Compendium 2.2.1 Outreach

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2.2.1. Strategies for getting out into hard-to-reach communities (outreach)


The challenge

Small businesses and governments in many European countries complain that sources of business support frequently do not respond to the real needs of actual and potential business people, particularly those who face disadvantages in the labour market.

Business support services are frequently desk and office bound. Only the clients that are most confident and aware of what is on offer are reached as the service is largely reactive. Disadvantaged groups and areas tend to rely on a circuit made up of different public and semi-public agencies working at the boundaries between social security, employment and enterprise policy. Here, one often finds inappropriate and overlapping sources of business support for small enterprises. They rarely form a genuine system capable of effectively accompanying disadvantaged groups along an itinerary towards independent income generating activities. Furthermore, business support staff is seldom trained in how to help disadvantaged groups, while agencies specialised in dealing with these groups may lack business skills and experience. These problems contribute to lower rates of self-employment and business creation among disadvantaged groups and areas, lower rates of employment and loss of output.

To reach disadvantaged groups such as the long term unemployed or migrants, and to support groups that are under-represented in enterprise such as women, more proactive techniques are needed, otherwise enterprise remains the preserve of the advantaged and those born into it. Without good outreach, people are dependent on informal sources of advice usually developed through the social capital of family and friends. However, these can be a source of misinformation and lead those groups, especially when relatively recently settled, to trade illegally and be at risk. Good quality support and advice in the early stages can mitigate this risk.

EQUAL provides a strong case for giving specialised support to key target groups, notably women, young people, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, people over 50, social economy organisations and so on. In Germany, for example, training designed specifically for women led to survival rates of around 80% compared to an average of 30% on normal courses. In Wales a series of specialist pre-start agencies have contributed to an increase of 20% in yearly start-up rates. However, it is clear that there is also a common core of skills and competences that are necessary for anyone to set up any kind of business. For example, according to DG Enterprise, 80% of the problems faced by ethnic minorities in setting up a business are common to all entrepreneurs. Similarly, social economy organisations need sound financial and business management, in the same way as ordinary SMEs.

In order to balance the advantages of specialist support (for example, greater understanding and affinity with the client group) with the additional costs and the risk of marginalising people even more, specialist organisations (often NGOs) within EQUAL have focused on the phases before the launch of the business. This allows them to concentrate on issues specific to certain disadvantaged groups such as language, confidence and trust, caring responsibilities and work-life balance, and collective methods of working.

Regarding social economy businesses, specific support is needed throughout all phases of business development, not just pre-start. It includes cooperative management structures, dealing with voluntary workers, disabled workers and other disadvantaged personnel, managing public-private funding mixes, public procurement, social auditing, social franchising and so on.

How EQUAL has approached the issue – examples

EQUAL has successfully tested a variety of outreach strategies for engaging business support with key target groups such as women, ethnic minorities, refugees and people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods of cities. Each of these approaches has different advantages and disadvantages.

Setting up offices in disadvantaged areas

This has been the approach adopted by Enterprise Agencies in the UK and other Member States. They are often described as “one stop shops”. Verbund Enterprise's work under EQUAL in Berlin has led to the opening of several one stop shops in disadvantaged areas of cities in Germany. Their biggest challenge was to support entrepreneurship among the young unemployed, and the project demonstrated a good social return on investment with costs of about €6,000 – much less than the amount needed to maintain a young person on welfare benefits.

Going to where the client is based

EVU in Copenhagen spent the first six months of its activity in EQUAL getting out to its client base in ethnic minority dominated areas of the city. It built trust and rapport for business support services. The approach developed by EVU has now been successfully mainstreamed and the Copenhagen Business Centre started in January 2008. Seven business advisers have been employed. The number is to increase to a total of 25 employees by 2009. The outreach advisers have been integrated into the new mainstream organisation. One example of their approach was to target a particular street of shops with outreach. The goal here is to create local attention about the existence of the advisory service where there are many minority-owned businesses.

Partnering organisations that specialise in working with hard-to-reach communities

Many organisations are already successfully plugged in to specific local communities. The EQUAL Cyfenter project in Wales used this model to reach women and ethnic minorities through a women’s support organisation called Chwarae Teg It is perhaps the most clearly braided approach in which specialist business support is linked explicitly to a mainstream backbone service – in this case Business Eye.

Similarly the Bridge project in Hungary[1] worked with a local community council to promote skills and enterprise among the local Roma community.

Embedding advisers in community based organisations

This is the radical approach used by the SIED (Supporting Inclusion in Enterprise Development) EQUAL project [2] in London. It identifies a member of a community-based refugee or ethnic minority association and trains them as an accredited business adviser. It has trained 45 advisers and recently saw its 1,300th client. In order to continue its work after the end of EQUAL, a new grouping named the Association of Community Based Business Advisers (ACBBA) has been established, to support and train advisers based in the community. ACBBA is already active in five boroughs of London, both north and south of the river. It is in expansion mode and is looking to win contracts elsewhere.

Piggybacking on community based organisations

Many successful models use existing community capacity to reach out. An example is ‘finding women where women meet’ by going to day care centres, health facilities and cafés. Pastors in African Caribbean Baptist churches are also a vector to reach the congregations as ABi Associates’ Faith in Business project did in northwest London.

Operating from public and community spaces

Although these approaches are very different, they share some common aspects. Whereas most mainstream systems can appear bureaucratic, and often require extensive form-filling or ‘diagnosis’, these approaches treat clients on their own terms with a minimum of fuss. Bizfizz, a community-based coaching approach developed in the UK and operating in 21 localities, suggests that its coaches should base themselves in community centres and cafés. The coaches use free publicity in local papers and word-of-mouth to recruit new clients. Transformando, operating in Madrid with migrant communities, starts up conversations on the street with potential clients who would not be prepared to come into a formal office. It avoids asking for identity or nationality papers which can cause resentment among long established migrants and suspicion among newcomers. The attitude towards client recruitment is respectful and proactive. Many approaches rely on word-of-mouth to spread the message and to recruit new clients.

Often these approaches are described as ‘holistic’, meaning that other factors besides business issues need to be taken into account when providing support. These factors can range from housing to childcare. Many successful approaches recognise that they cannot provide expert support in all these areas but create a virtual ‘ring’ of advisers who can be called in as needed.

Working with people who are excluded requires that a trust relationship is built. This calls upon sensitive inter-cultural and inter-gender behaviour and empathy with the situation that clients find themselves in.

Recommendations for mainstreaming policies

Business support services are too often reactive and demand-led. New proactive approaches developed through EQUAL demonstrate that business support services can reach clients that face difficulties in the labour market.

Policy-makers should be aware that engaging with different target groups may require a range of different approaches. EQUAL has demonstrated that many groups can be reached by specific approaches:

  • Be proactive to reach specific groups and to go to the places where they meet;
  • Look for innovative approaches to reaching particular groups;
  • Offer non-business support in conjunction with business advice;
  • Link outreach services in to mainstream organisations in a ‘braided’ approach.

Links to EQUAL case studies

Other useful links

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