Chris Higgins, our friend and Board member, sadly passed away on 31 May 2016
This is a tribute to a man who had enormous impact and was a great supporter of social enterprise in Scotland
By Neil McLean, CEO at the Social Enterprise Academy
Chris Higgins spent the majority of his working life at Highlands & Islands Enterprise. As such you may be surprised to hear me describe him as a social entrepreneur, but that is what he was. Chris understood how the public sector worked and he also understood and was passionate about how the social economy worked. He used his considerable talents to further the cause of Social Entrepreneurs in Scotland and beyond and he will be sorely missed by many people in the Social Enterprise scene.
I first met Chris at a board meeting of the Social Enterprise Academy – indeed he was one of the first people asked to join the board by the founding organisations – Senscot, Unltd and CEIS. I was new to the Social Enterprise scene having spent much of my early career in the Private Sector. My jaundiced impression of how the public sector worked informed by tabloid press articles couldn’t have been further from the truth of how Chris conducted himself.
One of the first tasks I found myself involved with was trying to wrestle with the process of defining / redefining the Academy’s Vision and Mission Statement: “A society which combines economic activity with community benefit, led by dynamic social entrepreneurs - wherever we may find them”. This statement has not changed since that day – the only additional element we have added is the last 5 words – wherever we may find them. We are finding social entrepreneurs in all walks of life – in our schools, in our local authorities, in the private sector and beyond. It was this inclusive, broad perspective that Chris brought to the table and it is his outlook that I will personally miss.
As the Academy has grown over the years, I could not have asked for a more considerate, thoughtful and capable board member than Chris. His interventions were always constructive, well considered and designed to take people with him. Despite being very challenging to us all, he never made anyone feel that they were being personally criticised.
As we considered loan finance for the first time many people might consider that the librarian trained, Millwall supporting civil servant would be the last to sign up – not a bit of it. Chris was absolutely clear that the Academy should be playing a leading role in facing the challenges faced by the sector and growing our understanding through learning by doing. A relatively new board member who joined the board 3 years ago shared this note with me when he heard of Chris’s passing and I think it sums up nicely the contribution Chris made.
“For me Chris was a highly respected and valued member of the Board. When he spoke we listened. I always regarded Chris as the social conscience of the Academy there to gently remind us of the origins and ethos of the Academy. His thoughtful and measured contributions will be greatly missed.”
Graham Bell our chair, David Bryan our H&I programme manager and I attended Chris’s funeral. Chris was a humanist celebrant in his spare time after retirement from H&I so it was no surprise to enjoy a humanist celebration of his life. Despite no public information being available about his funeral arrangements it was standing room only and it was great to hear stories about his earlier life.
Chris had a very rich life in and out of his day job. I will miss him.