Blog 9: Economic ecosystems for refugee entrepreneurs


About 60% of the refugees in recent waves say that they would like to start a business within 2 to 7 years after arrival. Some NGOs (SPARK among them) are already working with these ambitions by providing education and building entrepreneurial capacity with youths in refugee camps in, for instance see: Jordan

Entrepreneurship is supposed to exist at the nexus of personal attributes and the opportunities that come up. As Shane and Venkataraman (2000) once proposed, to understand entrepreneurial processes we need to study both the individuals, the ‘opportunities’ and their fit: the individual-opportunity nexus. Over the last decade, this perspective on entrepreneurship has been complemented by critical views on, among others: the difference between the discovery and the creation of opportunities (Alvarez and Barney 2007) as well as a reconceptualization of what enablers and ideas determine what is considered an ‘opportunity’ (Davidsson 2015).

What I consider of prime importance, however, is the impact of the context in which this entrepreneur finds his opportunities. Let’s discuss the economic ecosystems for a quite specific group of entrepreneurs: refugees. How can we build a society that helps refugees start a succesful business?


Considering that reuniting family members who come over to a new hostland are usually better educated, and this will be a main volume of migration in European countries in the years to come, maybe we should concentrate on more than entrepreneurship education.

For instance, nearly half of all immigrants who arrived in the US between 2011 and 2015 were college-educated. Yet, as these degrees were not recognized most of this ‘education’ was lost in translation and produced a ‘lose-lose’ with both the migrant as well as the labour market in this host country. Is this organized any better in Europe? (No.. it isn’t)

To turn entrepreneurial activities into a sustainable way for displaced people to integrate into society, we need to work on the framework that they function in as much as on their personal attributes. Moreover, entrepreneurial activity needs to be studied in a local context, where the decisions are taking place and a systemic (holistic) approach to regional systems of entrepreneurship will help us identify the dependencies and dynamics that determine who becomes an entrepreneur.

In this, an economic ecosystem is defined as the compilation of institutional, organizational as well as other systemic factors that interact and influence the identification and commercialization of entrepreneurial opportunities (Audretsch and Belitski 2016).


When it comes to refugees this economic ecosystem needs to have the flexibility to cater to several quite distinct characteristics, including:

1.      Finding a way to empower a profoundly disempowered group that have little access to the startup capital, social networks and information hubs that local entrepreneurs can benefit from

2.      Opening up the framework for a pro-active embedding of new businesses by finding synergy with local businesses in the same sector, actively building new networks and establishing mentoring and sharing experiences

3.      Providing support on dealing with local bureaucracies as well as legal barriers while acknowledging the heterogeneity of refugee entrepreneurship – making new voices heard.

Want to know about what we can do?

Contact me at gw(at)