Part of the ATHENA initiative – Approaches To valorise the High ENtrepreneuriAl potential of migrant women to contribute to their social and economic integration* – Digital Leadership Institute organized on 24th of April 2022 a Lunch & Learn session , followed by a Peer-learning training for professionals and business support organizations working with migrant women to discuss about how to act and support the shift towards a cultural and entrepreneurial ecosystem that embraces the diversity and added value that migrant women entrepreneurs bring to the market, and, overall, to their host communities.
The session was addressed to professionals providing business support services to migrant or migrant-background women entrepreneurs or who aspire to be entrepreneurs in Belgium, both within public or private entities, as well as freelance or working in the non-profit organizations with the aim of building their capacities to deliver the services of entrepreneurial support by sharing knowledge and experiences on a variety of topics that cover both administrative and business practices for third-country nationals, but also social and cultural aspects.
The event began with the discussion of the importance of cultural diversity and the entrepreneurial business ecosystem in Belgium, this part brought forward two successful migrant women entrepreneurs to share their stories. The first speaker, Sana Afouaiz, the CEO and founder of the Womenpreneur and with Moroccan background , shared the story of starting her non-profit organization, with the mission of advancing women’s place on the entrepreneurial scene, technology, innovation & society in Belgium and in the MENA region.
Speaking about her own struggles to start a business in the fashion industry, Anna Boroshok, co-founder of Silk and Cotton Global, highlighted the importance of having a support network of other women entrepreneurs when you are coming from a diverse cultural background that can resonate and support with the challenges you face – be it administrative or cultural – as they might have experienced them as well. For this reason, Anna founded the Fearless Female Founders community for women entrepreneurs, based in Brussels.
Following this discussion, the peer-learning training for professionals and business support organizations working with migrant women aimed at going more in depth into the opportunities for these professionals to improve their skills and services offered to this specific target group.
The first aspect discussed with the participants was regarding the Cultural diversity and the entrepreneurial business ecosystem in Belgium, facilitated by Lien Warmenbol from #SheDIDIt, regarding the importance of being aware of the cultural differences that women from diverse background might experience .
Shifting perspective, trainer Sana Afouaiz facilitated a conversation on the psychological preparedness of migrant women to uptake entrepreneurship. In these discussion, certain aspects were identified as problematic for this target group, such as of marginalization, assimilation, and separation, but provided specific tips that professionals can use to support integration and enable multi-cultural needs: through active listening, creating a safe space in order for the person to feel welcomed, unleashing talents, providing targeted training, ensuring mental support and be able to defend the rights of these migrant women entrepreneurs.
Linking the previous two topics, Katja Legisa from the Digital Leadership Institute lead the discussion on understanding stereotypes and their impact on women entrepreneurs, emphasizing how important it is for professionals working in supporting roles to know how to identify and tackle the issues involving stereotypes and to be conscious of their own and shared biases.
Finally, considering the fact that access to finance is considered to be one of the most important challenges for women entrepreneurs in general, coach Jasper Verreydt gave an overview of diverse funding opportunities women can access depending on the development stage of their businesses, including: bootstrapping, crowdfunding and crowdlending, but also grant offered by the different regions of Belgium to SMEs.
Overall, the discussions among the participating professionals pointed to the fact that there is the need for a better cooperation between the different service providers and existing organizations that work specifically with this target group, and that indeed the cultural – and, many times, the psychological – awareness represent extremely important factors that should be part of the continuous development and growth of organizations when dealing with migrant women.
The Lunch & Learn session and the peer-learning training for for professionals and business support organizations working with migrant women was organized as part of the Athena project – Approaches To valorise the High ENtrepreneuriAl potential of migrant women to contribute to their social and economic integration – a two-year project funded by the AMIF Program. The overall objective of the project is to contribute to the economic and social integration of migrant women in the EU society by improving the services of entrepreneurship support oriented to migrant women and creating a specific entrepreneurial path for them.
The project is implemented by a consortium of six partners and covers five European countries , and will directly benefit a 210 migrant women, it will increase the capacities of more than 35 professionals working in entrepreneurship support roles, it will create synergies with several organisations and it will finally intend to influence policies through a series of policy recommendations. Here you can find more about the project: https://athenaproject.net/