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New project to break down barriers to enterprise

08 July 2013

Research with disadvantaged communities in Greece, Poland, Romania and the UK aims to develop tools and training materials to help other disadvantaged people across Europe to become more enterprising.

A major research project working with disadvantaged communities in Greece, Poland, Romania and the UK aims to develop tools and training materials that can help other disadvantaged people across Europe to become more enterprising and set up in business.

The Eliemental project is co-ordinated by Dr Carolyn Downs of the Department of Management Learning and Leadership, and over the next three years researchers will be investigating both social and cultural barriers to entrepreneurship and the types of community networks that might be used to access hard-to-reach groups of people.

The ultimate objective of the project, which is funded under the Leonardo stream of the European Union’s Life-long Learning scheme, is to provide the foundations for creating a flexible and innovative ‘Ticket to Enterprise’ qualification in enterprise education – adaptable to the needs of different communities across the continent.

Eliemental builds on key findings from an earlier EU-funded ELIE project (Employability Learning through International Entrepreneurship) which was also co-ordinated by Downs whilst she was working at Salford University.

“In the ELIE project we were looking at why immigrants who come into a country with very few resources often make a success of entrepreneurship. We wanted to find out whether there were any lessons to be learnt by people in the host countries, and by HE institutions in particular. The social and cultural barriers were so striking in all four countries, and so similar in all settings, that a much more extensive exploration seemed the obvious next step.

“In this new project, we are working to understand the needs of groups that are hugely under-represented in SME start-ups, including Roma groups in Romania and Poland, Somali communities in Greece, Bengali women in Manchester, young, socially excluded black and ethnic minority men and traveller communities in Essex.

"Locally we are also working in the West End of Morecambe with three specific groups: young unemployed people, older women who have lost their jobs and who have perhaps worked in the caring professions or had family responsibilities, and disabled people who typically experience considerable barriers to work."

Downs is co-ordinating the parallel streams of work being undertaken by the eight partner organisations, which include business organisations and charities alongside other academic institutions. At LUMS her co-researcher is Alison Clifton, who is also part of the Department of Applied Social Science Unit for Research & Evaluation (ASSURE).

However, the project is very much participatory in approach, Downs stresses: “much more bottom-up than top-down.” Local co-researchers have already been recruited and trained in each of the three UK locations. Their role will be key in helping the team understand more about where people go for information or to talk to one another and in identifying key community access points.

Work to develop the qualification itself is scheduled to start in Year 2, with piloting in the four countries in Year 3. Although it is the part of the project that most excites Downs, it is also, she concedes, in many ways the most demanding.

“We can find out what the needs are reasonably easily, as we know who the people are, where they are, and what to ask. But the biggest challenge will be to make a qualification that actually fits the needs. You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It will need to be something that is attractive, that they can see fits their needs and that is properly accessible in terms of the communities that will be using it – as opposed to just paying lip service to accessibility.

“We want it to be a qualification that can help people get their confidence up and give them a sense of empowerment. The idea is that it will be enough of a step to get them on to the ladder of learning, and something they can do within their own communities, via the community access points.”

For more information about the Eliemental project, and how to get involved, see the project website.