Mainstreaming migrant social enterprise

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Four years ago Lola and Sarah arrived in the UK homeless and with little English. Today they are setting up their own social enterprise. Now both fluent English speakers, they provide information, advice and guidance services to people in similar circumstances to those they had to overcome just a few years ago. When asked what inspired them they reply “we are two women from Eritrea and we want to help other people from Eritrea that are in the same position that we were in when we arrived in the UK”.

The enthusiasm is there, but migrant social entrepreneurs like Lola and Sarah still face many of the same issues as those experienced by enterprises that are not migrant led. Not only that but often limited language skills and difficulty in accessing mainstream networks only exacerbate the challenge. Migrant entrepreneurs are often providing services that have a social impact in their community – services like sports clubs for refugee children, translation for friends and family at the GP, mental health therapies for marginalised women. In so doing they create their own jobs and also generate additional employment and training opportunities for the local community. Migrant social enterprise obviously has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economy. Yet there’s still a disconnect between the work and impact of these migrant businesses and the mainstream.

Without wider networks and access to mainstream finances, these businesses will always remain marginalised despite having so much to offer beyond their communities. Metropolitan and Metropolitan Migration Foundation recognise these challenges and limitations faced by migrant social entrepreneurs and have been instrumental in supporting ventures like Lola and Sarah’s.

Nick Temple describes housing associations as the sleeping giants of social enterprise growth – and as the housing association Metropolitan has a unique history (and promising future) in supporting migrant social entrepreneurship. Lady Molly Huggins, wife of the Governor of Jamaica, set up the Metropolitan Coloured People’s Housing Association in the 1950s to provide housing for Jamaican and other West Indian immigrants. Over 60 years later Metropolitan manages over 36,000 affordable homes with rental and purchase options available to those with the greatest need. They provide a diverse range of services to over 80,000 customers across London, the East of England and the East Midlands.

These services now include supporting new and existing social enterprises through work with The Young Foundation. Metropolitan Migration Foundation, with their Small Grants Programme and Destitution Pack, offer grants of up to £5,000 to projects that support migrants in the areas of highest need; housing, advocacy, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) provision, employment and the process of tackling human trafficking. As Paul Birtill, Director of Metropolitan Migration Foundation, says “It is these individuals who create important and community-focused enterprises benefiting the wider community. We have partnered with The Young Foundation to deliver this programme to create real opportunities for local social entrepreneurs.”

Metropolitan have pledged to offer contracts, mentoring opportunities, support from The Young Foundation and gifts in-kind to ventures that are migrant led or those that benefit migrant communities. Social enterprise provides a livelihood for people like Lola and Sarah, relatively new to a country but still able to tackle social problems. Metropolitan’s work represents some of the first steps in identifying the contribution of migrant social entrepreneurs to the UK economy and over the next few months we will be working with them to provide the research and support needed to propel migrant social enterprise off the side and in to the mainstream.

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This blog entry was part of our second Ventures Network Newletter.

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