Developing BME business

Unlocking the entrepreneurialism in black and minority ethnic communities is a key success factor in social and economic regeneration, particularly when many ethnic minority groups suffer substantial ethnic penalties within the labour market. Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Black African men and women in particular suffer from much higher unemployment rates, earnings and occupational attainment, even in second generations. They therefore represent a real source of economic potential through enterprise development.  However, disadvantaged people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are not easily engaged by typical mainstream business support practices.

One of our newer Outsets is in Bristol, where the ethnic minority population in Bristol is continuing to grow and currently stands at 11.9% of the population. One of the fastest growing communities in the city is the Somali community, which has established more than 200 businesses employing around 700 people in the last five years.

The city is also home to lots of businesses owned and run by the more established migrant communities, such as those from the Asian Sub-continent and of African Caribbean background, but also from the new communities including: Sudanese, Polish, Kurdish, Ethiopians and Iranians. Most of the later businesses fall in the categories of either sole traders or micro enterprises, and approximately 60 different languages are spoken within the city.

In order to reach and engage effectively with these groups it is, however, important to recognise and understand the barriers and how to work around them. Understanding cultural and religious mores is important, and not making the assumption that all persons from a particular country or origin do not always have the same or identical cultural backgrounds or beliefs.  Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Ras Tafari have dreadlocks.  Language is still a particular difficulty, especially among women who have had less access to education,  In some circumstances, it may not be the custom for a man to be in the same room as a woman who is not related to him, or to shake hands with a woman.

Cultural differences in body language can also contribute to misunderstanding.  For example, lack of eye contact should not be taken to mean disrespect, in some cases it is the opposite, and similarly, a raised voice is not necessarily a sign of aggression or loss of control.  For some BME clients, the refugee experience is limiting in itself, and affects the way and how quickly clients can progress.  Some cultures are predominantly oral, making the written word a far less effective means of engagement, and many BME cultures also have influential individuals who can validate ‘outsiders’ and provide a gateway into the community.

For example, in Bristol, as part of our partnership working, we have developed strong relationships with the chair of the Anglo-Iranian Society, the management committee of the Bristol Somali Forum and the chair of the Zimbabwean Association.  Once trust, respect and understanding were established, all of these intermediaries have been very proactive in fostering Outset’s engagement with their respective communities.

Having people who focus on the individual’s needs, and possessing the right mix of skills, cultural and religious awareness is vital, as is delivering locally within these discrete areas and segments of the population – it is highly unlikely that such clients will come to training sessions in unfamiliar territory. We have been proactive to respond to the needs of our clients and worked hard to accommodate their different needs, availability and ways of working, particularly through delivering learning as evening courses.

Outset Bristol’s Programme Director, Andy Dean, is particularly pleased with engagement levels in the city’s deprived areas: “More than 38% of the people enrolled on the Outset Bristol programme come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.  Our feedback from clients and intermediaries, such as Rosa Ross, Chair of the Anglo-Iranian Society, is really positive, saying that it is very informative, highly practical, understands their needs, and is a strong booster for building up confidence, one of the key enterprise barriers.”

Representation of client ethnicity

Representatives from the Outset Bristol programme have been interviewed on Bristol’s community radio station BCfm and the urban radio station Ujima Radio, which particularly targets the African and Caribbean communities in St Paul’s and Easton. This sits alongside airtime on more ‘traditional’ media platforms such as the BBC Bristol ‘Breakfast Show’.

For more details about the Outset Bristol programme visit, call freephone 0800 032 2903 or e-mail