The Migration-Citoyenneté-Développement GRDR (Rural Development Research Group) is an organisation which works on behalf of migrants and provides support for them in their host country. The organisation was the brainchild of agricultural researchers who, concerned about the problems of famine, got together to provide support for migrants in their initiatives to support development in their countries of origin. The structure of the organisation has changed in line with the political climate in France, various migrant crises and people’s needs. Integration activities now account for a quarter of the GRDRD’s work.
The Ile de France region, with support from the European Social Fund (ESF), and the GRDR, in partnership with the Cité des Métiers (careers service), have joined forces to offer courses to facilitate the creation of new businesses. Aimed at the migrant population, the Ecole Régionale des Projets: entrepreneurs migrants is free and focuses on three objectives:
- Safeguarding business creation plans
- Consolidating support for the project
- Giving the business project formal status
This school has led the organisation to develop its support services by ensuring that the personal experiences of the person who is receiving training are taken into account. In line with the Ecole Régionale des Projets, the GRDR also focuses on networking, by offering an entrepreneur club where funding agencies are invited to take part in meetings. In addition to enabling migrants who are developing projects and agencies to come together to pool resources, the club also provides a tremendous opportunity to recognise the migrants’ journeys as value added in their career plan.
Jonathan Stebig, a project manager at the GRDR, tells us that one of the main challenges involved in setting up this training course is being able to “offer content which, above and beyond the career or business plan, takes into account the person’s life plan. Even more than for a more “usual” project developer, the migratory project often determines the migrants’ career paths. Every decision taken and every direction the strategy development path takes form part of a migratory project which transcends and exceeds the career plan”.
Participants tend to be women, with an average age of 47. They are people who have been forced to leave their country of origin to settle elsewhere and who generally have an occupation which bears no relation to the realities of the job market in France.
For Jonathan Stebig, “providing flexible training opportunities”, which take into account the availability of the target audience, is a pre-requisite for success. That is why the course takes place on two days a week over a period of six months. The project manager sees this timescale as “a project development solution over a flexible and relatively long time frame, which enables participants to start up their businesses as they study, and which facilitates the testing phases. In 2015, the first year the course was run, 25 project developers joined the course and 20 of them continued to the end of the 6-month period. This year, 37 people joined the course and, at the time of writing, two have left it.
The six-month course is broken down into several components:
- the migratory experience
- the acquisition of the basics of business creation
- work covering the areas of social and solidarity economy and transnationality, as people retain strong links with the country of origin and this often has a role to play in business economics.
Working on the migratory experience
This phase of the support process focuses on the person, on helping them gain self-confidence. These group sessions are used to identify the professional, migratory and personal experiences and skills which will be showcased in the business creation project. This part of the course is indispensable, and can be considered a solution to the challenges involved in providing courses for specific audiences. The course should, in the first instance, “showcase skills and migratory paths”.
During the first phase of the business creation training, instructors focus on the learners and their migratory experiences. It is a way of working on people’s life stories by means of biographical accounts. It is by naming to the experience that skills are created and become transferable. A skills portfolio is also compiled for each participant.
The instructor has devised an activity which involves creating an experiential profile. Learners create their profile by piecing together images cut out of magazines and then have to use the pictures to express where they come from, who they are and where they are going. This work provides an opportunity for participants, with support, to put themselves into perspective and to develop self-awareness.
Jonathan Stebig adds that “The course is designed to support people and turn their lives around. It focuses on individuals and on providing them with the means to modify their business project. A third of the course is given over to experiences, skills, etc.”
Supporting business creation
In phases two and three of the course, an individual support component is added. Using the work done on the migratory experience, the learners begin to write up the project. Role-playing activities are used to enable participants to test themselves in a commercial business situation. The Ecole Régionale des Projets also offers a tutoring scheme which matches up learners with a tutor (who has also benefitted from support in the past), enabling them to work in tandem.
“As we often come across people who have a significant informal market knowledge, it is important that the education we provide takes into account and showcases this informal expertise.”
Last year, four businesses were set up. The definition of a business creation project is a way of redefining a general project, by taking a holistic view of the individual and their unique life experiences. It is also a way, as we aim to do through this training course, to reintegrate into society these vulnerable people who have been displaced and have found themselves in a country where the employment system is different from that in their country of origin.
When questioned about what motivates him to work with this group of people: “My personal story, they say that your first migration experience is when you move from the country to the city (cf. Abdel Mayek Syad). I see myself in the paths these people’s lives have taken. In the myth that they will return home and in their pride in their roots.”