In our rapidly changing economic environment, entrepreneurship appears more and more as a fundamental source of jobs and economic growth for the European Union. But entrepreneurship has also an important role to play in creating a more inclusive society, in the integration of migrants and other vulnerable groups. For this reason, the European institutions are dedicating increasing attention to how to foster migrant and inclusive entrepreneurship at the EU level. To know more about how the forms this support takes, The New European talked to Lowri Evans, Director-General at DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and Growth (DG GROW).
What role does entrepreneurship play in the EU’s strategy to integrate migrants?
Successful integration is a process that happens over time, involving many different dimensions (e.g. education, employment, entrepreneurship and culture) and in different contexts. Employment is a core part of the integration process: that is why the Commission set labour market integration as one of its policy priorities in its 2016 Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals. Indeed, finding a job is key to becoming part of a country’s economic and social life, and it is a first step to finding accommodation and ensuring decent living conditions. The role of entrepreneurship is very important as it is a way for third country nationals to contribute to the economy and become integrated into society.
In what ways does the European Commission create and support an environment attractive to migrant entrepreneurs and business professionals?
Europe needs entrepreneurs. They drive economic growth, create companies and jobs, open up new markets, and develop new skills and capabilities. The Commission aims to support a business-friendly environment that is attractive to all forms of entrepreneurship. This also means that business support services should be able to reach all potential entrepreneurs, including migrant entrepreneurs. In the EU, migrant entrepreneurs already represent an important pool of business founders. They create new jobs and significantly contribute to the EU’s economic growth. In fact, more than 2 million self-employed people in the EU were born outside of their current country of residence. Almost half of these entrepreneurs were born outside of the EU. Yet, potential migrant entrepreneurs can face many legal, cultural and language barriers. The Commission considers that the problems migrant entrepreneurs encounter should be addressed in full, so they can get the support that other entrepreneurs receive. The Action Plan thus encourages EU Member States to support migrant entrepreneurship through tailored business training and mentoring, and to open up mainstream entrepreneurship support structures to third country nationals.
What kind of tools does the European Commission provide to the most vulnerable entrepreneurs to overcome barriers, such as language, financial, legal and linguistic ones?
Given the importance of entrepreneurship to the EU economy, it should become a more attractive and realistic option for everybody. But there are many people in the EU who face specific challenges when setting up and running a business. Their entrepreneurial potential is not fully exploited and they are often not effectively reached by existing business support services. Migrants are one of these groups. The 2016 conference on migrant entrepreneurs highlighted that effective and targeted business support schemes have an important role to play in supporting migrant entrepreneurs and fostering their integration. Moreover, helping migrants to access local networks of entrepreneurs, service providers (e.g. credit institutions) and clients helps create new opportunities and contributes to the success of their businesses.
To help existing support organisations to further develop their services for migrant entrepreneurs, the Commission recently published a Guidebook on Good Practices in Promoting and Supporting Migrant Entrepreneurship. The Guidebook offers 1) a self-assessment tool for service providers to help them improve their actions targeting migrant entrepreneurs and 2) examples of good practice.
In 2016, the Commission launched two calls for proposals to support the creation, improvement and wider dissemination of support schemes for migrant entrepreneurs. The first batch of new projects will target organisations working in the field of migrant entrepreneurship and encourage them to network, exchange experiences and good practices, exploit synergies and create strategic collaborations. The second batch of projects will focus on training courses (e.g. on entrepreneurship, business planning, and legal aspects of setting up a company and hiring employees), as well as mentoring schemes for migrant entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs.
The Europe 2020 strategy aims to create the conditions for ‘smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth’: does this strategy include a ‘special’ plan for women who aspire to start a business?
Women constitute 52% of the total European population, but only one-third of the self-employed and of business start-ups. Women thus represent a large pool of entrepreneurial potential in Europe. In 2009, the Commission inaugurated the European Network of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors, who serve as inspirational role-models for potential women entrepreneurs. This was followed in 2011 by the European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs, who voluntarily counsel women starting and running new businesses. Since 2016, the Commission is supporting women who want to start, run and grow a business with the WEgate platform, a European one-stop shop. It is an on-line platform that facilitates training, mentoring and advice for women entrepreneurs. The platform gives them access to crucial information for their business, and provides networking opportunities.
Thanks to Silvia Manfredini, UNITEE, and Slawomir Tokarski, European Commission, for the support in realising this interview