Top five lessons learned from migrant social entrepreneurs (that really apply to all social entrepreneurs)

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For the last two years, Metropolitan, The Young Foundation and Olmec have been working together to grow social entrepreneurship, particularly among migrants and ethnic minority groups in London and Nottingham. We provided support to over 60 migrant social entrepreneurs through Olmec’s First Steps in Social Enterprise and The Young Foundations CLIMB (Community Level Investment for Migrant Businesses) programmes.

When I talk about my role leading this project, many people ask me why we need a specific project for migrants- what’s the difference between the challenges faced by migrant social entrepreneurs and those faced by non-migrant social entrepreneurs?

Both of these questions are important. The UK is extremely diverse and it is impossible to ignore the varied make-up of our society. We are constantly bombarded with headlines about the number of migrants on benefits or the rising number of Eastern Europeans taking our jobs, however we have little information on the number of migrants positively contributing to our economy and how they are leading social innovation in our communities through their enterprise.

Migrant enterprise seminarLast month we held an event to share the learning from our work. The venue was filled with attendees from housing, investment, procurement and, of course, social entrepreneurs. The common message from all groups was that more needs to be done to engage social enterprises in the supply chain of public sector organisations. The Social Value Act was a step in the right direction, however how do we ensure public sector organisations are playing their part. Chi Onwurah MP said social entrepreneurs should “stand up for the values that make them better than a larger organisation” and that too often the public sector is looking for a short term gain.

Although the focus was migrant social enterprise, there were a number of messages that could be applied to all types of social enterprises. Below are the top five:

Number 1: Improved communication
One of the biggest challenges faced by migrant entrepreneurs is language. They sometimes find it difficult to articulate their business idea. But this is not as unique as it sounds. By using The Young Foundation Social Business Model Canvas we created a common business language that was understood by all of the partners, entrepreneurs and staff at Metropolitan. If any entrepreneur wants to win contracts, language and communication is key. You need to understand the internal language of the organisation you are pitching to and adapt your business pitch to suit their style of communication.

Number 2: Formalised structures
I cannot stress enough the importance of having a clear governance model and delivery structure that supports what you are planning to deliver. Many of the migrant social entrepreneurs we met were the chief executive, director, facilitator, administrator, all singing and all dancing one man band. Although this cut down on the cost of delivery, it was impossible to scale and deliver what they were offering. Ensure you know how you are going to deliver what you have promised and convince the client you can do it.

Number 3: Clear service offer
Now you have a common language, a clear structure and you finally succeeded in getting an appointment with someone influential within a housing association – whether it be the head of procurement, head of community regeneration or a community officers – make sure you have a clear offer that links directly with their business objectives and strategy. There is nothing worse than offering a service they already have and are running very successfully.

Number 4: Improved Networks
The migrant social entrepreneurs we met started their business because they identified a service that was not being provided for their community. Although they met a need they had a limited network, leading to limited funding streams and inability to grow. It is important to widen your network beyond your customer or client group. This opens you up to so many opportunities to learn but also win new work. If you are able to demonstrate it works with one group, it can be replicated for many other groups with the right business model.

Number 5: Procurement
If smaller social enterprises want to compete with larger organisations, the buzz word is procurement. By partnering with intermediary organisations like The Young Foundation and Olmec, public sector organisations can engage social entrepreneurs more easily. The success of the programme over the last two years has been a partnership of different organisations all coming from different perspectives but with one goal of growing the number of migrant social entrepreneurs.

For more information on the entrepreneurs that took part in the programme, read our Social Entrepreneurs Business Booklet.

For the key findings, please read Keeping in Touch with our Roots: The Case Study for Housing Associations to Build Closer Links with Social Enterprises.

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