing strong strategic leadership and direction.

“This pilot programme is about providing social enterprise in rural areas with a range of expertise to which they might not otherwise have access.”

She continued: “We're very pleased with both the support from the Bank of Scotland and the level of interest from social enterprises taking part.

“We look forward to running the pilot and hearing how it has benefited the organisations.”

Social enterprises operate like most other businesses, but have a social and/or environmental purpose at their core – they reinvest all their distributable profit in the pursuit of that purpose.

The direct contribution the sector makes to economic growth, social well-being and improvement of public services is increasingly recognised by policy makers across the UK and further afield.

And the sector is particularly strong in the Highlands and Islands.

While the region is home to nine per cent of Scotland' population, it has 22% of the country's social enterprises; which together contribute more than £130million to the Highlands and Islands economy, provide employment for more than 7,000 people and opportunities for 14,000 volunteers.

Having a vibrant and expanding social enterprise sector is a priority for HIE.