Another day, another seminar. This Monday’s was the Commission’s conference on job creation through inclusive entrepreneurship – and what a change has been wrought over policy since the Mutual Learning seminar 2 years ago. Back then, the people on the platform seemed to view self-employment as very much the poor relation something that only losers would choose to do.
This time round, the panel was occupied by successful minority entrepreneurs, and expertly facilitated by Patrick Sapy of microStart and Martin Jung of Evers & Jung. Full marks to Andrea Maier of EMPL/C3 and her colleagues for putting it together.
There was, perhaps inevitably, a fly in the ointment. This is the apparent inability of policy-makers to recognise the existence or value of collective entrepreneurship. Whilst it is welcome that the role model of the entrepreneur is now more rounded and includes Tunisian women and French gens de voyage, it is still way too individualistic. There’s something of a schizophrenia that sees small business as being economic and solitary, and partitions this from cooperatives which are collective and social. And never the twain do meet. In this way, policy comes to mirror the divisions within the institutions that make it – the silo effect.
What is entrepreneurship for?
But in the real world, motivations are mixed and human links are fluid. Entrepreneurship is a social construct, and economics itself is behavioural, as is beginning to be widely recognised. Entrepreneurship policy-makers must therefore maximise the role of the social movements that promote business creation among the population – and these include not just community organisations among women or ethnic minorities, but also co-operative movements. At the moment, the accent is on individuals, but if you can get a coop started, you are creating several jobs at the same time, so it’s effort well spent. Also at the moment the emphasis is on creating debt – offering microloans with which people can start businesses. This overlooks the much sounder long-term strategy of savings-based community finance institutions such as credit unions. We must always keep in mind the question What is entrepreneurship for? It is clearly about creating prosperity and welfare, so it clearly matters who is doing it and who benefits from it.
There are tools that use social capital to help business start-ups. The simple tool of a community guarantee, through which a group of friends and supporters club together to guarantee a loan, brings with it two pieces of added value. First, the guarantors represent successful market research – they wouldn’t contribute if they didn’t think the business had a future. Secondly, they represent mentors – they won’t be frightened to offer advice if the entrepreneur gets into difficulties.
In his opening speech, Koos Richelle, Director-General of EMPL, noted that he wants to establish a concrete action plan for the care sector (and for the green and IT sectors too). Let’s hope that at last here the co-operative sector is given the requisite recognition.