Compendium 1 Introduction

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1. Introduction

This compendium draws together the lessons learnt on the subject of inclusive entrepreneurship during the EQUAL programme, which ran from 2002 until 2007. As a Community Initiative within the European Social Fund (ESF), EQUAL’s role was to provide an experimental laboratory within which new methods could be developed, through transnational working, to reduce inequality and discrimination in employment. EQUAL supported projects in four pillars – employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability and equal opportunities. The entrepreneurship projects fell into two themes – business creation and the social economy.

To make its lessons stick, EQUAL adopted an innovative operating method. Rather than support time-limited projects, it obliged project promoters to combine to form ‘development partnerships’. These brought together different types of organisations – for instance local authorities, colleges, employers and trade unions – so that a collaborative network was built up which would outlive EQUAL and increase capacity permanently. EQUAL also placed great importance on mainstreaming – that is, making a real difference by creating changes in policy and practice.

EQUAL’s 634 entrepreneurship projects involved some 5,000 partner organisations across 18 of the European Union’s Member States. Their work was overseen by a European Thematic Group under whose auspices a series of events and mainstreaming actions took place.

This compendium comprises three parts:

1. Introduction
2. Evidence and practice
3. Community and capacity development

In Part 2 on evidence and practice, the compendium draws on the results of this thematic work, and sets out in a collection of 22 ‘minibriefs’ what the proven ways are to enable more people to take up an economic activity on their own account. The 22 minibriefs make up the four pillars of the entrepreneurial ladder out of social exclusion:

The 4 pillars of the entrepreneurial ladder out of social exclusion
Creating the culture and conditions for entrepreneurship:
educational curricula, role models, tax-benefit regimes, work-life balance, reducing physical barriers
Access to appropriate finance
microfinance, methods for controlling risk, links with grant regimes, broader finance for initiatives that create jobs and local development
Business support for all:
outreach and engagement, specialist and generalist support, mentors, incubators, one stop shops, recognised quality standards and training for mainstream services, support for social entrepreneurship, aftercare
Opening markets:
Access to private and public markets, niche marketing in growth sectors, creating new markets out of social need, public procurement, social auditing

EQUAL’s experience shows that, even when different actors are responsible, each area should be aligned with the others like the sides and rungs of a ladder.


So for example, simply focusing on better training and improving the administrative and tax environment is definitely not enough to ensure that people successfully make the transition from unemployment to a sustainable business. Similarly, to ensure that finance reaches the people who most need it, and does not simply increase their indebtedness, it must be delivered along with carefully designed business support. Finally, if consolidation and growth to access the markets are not there, the indiscriminate promotion of start-ups can be a one-way ticket to bankruptcy.

There are two guiding principles for keeping these four elements of the ladder in line with each other:

  • on the demand side, policies must be user-led. In order to prevent social exclusion, this involves a series of methods for finding out and responding to the real business needs of people who face discrimination in the labour market.
  • on the supply side, partnerships are one of the main tools of inclusive policy implementation. These are transversal elements that must run through the strategy.

In each ‘minibrief’, we outline the challenge to be met, give a set of examples of how the problem has been addressed, and list recommendations for mainstreaming as well as references to source documents online – mostly on the EQUAL website. Though most of the examples given come from work carried out within EQUAL, some come from outside the initiative, especially in the field of microfinance.

In Part 3, the compendium introduces learning tools and networks created during the EQUAL programming period, allowing better community and capacity development. It also gathers major bibliographical references and useful web links on related issues.

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