An author’s reflections on our report on migrant entrepreneurs

Stephen Hunt
Stephen Hunt Researcher Manager The Challenges Group

YBI’s new report Beating the odds: Supporting youth on the move to become successful entrepreneurs presents evidence that Entrepreneurship can promote self-reliance and help youth on the move overcome barriers to integrating into society. It offers them an opportunity for meaningful work, helping them lead their lives with dignity and give back to their communities.

Our research suggests that, on average, they may be more likely to start businesses than their native-born peers, and their entrepreneurial success can bring several economic and social benefits to their host communities.

Through force or by choice, there are record numbers of youth on the move at present. Among them are refugees and other migrants, including the internally displaced and stateless. They may be vulnerable or marginalised in their host country.

YBI has asked report author Stephen Hunt to provide his reflections on this important research. 

I have spent the last few years working in youth entrepreneurship and employment, both in research as well as programme design and implementation. As a researcher, the YBI research project provided a fascinating opportunity to spend time dedicated to researching and listening to expert practitioners and organisations working with young people who are specifically “on the move”. As a newer area for me it provided a particularly interesting opportunity to reflect on some of the similarities and differences relating to this group of young people and wider youth populations.

The most noticeable reflection would be that there is a distinct research gap on youth on the move and entrepreneurship. When we were undertaking the research, we came across few works dedicated to youth on the move or entrepreneurship practices to support them.  This made the research all the more important.

Throughout the research I was able to make some interesting reflections, and here are some of the key thoughts of what stood out to me about young people who are on the move.

  1. The positive attitudes and optimism among youth on the move toward entrepreneurship:  In entrepreneurship research, drivers of youth entrepreneurship are often presented within a frame of “necessity” vs “opportunity” driven enterprise – i.e., whether youth set up a business out of need, or out of personal aspiration. While I personally think this is a problematic lens through which to view youth entrepreneurship, many youth on the move are ‘pushed’ toward entrepreneurship because of the challenges they face in securing an income, whilst many others are ‘pulled’ towards it for reasons far beyond simple need. In our research we found youth on the move held very positive attitudes toward entrepreneurship, often outweighing the discourse around necessity-based activities. Our survey and interviews revealed they view entrepreneurship as a viable and positive opportunity for both achieving personal aspirations and creating a meaningful livelihood: they view it as a route to becoming their own boss, improving their status in certain communities, and see it as a way to contribute toward positive change. Interestingly, our research also found youth on the move to be globally minded, and who recognise the challenges facing the world and their communities. To this, many viewed entrepreneurship as a means to making an impact; setting up ventures with the direct intent of addressing specific social and economic challenges. Whether and how migration specifically contributes to these attitudes is unclear, but it likely plays a key role for many.
  2. Youth on the move may be more entrepreneurial than most: Data used to evidence the ‘entrepreneurialism’ of young people is frequently contested. However, when we looked at research on the experiences of migration and entrepreneurship, we found that migration (or being a migrant) can contribute to greater entrepreneurial outcomes when compared with native-born peers of a host country – on average foreign-born individuals seem to start more businesses that native-born peers. Though there are many factors which influence this, when we looked at youth, we saw that in many cases migration can surface personal attributes of resilience and creativity which can lend themselves favourably to entrepreneurship, potentially more so than among native youth. Our interviews in the research supported these observations, which is exciting as it demonstrates the potential among youth on the move to becoming successful entrepreneurs.

Despite the opportunity entrepreneurship presents for youth on the move, it is important to reflect on how a lack of informed research and policy continues to underserve this group, and how it effects their potential.

Young people are often generalised within public policy and it is common for policies affecting sub-groups like “youth on the move” – or even refugees and other migrants – to be underpinned by inappropriate understandings of who they are or what it is they need to be effectively supported.  For instance, refugee and other migrant policy agendas are frequently influenced by negative public perceptions in the media. Without a clearly defined agenda for supporting youth on the move, policy makers and others risk perpetuating a level of support which neither meets their needs nor unlocks their potential.

One of the main conclusions of the report is that we still do not know “who” exactly these youth on the move are, and more research is needed to unearth this. This is where the examples and lessons in the report provided by YBI members and other practitioners can add particular value. Notably,  some exciting national and international initiatives that are beginning to chip away at this research and policy gaps include: M-UP and the Better Futures Initiative.

Nonetheless, there remains a crucial need to shape agendas and practices that best serve youth on the move. To me, in order to advance the support to youth on the move  to access entrepreneurship it will be crucial to build up a better understanding of who these youth are (both in terms of better data and evidence generation) and prioritise building a discourse that challenges negative and unclear narratives of these young people.

From listening to the experiences of YBI members and other practitioners during this research, there are a host of brilliant lessons and example which are captured in the report that already go a long way in advancing how we can support youth on the move. Whilst some of these lessons require new and innovative collaborations, other lessons can be quickly considered and easily adopted. Here, there is a really exciting opportunity for YBI as they are uniquely placed to feed into global conversations on what these good practices look like for youth on the move entrepreneurship.

Read our Beating the Odds report here. 

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