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Entrepreneurship can be a path to adjustment for asylum seekers

Preconditions for entrepreneurship can be supported by expanding their knowledge base, networking, internships and entrepreneurship training.
During the Sustainable Entrepreneurship day, organised for the first time, students came up with ideas for the integration of asylum seekers and supporting their preconditions for entrepreneurship. It is Daniele Fasoli's presenting turn. Photo Kasimir Raipela.

Aalto University students found out about the interest in and potential for entrepreneurship among asylum seekers in the Sustainable Entrepreneurship course. Some students also surveyed the institutional obstacles faced by the asylum seekers.

In order to avoid presumptions, the students interviewed around 60 asylum seekers. The interviews revealed that many asylum seekers already have background as entrepreneurs and they would be interested in continuing as entrepreneurs in Finland.

'The background work at the grassroot level conducted by the students helped the asylum seekers to consider and visualise their own future in Finland', says Assistant Professor Ewald Kibler of the Department of Management Studies.

Based on the interviews, lack of language skills, knowledge and contacts form the biggest obstacles in the entrepreneurship path of the asylum seekers. Legislative and administrative requirements also heighten the threshold for entrepreneurship.

Even though many may have a long road ahead of them before the actualisation of entrepreneurship, it is worth talking about the aspect. One possibility for discussion came up during the Sustainable Entrepreneurship day held at the end of the course, which was open for asylum seekers and the multinational students of Aalto.

'It is important to increase the asylum seekers' knowledge base on entrepreneurship and to provide them with opportunities for networking with Finnish students and young entrepreneurs. This allows them to see what is going on in this field and to assess their personal possibilities for entrepreneurial activities in Finland', Kibler explains.

Getting to know the Finnish way of life is one of the firsthand issues in the integration of asylum seekers. According to the students, this can be promoted with such a simple thing as cooking together with members of the original population.

In addition, entrepreneurship potential can be increased, for example, by offering office spaces among other entrepreneurs to asylum seekers. Other actors, such as translators and startup communities could be activated to make it easier for asylum seekers to obtain and gain access to information on matters related to entrepreneurship.

The culture is slowly changing, but according to Kibler, changes can already be seen in the motivations of Finnish entrepreneurs.

'Some of those becoming entrepreneurs are no longer solely motivated by pursuing for profits, but also improving things and making the society a better place, and they know how to combine these – social entrepreneurship interests them.

'In the long run, the change in culture may also influence changes in legislation and administration related to entrepreneurship, and thus lower the threshold for entrepreneurship among asylum seekers', Kibler estimates.

Panel discussions involved discussing the asylum seekers' own and the authorities' (e.g., MEE, City of Espoo) and private service producers' (Sitra, Funzi) views and needs, and how these meet. Photo Kasimir Raipela.

Sustainable Entrepreneurship is a master's level course in entrepreneurship organised by the Aalto University School of Business. The aim of the course is to familiarise students with entrepreneurship used to solve societal challenges on the global level. This year's theme is asylum seekers.

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