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The Social Entrepreneur - UK - 1

Dr SH arrived in the UK from Hong Kong in the late 1980s with very little written English but some spoken English. Her aim was to gain qualifications in child care and improve her English as she identified these as key to developing her employability skills. She did not at this stage have plans either for studying for a higher degree or of developing an organisation employing for 40 staff, training social workers and generating a turnover of 1.4m each year. Her experience of an English FE college was encouraging and highlights the value of vocational qualifications as a route towards entrepreneurship. Dr SH was an excellent student and the teaching staff within the FE college recognised her ability and encouraged her in developing her studies up to a Level 3 qualification, recommending that she continue on to a university degree. Her degree level studies were also successful and Dr SH was offered a funded MPhil/PhD in disability studies which she completed and submitted in the three funded years. After this process Dr SH envisaged an academic career for herself, and was appointed as a Research Fellow within Higher Education.

However, Dr SH had made contact during her studies with a voluntary organisation for Chinese women. This was established and run by four women who wanted to support Chinese women whose husbands were studying or working in the large Northern city where she was studying. The organisation was successful in gaining one of the first Lottery grants and was able to expand to support a full time project manager. The first project manager left the organisation having completed two years out of a three year contract and an advertisement was placed for a replacement; with a one-year contract. Dr SH was very attracted by the post; it seemed to offer her the ideal route to share her skills, knowledge and experience with the Chinese community, the chance to help them with integration and education in a new country and she could envisage many ways to develop the organisation. However, as the position was only for one year, and at a far lower salary than that of Research Fellow. The professor for whom she was working recommended her not to take the risk; and in fact she compromised initially, reducing her academic post to half-time, and working full time as project manager.

Dr SH immediately applied considerable effort to broadening the remit of the organisation, and to developing their work so they could apply for new grants and from a far wider spectrum of funders. This secured the future of the organisation so that it now works with a range of ethnic minorities. The organisation now trains social workers, runs language and culture classes, has a wide range of support groups including ones for young people and the elderly. A important aim is to improve integration through increasing cultural awareness. Dr SH notes that for many immigrants entrepreneurship is the only choice; they do not have language skills. She finds many of the people she is working with struggle to complete forms and comply with the regulations related to running businesses in the food industry. She also finds that they have limited choices as a result of this. When economic times are good, a small restaurant or takeaway can manage well enough, working long hours it is true, but making a living. However, in difficult periods then customers decline and so does the income of these entrepreneurs. Dr SH aims for her organisation to be the conduit that improves their language and cultural skills, signposts to further education and training and provides opportunities for networking in order to encourage diversification amongst the many small business owners who use the centre.

Dr SH was acutely aware that there would likely be a dramatic change in funding as a result of the economic situation and three years ago formulated new business plans to take account of changes, these have allowed the organisation to win significant contracts in finding employment for the long-term unemployed and in areas of mental health provision. These are new and expanding areas for social enterprises and the organisation now works with a range of ethnic groups, including Somali, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and the local white community.

Education and Culture Lifelong Learning Programme
© 2011 ELIE Project
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.