Long Read

Communities of practice for a more inclusive and impact driven entrepreneurship

How can we mobilise and empower business support organisations – including investors, incubators, accelerators – to expand their outreach to inclusive and social entrepreneurship? This is the mission of the Better Incubation project, co-led by EBN, EVPA and Impact Hub.

Communities of practice for a more inclusive and impact driven entrepreneurship
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Young people, women, seniors and migrants have fewer opportunities to transform their business ideas into reality. A new OECD/European Commission report shows they face problems of access to finance, skills, networks and institutional barrier that make it harder for them to start-up their ventures. As we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, these “missing entrepreneurs” are costing sorely needed economies ideas, innovation and jobs.

In addition, we know that social entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the Covid response, but also that they need support to overcome the challenges brought by the pandemic and to achieve a much-needed green and inclusive recovery.

How can we therefore mobilise and empower business support organisations – including investors, incubators, accelerators – to expand their outreach to inclusive and social entrepreneurship? How can they help social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs from under-represented groups, such as women, migrants, people with disabilities, young and older people, access financial tools and increase their businesses’ chances of survival and growth?

This is the mission of the Better Incubation project, which is co-led by EBN, EVPA and Impact Hub.

As part of this endeavour, Communities of Practice focused on main under-represented groups enable peer-to-peer learning and sharing of best practices and tools how to best approach and support (social) entrepreneurs from these groups. These communities of practice are also piloting new approaches in the field of social and inclusive entrepreneurship support by offering dedicated support to entrepreneurs across Europe.

EVPA members joined some of the communities of practice to share their experience and knowledge as investors for impact in providing support to social projects that improve the lives of women, migrants and refugees, young people, and people with disabilities.

“The Better Incubation project is leveraging EVPA members’ extensive knowledge on how best to support social and inclusive entrepreneurship – in particular on non-financial support and impact management & measurement which are key investing for impact practices. EVPA has played an active role in fostering peer learning and exchange of practical experiences between our members and mainstream business support organisations. Our aim is to help the transition of business support organisations towards better supporting impact driven entrepreneurship.” - Sara Seganti, EVPA Senior Manager Training

Supporting women impact entrepreneurs: Cartier Women’s Initiative

To have an impact on society we need to think how can we make entrepreneurship more inclusive and involve women. The Cartier Women’s Initiative sees women as changemakers in society. It brings recognition and gives visibility to women social entrepreneurs and provides them with support in growing their business and building their leadership skills. “We have a vision of a world in which every women impact entrepreneur can reach he-r full potential”, says Wingee Sampaio, Global Programme Director of the Cartier Women’s Initiative.

The Fellowship gives human and capital support during the selected women’s entrepreneurship journey. The programme also aims to build a community of past participants and supporters (coaches, mentors…) by connecting them through a digital platform and in-person gatherings in different cities.

Wingee also identifies a number of challenges for women entrepreneurship. There is a lack of global data on women impact entrepreneurship which would help them prioritise needs across different regions – this means it’s not possible to have a data driven approach to make decisions for the programme. Running a global programme with local needs means it is challenging to assess where and how they can add most value.

Access to finance for vulnerable groups is also an issue. Funders are only starting to consider this inclusion perspective and to understand the barriers they face in accessing funding and their specific investment needs.

For refugee start-ups: The Human Safety Net

The Human Safety Net is Generali’s corporate foundation and has a dedicated programme to support refugees and migrants to build successful businesses. “For Refugee Start-Ups” works with aspiring refugee entrepreneurs to implement their business ideas through training, coaching, and access to workspaces and financing. They adopt a venture philanthropy approach by providing both financial and non-financial support to entrepreneurs and supporting them to grow and scale their impact.

In parallel, they are also undertaking an intrapreneurial journey by creating links and synergies between the philanthropic arm and the commercial work of Generali.

“We also ensure we support the whole sector to grow – for instance by mapping the refugee entrepreneurship sector in Europe and gathering a community of partners to share good practices and experiences”, Alain Barbieri from The Human Safety Net emphasises.

One particular challenge is the lack of representation of migrants and refugees themselves in entrepreneurship structures. We need to bring the voices of persons with lived experience into the space at all levels – within the management structures of the social enterprises themselves, and among funders and researchers on the topic.

Another was the barriers migrants and refugee entrepreneurs face when it comes to accessing finance. This is why it is all the more important to have a tailored approach to supporting migrant and refugee entrepreneurs.

Promoting entrepreneurship among young people: JA Europe

JA Europe started because they wanted to build a bridge between the worlds of work and education. They do this by promoting entrepreneurship among young people, including social entrepreneurship, and as their motto goes: “for every 1€ invested in Junior Achievement 45€ is returned to society”. They reach 3.8 million young people every year and access 70,000 schools in 42 countries across Europe.

“We aim to bring young people on an entrepreneurial journey, from getting inspired, to taking part in learning experiences and peer communities, and finally contributing to creating jobs and innovative start-ups when they enter the world of work”, says Diana Filip from JA Europe.

To solve the specific challenge of engaging young people in entrepreneurship, JA Europe suggests trying to embed the programme into the curriculum of partner institutions, launching competitions as an incentive to give recognition to students, and partnering with external business mentors who can help students throughout the process.

Including people with disabilities in the labour market: Fundacion ONCE

There are 1.8 million people with disabilities in Spain and only 1 in 4 are in employment. The Fundacion Once’s work to promote the labour market inclusion of people with disabilities is therefore particularly important. Fundacion ONCE is the biggest employer of persons with disabilities and develops specific employability and entrepreneurship programmes targeted at people with disabilities.

Fundacion Once

Their employment and training programme supports entrepreneurs with disabilities throughout the whole process – by providing not only financial support, but also vocational training, support with building their business plan, a personal coaching programme for the entrepreneurs to guide them through their journey.

In addition, Fundacion ONCE started an incubator of social entrepreneurs, which is not just for entrepreneurs with disabilities but also includes initiatives that have a social impact in terms of improving the quality of life of people with disabilities.

“Our virtual platform and supportive networks across Spain enable entrepreneurs to create a community of practice and find synergies between their respective ventures”, Sabina Lobato from Fundacion ONCE explains.

Main challenges for entrepreneurs with disabilities include lack of accessibility and the difficulty of bridging communication gaps when searching for partners. In addition, the higher rate of poverty among people with disabilities means that access to finance is also more difficult for them – coupled with the risk of losing their disability pension when they start a new enterprise.

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