ESAF as a Social Enterprise / by Esaf Commitee

Here at ESAF, we talk a lot about being a social enterprise — not least of all because we were recently recognised by Social Enterprise Scotland as the winner of its Inspiring Youth Enterprise Award and, in May 2016, we were listed as one of Scotland's top ten most socially innovative social enterprises.  

…This is all pretty cool…but what exactly is a social enterprise?

Simply put, it’s a business which works to help the community around them. All profits that they make are either reinvested in the business or donated to the particular cause to which they are devoted. It’s very likely you’ve bought something from, or at least come across, a social enterprise before — even if you’re not aware of it. Examples of social enterprises include the street newspaper the Big Issue, the chocolate brand Divine and the coffee suppliers Café Direct. Beyond having a good cause, social enterprises are also about good management, namely: honest and transparent business practices. A social enterprise can take any legal structure but must be asset locked and have no shareholders — in ESAF’s case, having no shareholders means that we have to reinvest our profits. 

Okay, so this is all really cool…but what exactly does ESAF do to qualify as a social enterprise? 

ESAF promotes creativity and opens opportunities for emerging creatives. We began as a social enterprise dedicated to giving creatives space to exhibit their work in public via our festival programme. From there, we evolved to provide a year-round membership which provides opportunities for networking, professional growth and support. Our members  perform or exhibit during the festival as well as attending development seminars and hosting workshops. Within ESAF they learn how to market themselves and develop the logistical and entrepreneurial skills demanded of creatives. By participating in the ESAF network emerging creatives can skill-share and meet like-minded individuals who offer advice and expertise. You don’t have to study something arts-related to benefit from what ESAF has to offer. We encourage and facilitate creativity at every level. Non-arts students and recent graduates from a non-arts background who are keen to pursue their creative interests still have access to our full programme and those who want to get into the arts but don’t know where to start can find plenty of advice and inspiration within the ESAF framework.

As well as having a direct impact upon programme members and exhibiting creatives, ESAF helps spread positive change throughout the Edinburgh community. In a city which is taken over every August by an immensely important cultural festival, it can feel as though students don’t have an opportunity to make their mark where they live. ESAF offers a chance to change this, to take ownership of Edinburgh and allow their creative work to feed into the city’s creative community.

Furthermore, all of the events within our festival are accessibly priced, helping to engage the public with culture as well as bridging the gap between student creatives and the public. In this way, professional relationships are able to grow at a grass-roots level and the public is exposed to new artists and performers with fresh ideas. 

Finally, by taking an interdisciplinary approach and encompassing a range of educational institutions, ESAF promotes cooperation. Each distinct branch of the arts is enriched and revitalised by its contact with other artistic disciplines and creatives from different institutions are influenced by one another in varied and unexpected ways. 

ESAF team at the Social Enterprise Scotland Awards. Photo courtesy of Social Enterprise Scotland

ESAF team at the Social Enterprise Scotland Awards.

Photo courtesy of Social Enterprise Scotland