Sandy Kennedy: 'To have impact, we must move to action immediately'

One thing is clear, when we face a crisis, we can deliver change – and do it at pace.

New hospitals created in days; NHS staff retrained to work in ICU; employment support and our behaviours have transformed. People have adapted with speed and agility to the lockdown. Our Universities have developed the means to teach tens of thousands of students away from campus. Charities and volunteers have switched to providing food and care to those in need in our society by doing things very differently. Distribution businesses have stepped up by doubling and trebling capacity. Many restaurants are now online takeaways. IT specialists have enabled millions of us to work from home in record time and others have joined the Scottish Tech Army.

Everywhere you look there are tales of immense kindness, selflessness, grit and remarkable ingenuity. People in our commercial, public and third sectors, working together, have responded in ways that would have been unthinkable less than three months ago.

This is entrepreneurial spirit – the passion to make a difference twinned with dogged determination to do what it takes. Ideas alone are not enough, they must be matched by action.

The 103 support organisations in the CANDO Collective, Entrepreneurial Scotland’s community of entrepreneurial leaders and Scottish Government have the stated ambition for Scotland to become a “world-leading entrepreneurial, innovative and creative society”, perhaps even the best in the world. For the tough times ahead, we need to embed this entrepreneurial spirit in everything we do – solving problems, seizing opportunities. If not now, when?

To build a strong and resilient society we must fan this spark of entrepreneurial spirit into a flame. We must work differently. The top-down, siloed, tribal approach, heavy on talk and light on action is not fit for purpose. Our collective manifesto could be to:

1. Act as one tribe with a shared mission across private, public and charitable sectors – break down the silos, the cliques, the usual suspects.

2. Grassroots up – pass ownership of challenges and opportunities to those who really understand them and give them the tools to fix them. We have diverse communities and industries – international cities, large towns, small towns, villages, islands, different sectors … each has their unique characteristics and potential.

3. Collaborate with the best – untap the entrepreneurial expertise and experience outside the normal bubble. Access the shared learning, ideas, experience through all our connections.

4. Be Bold and brave – lead with entrepreneurial spirit. Identify the goal, gather the resources to hand and act with pace, listen and learn from what happens and repeat. Do not bound ourselves by “we tried that before” or “they will never say yes” or “that is too hard”.

5. Beat the drum – continuously share stories of entrepreneurial endeavour from all parts of our society.

To have impact, we must move to action immediately. Take the Finnieston Glasshouse plan developed by the local restaurateur community as a response to the challenges of social distancing. Pre-Covid this would have taken years, wasted energy and resources for it never to happen. Now, could this be assessed and actioned in weeks? Take University of St Andrews who are working with local businesses to provide quarantine and continued education for their returning international students – a vital source of income for Scotland plc.

There are limitless opportunities that can be solved by collective endeavour from teaching our children to supporting start-ups, from homelessness to opening international markets. As a country, we will need to be bold and throw away what does not serve us– reform procurement and infrastructure funding, answer how to move our charities and social enterprises away from living hand to mouth, reform how we invest at scale in our high potential firms.

It all starts with a willingness to embrace our collective entrepreneurial spirit. Without it we have already lost, with it we will always find a way. I have spoken to many, many people over the past few weeks who share this ambition. I have the privilege of leading the Entrepreneurial Scotland Foundation, a charity which is. My appeal is we, including Scottish Government, put the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Scotland at the centre of all our recovery work.

We have wings. We should use them. If not now, when?

(Article originally published on The Herald: