About a quarter of Belgium's self-employed are of foreign origin, SME Observatory says

About a quarter of Belgium's self-employed are of foreign origin, SME Observatory says
Credit: Belga

Just under a quarter of self-employed people (23.5%) in Belgium are of foreign origin, according to a new survey conducted by the Belgian Observatory of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.

The survey, which was done with the support of the Federal Economy Department, was presented on Tuesday in the presence of the Minister for the Self-Employed, David Clarinval.

This second edition of the Entrepreneurship and Diversity study, which spans almost a decade (2008-2017), highlights several factors showing the existence of disparities based on origin and geographical area but also gender within the self-employed population.

Thus, in the Brussels Region, two-thirds of the self-employed are of foreign origin.

According to the authors of the study, individuals of foreign origin encounter specific obstacles to entrepreneurship, namely a poorer command of the language, a lack of (recognition of) diplomas and weaker social and financial capital.

Eastern Europe over-represented among the self-employed

The Maghreb (6.2% of the self-employed come from this region) and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa (4.3% of the self-employed) constitute the most under-represented country groups among the self-employed of foreign origin. On the other hand, people from Eastern European countries are over-represented.

Generally, women are under-represented among the self-employed, regardless of their origins. According to the researchers, this “quantitative mismatch” can be explained by the education they receive. “They are generally taught skills that are less relevant to entrepreneurship. Also, there are fewer female entrepreneurial role models among women,” the researchers explain.

In this regard, Minister Clarinval recalled that female entrepreneurship was one of his priorities for the current legislature, as evidenced by the completion last week of 25 measures to improve women’s access to entrepreneurship. A working group that has been meeting since April at the initiative of the Minister has just completed is deliberations.

The group, made up of actors in the fields of entrepreneurship, the Finance and Economic Affairs Departments, and academics, has come up with 25 measures to be implemented so that more women start their own businesses.

In addition to gender, the level of education plays a decisive role in the trajectory of self-employed people of foreign origin. The authors of the study thus found that more high school graduates of foreign origin but educated in Belgium choose the entrepreneurial path than individuals of Belgian origin with the same level of education.

Winners of the 'Diversity and Entrepreneurship' contracts

In parallel with the presentation of the study, the minister took the opportunity to unveil the three winners of the “Diversity and Entrepreneurship” public contract, launched last September by the Economic Affairs Department with a view to supporting entrepreneurial initiative among people of foreign origin.

In Wallonia, the Interra non-profit won the contract for developing the Interlab project, aimed, in particular, at supporting refugees with their business projects.

In Brussels, the contract went to the MicroStart cooperative, which offers micro-credit solutions for business projects, 63% of which come from people of foreign origin.

Finally, on the Flemish side, Shedidit, a network of women entrepreneurs with a diversity background, won the contract.

The minister enthusiastically welcomed the study, which he described as a real “gold mine.” “Entrepreneurship also requires special attention in terms of equal opportunities,” Minister Clarinval stressed. "It is important to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship among people of foreign origin, and in particular those categories that are under-represented in the figures.”

“Boosting the accessibility of entrepreneurship is a necessity to promote an increasing employment rate. The projects presented carry this vision and deserve support,” he concluded.

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