Is capitalism broken? The question was being asked well before the outbreak of Covid-19, but the virus has added fuel to the debate as the pandemic has expanded social divides, widened gaps in inequality, and spread angst among the population.

Many businesses upon which most people rely for their livelihoods have been left scrambling for survival, creating further critical weakness in the social fabric. Pandemic “pivoting” – the king of business buzzwords in 2020 – has given rise to delivery-only restaurants, direct-to-consumer movie premiers, drive-in music gigs and a host of other offerings that would have been all but unimaginable just eight months ago.

The re-invention of business models is inevitable, but the scale and speed at which these transformations are taking place has truly been breath-taking. Covid-19 has forced everyone to get creative in coming up with workarounds to deliver their goods and services to the market, but what’s important to customers – what they desire – has also changed.

As convenience store retailers can attest, lockdown restrictions have driven the majority of people to shop locally. This renewed focus on what’s nearest to hand is simultaneously propelling a re-evaluation of what we hold dearest, and appears to be spurring interest in equitable alternatives to business as usual.

That’s certainly been the case at Community Shares Scotland, which is in the midst of the busiest period ever in its six or so years in operation.

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Launched in 2014 with backing from the Scottish Government and the National Lottery Community Fund, the programme has to date helped 35 enterprises raise more than £12 million. It therefore averages a little less than six such offerings per year, normally with only two ever running at the same time.

But the Covid-19 crisis has changed that as people look for ways to save the local spaces that they care about. Community Shares Scotland currently has three share offers in progress and a further six coming up in the next couple of months.

It also recently completed a funding round on behalf of Loch Ness Hub, a community transport, tourism information and travel centre project set up by the Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association. That closed after reaching its upper target of £110,000.

Community shares are a funding mechanism for co-operative and community benefit societies. Members have just one vote, regardless of how much they invest, and there are limits on how much an individual can invest, which prevents the society from being dependant on a handful of large investors.

Shares never go up in value, though investors may receive limited interest on the money they’ve put in. They also have the right to withdraw some or all of their share capital, subject to terms and conditions.

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The main aim is to support a community purpose, rather than financial gain, and investments can start at as little as £10. Throughout the UK, community shares have been used to save local shops and pubs, finance renewable energy schemes, transform community facilities, fund new football clubs, restore heritage buildings and support programmes for those in need.

In Scotland, the Common Ground Against Homelessness share offer set up by the Rowan Alba charity is currently looking to raise £650,000 to buy a second property in Edinburgh to create permanent shelter for rough sleepers. R-evolution for Good, a social enterprise aiming to end child poverty in Moray, has set a target of £40,000 while Yetholm Community Shop launched an £80,000 funding drive earlier this week.

Those slated to launch in the coming weeks include campaigns by Cockburnspath Shop, Eigg Brewery, the Ballantrae Kings Arms, Raasay Hydro, Sleat Hydro and LEG Power Hydro. All told, these campaigns are looking to raise a combined £2m in funding.

In the bigger scheme of things, it would be easy to dismiss those numbers as mere tinkering around the edges of the economy. But this pandemic has cast a spotlight on the need for sustainability, a metric where community shares score highly: according to new research from Co-operatives UK, those enterprises that have raised money in this way have an impressive 92 per cent survival rate to date.

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It would hardly be the first time in memory that crisis has given rise to new ways of doing business. The social enterprise movement that community shares stem from got a huge boost in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as young people in particular examined the economic fall-out and started looking at ways to reform capitalism to create an economy that works for everyone.

Research released in September 2018 – about a decade on from the global banking meltdown – by Social Enterprise UK found that the sector was worth £60 billion a year to the UK economy, more than double previous Government estimates.

Its researchers put the total number of UK social enterprises – firms that balance their profits alongside the benefits they bring to society – at approximately 100,000. By their calculations, the sector accounted for 3% of annual GDP, employing 5% of the UK workforce.

The discrepancy in those figures and previous Government estimates that put the annual value of social enterprise at £24bn was the decision by Social Enterprise UK to include about 5,000 larger organisations falling within the criterion for the sector. The Government’s calculations only covered small and medium-sized firms.

Whichever way you slice those numbers, the social enterprise movement has clearly had an impact beyond its own boundaries. A cross-sector survey by Deloitte, also released in 2018, found that 65% of chief executives rated “inclusive growth” among their top three strategic concerns, more than three times greater than the proportion citing “shareholder value”.

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Social capital’s new-found status alongside financial and physical capital was further underlined last month when the World Economic Forum, alongside some of the world’s largest accounting firms, published a comprehensive framework for measuring stakeholder capitalism.

Critics argue that although these are steps in the right direction, stakeholder capitalism is still trapped within a system geared towards shareholder primacy. Not enough substantive change was achieved, they say, despite the scale of economic destruction from the near-collapse of the global banking system.

As cataclysmic as those events were, the coronavirus pandemic has taken economic crisis to an entirely new level. Given the speed of wholesale change in how we work, live and conduct business, it would be surprising if that is not also reflected in an accelerated push for a material overhaul of our economic zeitgeist.