This blog post was first published by Youth Business International on 7th September 2020.


YBI shares insights from Professor Bob Garvey, one of Europe’s leading academic practitioners of coaching and mentoring, along with contributions and context from Joerg Schoolmann, YBI’s Head of Mentoring, as to why mentoring is key to supporting migrant entrepreneurs.

Research has shown that migration increases levels of innovation, productivity and economic growth and that migrants contribute significantly to national GDPs. Migrant entrepreneurs bring new talent and innovative power to their host societies, create employment, increase trade between countries and revive neglected crafts and trade. However, there are still many barriers holding migrant entrepreneurs back from realising their full potential.

This is why Youth Business International (YBI) along with our members KIZ and MicroLabYouth Business Spain’s sub-member Autoocupació and SPARK co-founded M-UP: The Network for Migrant Entrepreneurs to Scale Up and Grow. The project brings together European organisations that work in the field of migrant entrepreneurship support to share best practices, deliver new solutions, and better support migrants to scale their businesses and become successful entrepreneurs. One of the main ways YBI and M-UP achieve this is through mentoring programmes.


Why mentoring is key to helping migrant entrepreneurs succeed


1. Mentoring helps entrepreneurs manage change and transition

Every entrepreneur starting a business goes through transition and needs to make changes in the way they work. Our experience suggests that mentoring works best when the mentee is in a phase of transition, as this can create challenges they have never experienced before. Those challenges are amplified for migrant entrepreneurs who experience change and transition in every aspect of their life.

In addition to starting a business, migrant entrepreneurs have to adapt to living in a new culture and environment, perhaps learn a new language and start a new life from scratch. They will need to understand the various conventions of doing business in their host country as well as the legal and economic frameworks. From start-up to sustainability is a long journey for which guidance becomes invaluable. This creates challenges that are difficult enough for non-migrants to understand but for migrants, the need to change and adapt is greater.

Mentoring has long been associated with helping people learn and develop through transitions and to make changes in their lives and work. Often these transition periods take time and the mentor stays with the mentee for the duration of the transition, providing support, guidance and encouragement, and challenging them when needed. Our experience shows that it is best to match migrant entrepreneurs with mentors from their host country, so that the mentor can help the migrant truly integrate into society.

2. Mentoring provides multidimensional support

Starting a business in a foreign country creates additional barriers to achieving success. Mentoring provides multidimensional support on many different levels, which migrant entrepreneurs need to overcome those barriers. Research has shown that mentoring support not only helps with business knowledge and performance, it also enables the entrepreneur to integrate into their host country through fostering relationships, developing cultural and social understanding and insights, and building social capital. This is particularly important for migrant entrepreneurs who are often unfamiliar with how to navigate norms and systems in their host country.

Another major obstacle that migrant entrepreneurs face is a lack of business connections.  When trust and a rapport is built between a mentor and mentee, mentors may unlock their professional networks, which will help the entrepreneur understand the environment their business is operating in and make business connections. This is crucial to success. Finally, many migrant entrepreneurs experience language barriers and cultural misunderstandings that affect their self-esteem and confidence. Mentoring is very strongly linked to building both of these, as well as maintaining emotional stability.

3. Mentoring supports psychosocial development

Mentoring provides personal support and enables social development. In the case of migrants, it helps them to understand their new culture and environment. Migrant entrepreneurs may have developed psychological or emotional problems as a result of their past experiences and migration challenges. Due to the nature of the relationship between mentor and mentee, which is based on trust, the mentor can help support the mentee and provide a sense of safety as well as recommend that they seek the counselling or support that they may require.  The relationship of trust between mentor and mentee furthermore offers migrant entrepreneurs a safe space to discuss the cultural challenges they encounter and come to understand them.  Mentoring has long been associated with social integration.

4. Mentoring is rooted in ‘generativity’ – the driver of human progress

‘Generativity’ is a term used to describe the need to guide younger people and contribute to the next generation. Many people naturally have a drive to give back and it explains why mentors volunteer. They are motivated by wanting to make a contribution and wanting to give back to the society they live in. It is therefore not surprising that many entrepreneurs who have had positive experiences with mentors go on to become mentors themselves. This shows that mentoring is a great way to make migrants feel connected to their host society and encourages them to give back to society as mentors one day.

5. Mentoring is universal: it can work everywhere for everyone

When Guillem Aris, CEO and founder of M-UP consortium member Autoocupacio in Spain, first learned about YBI’s mentoring programme for young entrepreneurs, he was sceptical about whether it would work in the Spanish context. However, after trialling it, he quickly realised that it was the best way to complement existing support services for entrepreneurs. Autoocupacio found that the survival rate of new businesses supported by mentors was at 87% after five years, which is more than double the average in Spain. Guillem explains that many entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed and alone when they start their business. This feeling is amplified for migrant entrepreneurs who live in a foreign country where they might not know anyone. As a member of the M-UP consortium, Autoocupacio started adapting their mentoring programme, including developing specific training, matching criteria, and the monitoring process to fit the needs of migrant entrepreneurs. This achieved the same positive results as the mentoring programme for non-migrant entrepreneurs and generated overwhelmingly positive feedback from mentors and mentees alike.

YBI and M-UP advocate for more mentoring support programmes for migrant entrepreneurs in Europe so they can realise their full potential. We constantly evolve and innovate our programmes to provide the best possible support.

Photo source: Sumita Roy Dutta for Wikimedia Comms.

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